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Phase 3: Meeting People

In order to conduct a workshop on networking I decided to ask my network to inform its content. It seemed like an obvious approach – network about networking. Approximately 150 individuals were asked to provide recommendations for networking engagement. The following were the most common suggestions.

Xian Horn, Derek Shields, Ann Wei-Yee Kwong and Danny Vang at Disability:IN Conference
  • Meetings. If you want to learn more, ask for a meeting. Create a list of questions in advance, explain the amount of time that is needed, and ensure you have a referral or follow-on action when leave to promote the employment of people with disabilities. Examples would be Disability:IN Affiliates, The Viscardi Center, etc. This puts the student mentee into the midst of business [professionals] interested in hiring people with disabilities. It also prepares the student mentee to help others once employed.”
  • Listen for challenges. Recall, when you are present in conversation you are searching for challenges. Once they are identified, you may offer how to help – how to assist in removing the challenges. This is the value in networking, a win/win partnership.
  • Offer value. It doesn’t require a lot of knowledge, but you can create connections through something you have experienced, read or watched. Show you are thoughtful and are connecting dots!
  • Prepare Questions. Genelle Thomas of Partners for Youth with Disabilities recommends to have a few questions you want to know and keep them in your “back pocket” when needed. By practicing asking these questions before the event, you can feel more at ease asking them even when you are nervous. A few of Genelle’s recommendations:
    1) What is a typical day like at your job?
    2) What is the most challenging part of your job?
    3) What is the organizational culture like at your organization?
  • Maintain your living portfolio. On a webinar in March 2018, Jd Michaels was asked by a facilitator to discuss what he looks for in candidates and what he recommended to aspiring media professionals with disabilities. “Demonstrate your living portfolio. What are you doing now? People should judge you by your work.”– Jd Michaels, michaels.adams A portfolio is commonly known as a set of pieces of creative art collected by someone to display their skills, especially to an employer. How do you portray your skills? Think about how you can have your living portfolio so people are able to view what you are doing now!
  • Use social media! When you network online, be professional and share your experiences and ideas as they evolve. It’s an opportunity to practice your messaging and a chance to gain recognition for your work, your thoughts and your brand in general.

Putting It All Together

“Networking can be challenging, uncomfortable, and even feel a bit awkward at first. Just saying, “Hello, my name is….” is a simple, but great first step to building your self-confidence and comfort level in small group interactions. Understanding your goal to networking is also important. In some instances,

it might be to obtain a job. In others, it might be to learn more about an industry, trade, topic, opportunity, etc. In all cases, it is to expand your personal and/or professional network. Have your 2-minute elevator speech ready for each scenario. Informal networking sessions, knowing your goal will shape how you best prepare. You’ve got this!

– Bonnie Rivers Director of Employer Relations, Work Without Limits University of Massachusetts Medical School

Image of Bonnie Rivers

Bonnie leads all the services and activities for Disability:IN Massachusetts, and provides disability and employment-related training for employers, employment service providers, and state agencies. Bonnie has managed Learning and Development teams, as well as regional Corporate Responsibility and Global Diversity & Inclusion functions.

Phase 3: Meeting People Activities

Schedule a networking meeting.

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. Whydoyouwanttolearnit?
  3. Whodoyouknowthatmightbeabletohelp?
  4. How will you reach this person?
  5. Write an introductory email. Have a friend or colleague proofread it for you before you send it. And then send the email. And then write the next one.
  6. Remember what Tonya Menon said? Be courageous in traveling your social universe.


Networking as a Servant-Leader-Mentor

“For me, networking from a place of service is the most important thing one can do. Realizing that I have something someone else may need and offering that up. But the most effective, long lasting powerful form of networking is through genuine connection: really seeing the person in front of you, showing care for who they are (before what they do) rather than what you can get from them and what they can get from you. This is how you foster lifelong mentors and collaborators.

The people you want to work with have the best instincts and can sense who you are; and if you’re “real”, that’s why it’s important to focus beyond yourself and always aim to give your best self. Lastly, it is not how many cards you get at an event that matter. It’s the quality of the connections you form with people and how you invest or care for them over time that matter most.

