Disability Leadership Summit: 4 Lessons for Year 2

Emily Blum
April 18, 2024

In January of this year, Disability Lead was incredibly proud to launch the first annual Disability Leadership Summit. Drawing 100 leaders, 91% of whom identified as having a disability, it was one of the largest professional development opportunities created by disabled leaders for disabled leaders.  In fact, the Disability Leadership Summit was ideated and spearheaded by a committed group of people, most of whom are professionals with disabilities, passionate about building inclusive workplaces. Together, we created a two-day experience filled with keynotes and interactive discussions, practical webinars and facilitated virtual networking and community-building.  

It was both profound, and at times emotional, to have so many folks in a collective space lean into their experience and leadership as a professional with a disability. Here are the biggest takeaways we heard about what’s needed next and how to best activate disabled leaders in the workplace.

One: Our stories are critical

“Sharing a story is an act of courage AND an act of generosity”—Judith Stone, Storyteller and Founding Board Member of The Moth.

Our world is rich in data. Stats about ROI, KPIs and yes, even DEI seems overabundant. In fact, even data about disability inclusion is seemingly available. From labor force characteristics to data that correlates bottom line achievements with disability employment, a quick Google search can yield a lot of information. Yet, too often, the missing element is stories. Stories of our experiences and of the inherent opportunities and challenges of living and working with disabilities. The exchange of personal stories can inspire change, and they have the power to humanize experiences, break down barriers, and promote empathy and compassion.  

Among the many beliefs we hold true at Disability Lead, “We believe our perspective is valuable and our stories are universal.”

Two: For disabled leaders to thrive, organizations must move beyond compliance and commit to more disability-inclusive workplaces.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was created to ensure that disabled people have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Yet if organizations only follow the letter of the law, it will never result in equitable and inclusive workplaces. We need more than the minimum. is a great place to start and they offer a Workplace Accommodation Toolkit that provides guidance and resources for employers seeking to move beyond basic compliance in order to create more disability-inclusive workplaces.  

Three: We can have advocacy without fear

Advocacy work is rarely comfortable. Yet it can get easier with practice. Seeking out allies and like-minded disabled colleagues can help build confidence. and. On the road to achieving a more equitable and inclusive workplace, it’s essential to speak up, assert our value and seek out the opportunities we deserve. Our leadership must include self-advocacy and empowerment.

Four: We need cross-disability and intersectional work

While disability is widely embraced as a form of diversity and often incorporated into DEI strategies, these efforts often do not reflect the tremendous diversity among disabled people. Not only is the prevalence of disability higher within some communities of color, but also individuals’ perceptions of disability, daily interactions, and opportunities are significantly shaped by the intersections of disability and their other identities.

Our staff and our advisory group are actively discussing these four ideas and many more, and we look forward to hosting the 2nd Annual Disability Leadership Summit in 2025. For more information, including opportunities to sponsor or present at our upcoming Disability Leadership Summit, please email me at