The words “Nothing About Us, Without Us” was first invoked by the South African disability rights movement in the early 1990s to become a global clarion call for everyday organizing to overcome systemic discrimination and empower persons with disabilities to take control over decisions affecting their lives. Since then, persons with disabilities have reached 17% of the global population, making them the world’s largest minority. Considering this data, it may be important to take a moment to reexamine the relationship of persons with disabilities to the global society, and in fact, rethink the paradigm itself to better position people with disabilities in a more humanistic way to recognize the true value of inclusivity that will have a ripple effect across various elements of society, business, and culture.
Perhaps we can start by reconsidering the maxim “Nothing About Us, Without Us” and simply say “Nothing Without Us”! While I cannot take credit for this turn of phrase, the simplicity, and truism of this statement cannot be underscored and must be amplified. As the digital age marches on the disability community is coming into its own and taking a level of agency through areas ranging from representation in film, television, and music to new expressions in fashion, and an uptick in the realm of accessibility and design. This recalibration of disability not only changes the tenor of this community but acknowledges a new phase in the larger diversity conversation. It boldly states that persons with disabilities are bringing something new to the table and providing the larger society with an innovative perspective that is worth paying attention to.
The phrase “Nothing Without Us” should initiate a new era within the intersectionality that defines the disability experience. It demonstrates the very idea that disability exemplifies the role of human variability providing a bridge towards a greater level of understanding and acceptance. Over the past decade, much has been made of the business case of disability, yet one of the most glaring omissions has been the fact that the lived experience of disability can be a true value ad when looking at the culture of business itself. Whether examining areas from talent management and workplace design to the future of work and the evolution of new products and services, the DNA of the disability experience is more vital than ever.
Organizations such as the Valuable 500 through their leadership mentoring program Generation Value understand the importance and future merit that persons with disabilities can play across the business ecosystem. Now is the time for business leaders to reassess the conversation around disability to move beyond the traditional diversity and inclusion tropes and see this community as truly essential to how we approach the challenges of the next century. “Nothing Without Us” is both a clarion call and a recognition that humanist thinking needs to be an essential ingredient of business tactics if any organization wants to have a competitive advantage.
“Nothing Without Us” is about reframing the very notion of disability and the connectivity it has within the larger tapestry of the human experience. Savvy business leaders need to see these ideas and think about how to best integrate them into their day-to-day business needs. By recognizing the underlying value of disability as a direct correlation to a larger mission we open a well of possibilities to create a win for all.