For me, “networking” is circular – it’s about connection and care for everyone whether they can do something for you or not, and even more essential when they can’t or don’t. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind and you never know when or how it may come back to you.”

-Xian Horn, Servant-Leader-Mentor find Xian on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn


This blog post, written by Jessica Queener (@jessqueener) and originally titled “National Disability Employment Awareness Month”, brings together three important themes: Work Early, Work Often, Networking, and Disability Disclosure. It is shared with permission of the author and IEL.

Each October, as a country, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) to highlight that people with disabilities CAN and WANT to work. This year’s theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All” to demonstrate to employers
and federal agencies the importance of embracing diversity through the means of empowering all employees. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor’s statistics continue to indicate that people with disabilities are underutilized in our workforce. Currently, as of September 2018, 21.4% of people with disabilities participate in the workforce compared
to 68.2% of people without disabilities. Given this, it’s important to ask ourselves, “How can we begin to empower more people with disabilities to join the workforce? What can we do to achieve equitable outcomes for people with disabilities?”

If you work with, mentor, or otherwise know any youth or young people with disabilities (this could include family members or neighbors), here are some key ideas on how to empower them to join America’s workforce.

Work Early, Work Often

Youth and young adults with disabilities need opportunities to work through volunteering, job shadowing, internships, and paid work experiences. Does your organization participate in Disability Mentoring Day? If not, learn how your organization can participate through the American Association of People with Disabilities’ National Disability Mentoring Day events! As a young kid, I was exposed to the Baby-Sitter’s Club books—so my first paid job was being a baby-sitter to the neighborhood kids. Also, I was introduced to politics at a young age. At age 14, I volunteered to work in state and national campaigns. This exposure led me to develop a deep interest in politics and history that pushed me to seek out opportunities that landed me my very first job with benefits at age 16 with the United States Congressional Page Program. The fact that I started working early and often—trying out new things—not being afraid to fail—led to my own personal empowerment. In other words, encourage youth and young people with disabilities to work early and work often!

Network, Network, and Network

Networking is a skill that develops throughout a person’s career. Unfortunately, it is a social skill that is often overlooked for job preparation for young people with disabilities. While schools and programs often focus on assisting young people with gaining the
work experiences to add to their resume, sometimes they forget to focus on building networking and relationship-building skills which are critical to obtaining employment.
In my career, the job opportunities that have been offered have been based upon my relationships with people I have met and collaborated with in my work. As I progressed
in my career, new positions offered were not always advertised to the public. Encourage young people with disabilities to become comfortable with meeting and striking up a conversation with new people. Think about offering to young people the opportunity to shadow you to learn how to facilitate networking conversations at events. In turn, you can shadow your young person to provide them with feedback at future networking events.


It is up to the young person with a disability to decide whether or not to disclose their disability or disabilities to their employer or potential employer. As a person with
a cochlear implant, I chose to disclose before every job interview that I may need accommodations during the interview. However, I chose not to disclose my mental health condition to my employer until the last interview—this usually means that I can seriously see myself working with this organization and I need to know if they can and will accommodate my needs. For each person, the decision to disclose their disability or disabilities is personal and individualized. If you are working with or know a young person with a disability, encourage them to review the 411 on Disability Disclosure. In addition, for guidance on how to facilitate conversations about disclosure with young people, check out the companion workbook for adults and families.

These key ideas are the beginning steps of building empowerment in young people with disabilities. In order to achieve successful outcomes for youth and young people with disabilities, we have to be willing to rise up for equity by intentionally empowering young people with disabilities to be a part of America’s workforce. The opportunities to build empowerment should be happening in our schools, workplaces, and in our communities. By empowering youth with disabilities today, we are creating a better future for America.


By Madelynn Wellons, Johns Hopkins University, Class of 2020

While researching the topic of disability disclosure, I found so few resources on the impact that multiple identities have on disclosure. I want this guidebook to be both a culmination of other resources along with addressing key gaps in literature, and the main key gap that I identified was a lack of intersectionality. So much of the disability community is presumed to be upper class, white, male, heterosexual, etc. and so few people consider that someone can have a disability and also have another minority status identity.

