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Diversability Unplugged: Entrepreneurs - lightning talks

On June 10, Diversability (in partnership with the SF Global Shapers and ThoughtWorks) hosted an event where five entrepreneurs shared their experience with disability.

This is actually a pretty big deal. Disability representation among tech founders and investors is incredibly low. There are many systemic barriers that prevent would-be disabled entrepreneurs from starting VC backed businesses. And disclosure is extremely rare by those who do make it in the industry.

A few takeaways: 1. We are creative lifehackers.

Joe Vasquez standing at the front of the room with large blue screens behind him that read “Unlocking Potential Through Allyship.” Photo credit: Kai Faust

Joe Vasquez is an entrepreneur and venture partner at Revel Partners.

One of the “superpowers” he’s developed alongside hearing loss is the ability to predict that a couple will start dating by observing body language, etc. It’s no secret that people with disabilities have heightened creativity, problem-solving skills, and unique perspectives based on our lived experiences.

He also shared some guidance on how to eliminate microaggressions in the workplace:

  • Be self-aware and aware of when microaggressions happen — be sure to address them in a productive way and avoid being defensive when someone speaks up
  • Create an environment where feedback can be given in many different ways (anonymous surveys, sponsor programs, etc.)
  • Listen and pay attention — make sure to give credit where credit is due
  • Create accessible environments for people with different abilities, learning styles, cultures, genders, sexual orientations (closed captioning, braille, wheelchair accessible, gender neutral, etc.). Put these processes in from day one.
  • Realize this: we all want to feel safe and valued — its good for the individual and for the bottom line
2. We are better because of our disabilities.

Emon Shakoor speaking into a microphone in front of large screens displaying captions in white. Photo credit: Kai Faust

Emon Shakoor founded Blossom, a startup accelerator for women founders in Saudi Arabia.

She shared her experience going through school and launching her career with epilepsy, and how her illness helped her develop skills that have served her career growth.

3. Representation matters.

Danh Trang speaking into a microphone with captions in white on the screen behind him. Photo credit: Kai Faust

Danh Trang is the Chief Business Officer of Breathe For Change.

He shared a moving story of a motivational speaker with dwarfism coming to visit his elementary school. She educated his peers about how to treat every individual with respect and offered an example to him of a confident adult little person.

4. We adapt.

Kwiri Yang speaking into a microphone taken from a seat in the audience and a few out focus heads seated in front of the photographer. Photo credit: Kai Faust

Kwiri Yang is the CEO of LifeGyde.

She shared her story of being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder while building a company, and how she needed to adjust her lifestyle and way of operating to support her health.

5. Nothing about us, without us.

Dan Seider speaking into a microphone with the screen of captions behind him. Photo credit: Kai Faust

Dan Seider is the CEO of STIGMA, a startup focused on mood tracking.

He shared his experience using mood tracking to manage bipolar symptoms and how he’s translating that into a scalable piece of software to support others as well.

Dan Seider speaking at the front of the room with Ava captions displayed on two large screens behind him. Photo credit: Kai Faust

See these cool real-time captions? This is a tool called Ava — it allows users to read live event captions on their phone. Check it out for your next event!

Panel of 6 people seated in tall chairs at the front of the room. Photo credit: Kai Faust

The audience also had plenty of questions regarding disability employment and inclusion. This is just the beginning of the conversation about how we increase disability representation in tech and build companies that are inclusive for everyone.

Thank you so much Diversability, Tiffany Yu, Joe Vasquez, Emon Shakoor, Danh Trang, Kwiri Yang, and Dan Seider for all of the work you are doing to support our community!

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