Develop, support, promote disability leaders


article by DLI CEO Christina Ryan

Allies of disability leaders step back out of the way.

A pile of corn kernels


When asked outright, most people would claim to be allies for disabled people. Yet in practice it seems that very few are.


One of the most intractable and widespread experiences for disability leaders is the power imbalance in our daily lives. There are so few disabled people in senior positions which means a constant requirement to work within the boundaries and expectations set by others.


“This is really a five day job, doing it in four is going to be impossible.”

“Can you stay back to get this done? We all need to put in extra effort.”

“I worked ridiculous hours to get here, I expect my team to do the same.”




“Yes, diversity is great, lets make sure we have more people with disability on our team.”


Except, there won’t be more disabled people on your team if you expect them to think and act as you do. Disability means diversity, and that means different.


Expectations that everyone on your team will operate the same way with the same hours and the same work style will override any diversity present because you are expecting everyone to be a clone of you.


When asked outright, people think they are being supportive and inclusive, yet any expectation that disabled people will think and act as you do is ableism. It is exclusive. It creates an unsafe workplace for disabled people if they need to ask for adjustments or flexibility. It often results in bullying.


Allies recognise that people, all people, are not robots. We all work differently, have different optimum operational times, different flexibility requirements, and different lives. Every member of every team will need different adjustments so that they can work to their best and be in a safe environment for them.


Allies recognise that their roles as team leaders, supervisors and executive staff means they need to step up to initiate flexibility and create safe environments. Waiting for the less powerful person to ask is perpetuating the power imbalance.


Allies step back and listen.

Allies know they cannot know the disability experience and turn to those with expertise.

Allies foreground the voices of disabled people.

Allies never take senior appointments over competent disabled people, rather they ask “where are the disability leaders, appoint one over me” and step away to create space.

Allies get out of the way.