Let’s not be silent around disability. It’s an asset.

Disability is a natural part of the human experience. Yet making disability a natural and needed perspective in the workplace isn’t. Not only is it a shame, it’s a bad business decision.

by Emily Blum

Having a disability is central to my identity — it is both an attribute and an asset. I believe it makes me a more empathetic leader, a better listener, a natural collaborator, and I’m fortunate to have employers, and my team, see it the same. I’ve moved steadily up the ladder and held leadership positions at some of the most respected organizations in Chicago.

My path is paved both by hard work, but also because of many mentors, colleagues, and employers who believed in my ability to lead teams, guide decisions, and make a positive impact both on the organization and the communities they served. I was good for their bottom lines.

I may also be an exception, though not because I’m an exceptional person. Despite accounting for nearly a quarter of the city’s population, unemployment and poverty outcomes for people with disabilities track among the worst. Those rates are even more bleak for those who experience disability and are people of color.

Diversity and inclusion strategies that are leveraged in the workplace should be no different when applied to disability. That’s because disability touches every community, every race and ethnicity, all genders, all sexualities. We are everywhere. We are everyone. But we don’t always reveal ourselves. In a study of disability and white-collar jobs, Center for Talent Innovation found that only 3.2% of employees self-identify as having a disability to their employers, yet 30% of employees have a disability. This silent 27% does so out of fear of discrimination, misjudgment and stigma.


Emily Blum is executive director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership in Chicago.