I may not have gone
where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended
up where I need to be.
– Douglas Adams
Image from Angel City Sports' in-person adaptive sports clinic and competition in December 2021.
For as long as I can remember, my value and self-worth were intricately and intimately tied to my work position, title, and production. I had no idea who I was without them, until I was forced to learn. And learn quickly I did.
I am in my early 40s and diagnosed with both multiple sclerosis (MS) and superior semicircular canal dehiscence (SSCD), a very rare inner ear disease affecting 1-2 percent of the world’s population. While my MS diagnosis took approximately eight-months, my SSCD went undiagnosed and misdiagnosed for almost nine-years.
"What I wanted to be and what I dreamed of being
was the CEO of a hospital, and a member of Congress.
But the long hours and stress of the high-level positions I held
were negatively impacting my physical, emotional,
mental, and spiritual health."
My small, woman- and disability-owned business was born – out of necessity – in 2017. What I wanted to be and what I dreamed of being was the CEO of a hospital, and a member of Congress. But the long hours and stress of the high-level positions I held were negatively impacting my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritial health. I left my role as the Director of Chapter Services and Healthcare Access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And with almost two decades of experience in public administration, I became a trusted disability consultant and trainer, and a reliable strategic partner.
For three-years, clients consistently came to me through word-of-mouth referrals. But in May of 2020 that all changed as the pandemic negatively impacted my clients and their businesses - most of which were nonprofit and government organizations. I needed to pivot, and pivot I did.
I spent weeks thinking about what I really wanted to do with my business and what impact I wanted to make. I talked with trusted friends, family members, and colleagues. I researched and educated myself. And in October of that same year, I officially launched - with a website and all - Eye Level Communications, LLC (Eye Level). At Eye Level, we help businesses incorporate disability inclusion with confidence. Beause we create a safe space for real, uncomfortable conversations that build and sustain more equitable workplaces.
Disability impacts everyone. It overlaps and intersects with all social categorizations, including race, nationality, age, gender identity and expression, culture, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic level. This interconnectedness creates interdependent systems of oppression, prejudice, and disadvantage. Organizations that prioritize intersectionality enable employees to embrace, express, and celebrate all aspects of themselves – without fear of discrimination and retaliation in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 61 million adults or 26% or one in four of the United States’ population, live with a disability (only counting those who self-identify). While numerous studies have proven the business benefits of disability inclusion, disability is often an afterthought in employer diversity and inclusion strategies. As disability inclusion is increasingly viewed publicly as a matter of social responsibility, it is still overlooked in strategic communications and social responsibility planning.
Living with multiple invisible disabilities presents numerous challenges that are often misunderstood by the nondisabled community, as well as by some folks within the disability community. And while many brands want to include disabled people and other diverse communities in their companies’ strategic initiatives, they often don’t know where to start. Eye Level can help your company show the world that you truly see the value of every human being and support your employees showing up as their full selves.
Prior-to May of 2020, I was relatively quiet on social media, but that all changed in light of the pandemic and the rising discourse around Black Lives Matter. I quickly joined the conversation and started networking on LinkedIn. Using Linkedin Premium I've been able to connect and communicate directly with leaders in the diversity, equity, and inclusion area, and have meaningful conversations with amazing people - all doing work that will positively impact and change the world we live in.
I want to say - THANK YOU – to everyone on LinkedIn who has connected with me, taught me, and challenged me. Thank you for the opportunity, Trish Lindo, Senior Creator Manager at LinkedIn for Creators. Thank you to my husband, Carl Deriso, for his constant encouragement and guidance. And thank you to everyone who continue to support me, along with the Eye Level vision - equity and inclusion for all people living with disabilities.
I am extremely grateful for each of you and look forward to collaborating in the new year. Cheers to 2022!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Kirwan is the Founder and CEO of Eye Level Communications, a California-based company dedicated to having the critical conversations necessary to connect communities and drive positive social change for people living with disabilities. She is also the host of the Incluse This! Podcast, a movement for disability equity, that aims to amplify disabled voices, highlight shared experiences, and work alongside disability allies to unify the disability community.