Redefining Disability, One Superpower at a Time


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If you are a leader with a disability, you’ve probably spent a great deal of time listening to the word “disability” tossed around in various situations, from your workplace to a “placard” for your vehicle to insurance paperwork. In fact, when most people see the placard bearing the wheelchair logo and watch someone climb out of a vehicle, they usually think of words like neediness, woundedness or helplessness.

But have you ever considered viewing the word “disability” from a different perspective? What if you kept the word “ability” and reinvented the prefix? What might the letters in the prefix “DIS” stand for?


We can reinvent this too-familiar term, beginning with the letter “D.” Although some would define destiny as something irreversible that is set to happen, another definition suggests that destiny is an irresistible part of our future that we are compelled to grasp and fulfill. Some entrepreneurs with divergent thinking have described a driving force and confidence that led them to create empires.

If you are looking for the kind of motivation that drives the most wildly successful business leaders, think about putting together a vision board. Include photos that inspire you, phrases, or even just a word that means something only to you. Be as detailed as you can. Place your vision board in a prominent position so you can soak up the energy of your ideas when you walk by.

Related: 6 Ways a Disabled Leader Can Be a Great Entrepreneur


Another good “D” word might be “determination.” If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you soon realized the entire group of entrepreneurs possesses, in a variety of manifestations, a dogged determination. Each shark can give testimonials revealing the level of tenacity it took to rise to the top. One shark failed at 22 jobs before ascending to great heights in her business — another canvassed neighborhoods for sales. One shark began by making hats in his home.

If you want to go to the next level in your business, you can start by developing a stronger sense of your purpose. Think about the audience you want to serve; knowing your “why” can give you the boldness and determination to keep going no matter what obstacles arise.

Related: Can Determination Be Taught?


Another “D” Word, “decisive,” is part of the wheelhouse of the differently-abled business executive. Every part of the day is a decision-making opportunity. In business and life, one move contains a hundred different decisions.

People who make great decisions often take time to reflect and reposition themselves. Think about the value of putting together a business plan – what you would like to achieve in the next six months. Consider the time, money and people it will take to achieve your goal. Develop your plan, choosing trusted mentors with whom to share your ideas. This built-in period of reflection and forward-thinking will keep you prepared for the unexpected.

Related: Employers Need Workers. Now They’re Realizing The Untapped Talent of These People.


If we’re spelling out the prefix, D-I-S, an “I” word that comes to mind is Inspiring.

If you are looking for ways to inspire others, you can search online for mentors who are pressing on with the hardship with which you struggle.

You may feel as though you live life facing an impossible challenge. A quick web search will reveal hundreds of YouTubers, podcasters and bloggers sharing secrets of their triumphs through struggle. From visually impaired documentary makers to young engineers making life better for those with limitations, you’ll find the motivation to rise above your situation and let your gifts shine.


As we spell out the D-I-S part of “disability,” another good “I” word is Intuition. It’s important to realize that the “able-bodied” often perceive disabled persons as lacking basic skills; those who consider themselves “normal” pity those with limitations, perhaps holding the view that management “felt sorry” for a disabled person and hired them out of mere compassion.

However, contrary to stereotypes, the diversely-abled are often watchful and wise; they follow their instincts, quickly assessing sensory input. For example, a visually impaired person can listen and “read” a room. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, a piece of art history purchased by the Getty Museum was proved a forgery after a woman’s sheer gut-level, emotionally negative reaction turned out to be right.

If you wish to build intuition like a muscle, practice being still, listening and sensing what is going on. See if you can feel the energy in your body. Concentrate on the sound of your breathing, your blood pumping through your veins. Try this once at home, then maybe, at a restaurant. So much of the time, it’s what you pick up through your senses that can help you size up a situation and make the right decision.


If we’re building the case for “S” in “D-I-S,” Sensitivity is a word you might not associate with an entrepreneur’s success; however, a number of business stars come from brokenness. Perhaps that’s the secret to durable success — bending but not breaking. Sensitivity brings with it compassion, empathy and sympathy. The struggle prepares people for the rugged road of business, the ups and downs, economic prosperity, and downturns.

Sensitivity most often comes with helping. If you want to develop a more compassionate approach, go into places where people are in need, volunteer for organizations or join groups created to help those in the early stages of where you have been in life; perhaps you can mentor someone who just needs a little understanding or some good advice.

Related: Why You Need to Become an Inclusive Leader (and How to Do It)


Savvy can be used as an adjective and a verb. You might not think about a person who can “savvy” her way through a meeting, but here’s where the entrepreneurial toolkit comes together to inform the critical decisions a business leader must make. The most successful entrepreneurs are not reactionary people. They’ve developed a track record of the proactive response. They don’t become ruffled by the tough questions. The differently-abled leader has the edge here, having regularly fielded tough questions about their condition.

Savvy, a combination of wisdom, emotional control, and know-how, allows an entrepreneur to quiet the naysayers without losing the deal, to respond to critics without disrupting the meeting, and to ignore bad reviews entirely without letting negative talk disturb their decision-making.

If you’re thinking about your own brand of “savvy,” it’s time to boost your confidence. An important component in that process is affirmations. Start by asking your friends and colleagues to weigh in on your gifts. Think back to the times people have complimented one of your traits or an aspect of your personality. You have gifts, whether you see them or not. What is your greatest skill? What do people look to you for? Out of this feedback, you can create your own mantras to guide you when you need them most.

Once you take this journey, it’s time to celebrate who you are and what you bring to the organization.

If you think about it, any entrepreneur can read the track record of a differently-abled person in business, watch and learn, uncover their secrets, and take notes. The next time you see the word “DISABLED,” you will no doubt think of the many superpowers summed up in the life of the person thriving under that label. Your period of reflection will lead you to realize you already possess all the qualities of the most successful entrepreneurs.

When you’re stressed or in the heat of the deal, you can celebrate the leader you’ve become. People will take inspiration from the way you walk into a room, the way you run your company, and the way you seem to make the right moves — and they’ll look to your superhero strength to lead the way.


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