In 1997, Tony Coelho served as Chair of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities. Tony was appointed to this position by President Clinton for his two terms in office. Tony quickly realized that more emphasis was placed on various types of vocational rehabilitation resources being offered through the federal and state government than addressing why companies were not hiring people with disabilities. Tony wanted to focus instead on businesses, as he always said, “We will never find employment for people with disabilities without companies that hire people.” For this reason, Tony made the decision to create a new division called the USBLN. Wow! At the time, this was such a progressive concept. Today, the USBLN has become one of the largest business organizations with representation of some of the most recognized corporate brands, companies like Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Northup Grumman, the Marriott, and many more. At the most recent conference in Las Vegas in July there were over 1,500 participants coming together to talk about disability employment.
Over the years, the USBLN has brought many excellent programs and tools to educate the business community on what it means to be successful in inclusion of people with disabilities. From celebrating the history of people with disabilities through the Disability Rights Museum on Wheels, providing companies with supplier diversity support, mentorship opportunities for people with disabilities, to the Disability Equality Index, the USBLN has supported the hiring and inclusion of people with disabilities.
Listen to President and CEO of Disability:IN Jill Houghton as she discusses the reason for the name change and the mission of the organization in-depth.
Jill Houghton, CEO of the USBLN, has really grown this organization to become not only premier, but extremely popular and prestigious for a company to join. The Chair of the organization, Chief Accessibility Officer for Microsoft, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, is a superstar and great leader. Under Jenny and Jill’s leadership, a branding group was given the task to rebrand the organization. Many corporations did not understand that the USBLN was comprised of corporations seeking to improve the employment of people with disabilities and improve their diversity commitment. This branding group was challenged to determine a new name that better represented the mission of the USBLN.
Like many others attending the conference, I wondered what would the new name of the USBLN be?
Over the years, many business leaders have decided to relabel people with disabilities and I wondered if this would impact the new name of the USBLN. So many times, I have heard people say phrases such as “take the dis out of disability”, “differently abled”, “people with “abilities”, “handicapable”, “challenged”, or “special needs.” When I’d hear those phrases, I’d mentally shout “Stop it! Stop telling people with disabilities to be something different!”
We are people with disabilities and that is who we are. We are a culture of people—not a medical model. We have pride in who we are and what we have accomplished as a community. We are a political group with voting power. We have disability rights groups invested in the civil rights of those in our community. And the Americans with Disabilities Act will never be called, “The Americans who are Differently Abled Act”! Do not tell me to be proud of who I am but be ashamed to use the word disability.
I was absolutely thrilled when I found out at the conference, that the new name of the USBLN is Disability:IN. I love it! Using the word “disability” within the business world, in such a powerful and positive way, raises the bar for all organizations. I am a woman with a disability; I live with epilepsy and a hearing loss—I am not ashamed. This name, Disability:IN means I am IN. No longer is disability a word to be hidden or something to be whispered in the hallways and conference rooms of corporations. We, people with disabilities, are IN!
I want to thank you Jill, Jenny, and the entire branding team, for taking a stand and making it clear that you should hire people with disabilities. Business leaders, I challenge you to pick up the mantel and join the Disability:IN team in not being ashamed of the word “disability.” People with disabilities should not be excluded, we should be hired, because we are IN and we are ready to work!
Learn more about Disability:IN and their programs and services.