When asked about the reasoning behind this in interviews, some people suggested that others have trouble seeing more than one marginalized identity, especially with “hidden identity,” because they are used to processing just one core identity. For example, people who are LGBTQ+ and have disabilities are sometimes not believed or told that they just want to feel special and are making up either their LGBTQ+ identity or their identity as someone with a disability.

When speaking about the intersection between race and disability, several of the interviewees spoke about being criminalized or “the trouble kids” already for their racial identity. Allilsa, a Hispanic woman, spoke about her difficulties with supervisors who viewed her as lazy as a result of her race, and when she tried to get accommodations her supervisors believed that she was using her disability as an excuse to not do work. It wasn’t until she kept reporting this issue to higher levels of supervisors that she reached one (who was a woman with other intersecting identities as well) who recognized how problematic, racist, and ableist that view was. Elijah, an African American man, spoke about how there is an inherent assumption that students of color are not as qualified as their white peers. When he discloses his disability, his professors often view him as lesser, not capable of doing the same amount of work as other students, or capable and just trying to avoid doing work. Allilsa also brought up a study (Morgan et al., 2013, which is listed in resources for this section) in which young kids of color were both diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at lower rates and were given less access to treatment for their ADHD compared to white children. Allilsa expressed that this is something she has seen, and that children of color who act out or show other symptoms of ADHD are seen as “the trouble kids” or “the bad kids,” and even when they are diagnosed they are frequently denied access to treatment.

Danny, an Asian American man who is blind, also spoke about how his Asian background contrasts with his disability status. He said that people tend to have lower expectations for the achievements of people with disabilities, but as a Chinese man, he fits into the category of a ‘model minority’ and is expected to be a very high-achieving student. When he succeeds, people attribute it to his Asian-American identity, and when he fails, people attribute it to his disability status. He wanted to stress that, when multiple identities intersect, it can greatly impact people’s perceptions of you, and that you have an even lower chance than others of fitting into their stereotypical box of what you should be like according to your identities.

Andy had several incredible points in regard to intersectionality in the disability community. He said that when he identifies as a person with a disability, that’s all that society wants to focus on. When people are also made aware of his Hispanic and gay identities, people have trouble acknowledging all three of his core identities at once and always want to focus on just one at a time. He also spoke about his frustrations
in that the spaces made for those with disabilities are often very white and lack other forms of diversity, and the lack of understanding of his racial identity can lead him to feel uncomfortable trying to be an effective leader in the disability spaces. It is harder to find his voice and feel like he has a ‘seat at the table’ as a leader when a privileged, older, white man is competing for that leadership role. He stressed how important it is for those who have any sort of privilege to recognize it, even when in minority spaces and/or you have another marginalized identity. It’s our responsibility to open up doors for others who may not have that equal access to platforms.

One last note that Andy and a few other interviewees made was on how different cultures view disability, and how this can impact one’s identity as someone with a disability. Andy stressed that growing up in a marginalized community as a person with a disability led
to him getting different opportunities, since the people around him viewed disability in a different way. In many Hispanic communities, disability (and especially disabilities relating to mental health) is seen as something to be fixed or cured, and not something to accept or understand as another part of a diverse identity. Coming from that background, he was told that he was ‘broken’, and because of a lack of Hispanic leaders with disabilities and the lack of a message from those people telling him that he is not broken and can achieve so much, he felt that it was incredibly difficult to recognize that his disability is just another part of his identity. This was another key piece, or key solution, that came out of these conversations. It’s incredibly important to lift up the voices of people with disabilities who have intersecting identities because the more their messages are spread, the more they will inspire others with intersecting identities and lead to higher levels of inclusion and diversity.


  • Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network
  • Black, Disabled, and Proud: College Students with Disabilities
  • Disability Intersectionality Summit
  • Disability Visibility Project
  • National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (CNLD) / Coalición Nacional para Latinxs con Discapacidades (CNLD)
  • Study on the intersectionality between race and ADHD treatment and diagnosis
  • Women of the World Festival 2017

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