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Carol Glazer: “The disability community is our nation’s most diverse”

We can all play a role in disability inclusion by asking three key questions: 1) Are our practices and policies, directly or inadvertently, creating obstacles for people with disabilities? For instance, if someone with visual impairment can’t access a job application they can’t pursue the role. This is no different from adding a ramp to […]

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We can all play a role in disability inclusion by asking three key questions:

1) Are our practices and policies, directly or inadvertently, creating obstacles for people with disabilities? For instance, if someone with visual impairment can’t access a job application they can’t pursue the role. This is no different from adding a ramp to the front of a building so someone in a wheelchair can enter.

2) What biases or expectations might be subtly influencing my decision-making? If I see someone on the subway who walks funny, what do I assume about them? Do I get scared? Or do I see if they need help? Many job candidates with Autism get shut out of processes because they have a hard time engaging with interviewers, but interpersonal skills may be irrelevant to the role they’re aiming for. To be more inclusive, we first have to be able to challenge our own preconceptions.

3) What more should I know about the disability community, its challenges, and its strengths?

The disability community is our nation’s most diverse. Included within are individuals of different races, genders and sexual preferences, abilities, and talents. But all encounter stigma and misperceptions that are directed at people with disabilities.


I had the pleasure to interview Carol Glazer. Carol is President of the National Organization on Disability, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization representing all of America’s 57 million people with disabilities. In her ten years as President, Carol has transformed NOD into the country’s premier resource on disability inclusion through its Disability Employment Tracker, its Corporate Leadership Council and its professional advisory services helping companies with talent acquisition.

Carol is a speaker and subject matter expert on issues regarding the employment of people with disabilities and has addressed audiences at national conferences, corporate forums, and higher education institutions, among others. Some of Carol’s commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, TIME, the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, where she maintains a blog on disability employment-related matters. Carol has also appeared on nationally syndicated television and radio broadcasts, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, National Public Radio (NPR), Disability Matters with Joyce Bender on VoiceAmerica, The Business of Giving with Denver Frederick on AM 970, and Connections on WXXI News.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been a part of the disability community for over 27 years since my son Jacob was born with hydrocephalus or water on the brain. His condition required multiple life or death surgeries and extended hospital stays over the first years of his life, and left Jacob with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Moreover, the trauma of being a parent of a child going through these experiences left me with PTSD.

So, I’ve always been passionate about disability inclusion. When I had the opportunity to join the National Organization on Disability in 2006, I jumped at it.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The National Organization on Disability is solely focused on the intractable issue of disability employment. When we look at workforce participation rates, we are effectively the only community for whom job prospects have not increased — even in today’s tight labor market. For Americans with disabilities, employment rates really haven’t changed since World War II.

Whereas most organizations work directly with individuals, helping prepare them for jobs or recover from illness and injury, and so forth, we work slightly differently, partnering directly with companies to help them build inclusion programs to recruit, hire, and retain talent with disabilities. We also engage heavily in communications campaigns to change perceptions of disability, particularly pertaining to work and talent. In concert, our goal is to create the conditions necessary for a sea change to take place in the employment landscape to — in a sustainable way — be more inclusive of all people — including those with disabilities.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Absolutely! We can all play a role in disability inclusion by asking three key questions:

1) Are our practices and policies, directly or inadvertently, creating obstacles for people with disabilities? For instance, if someone with visual impairment can’t access a job application they can’t pursue the role. This is no different from adding a ramp to the front of a building so someone in a wheelchair can enter.

2) What biases or expectations might be subtly influencing my decision-making? If I see someone on the subway who walks funny, what do I assume about them? Do I get scared? Or do I see if they need help? Many job candidates with Autism get shut out of processes because they have a hard time engaging with interviewers, but interpersonal skills may be irrelevant to the role they’re aiming for. To be more inclusive, we first have to be able to challenge our own preconceptions.

3) What more should I know about the disability community, its challenges, and its strengths?

The disability community is our nation’s most diverse. Included within are individuals of different races, genders and sexual preferences, abilities, and talents. But all encounter stigma and misperceptions that are directed at people with disabilities.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I believe that leadership is a craft like any other. It needs to be learned, codified and practiced with intention. It is an art and a science, part persuasion, inspiration, and determination. It requires working both side-by-side with people (in the “swamp”) and setting top-down goals and examples (from the “balcony”). I’m a big fan of “ reflective management,” a signature leadership style of Ellen Schall, now an NYU Dean, who once led New York City’s fractured and demoralized Department of Juvenile Justice and transformed it into an agent for sustainable societal change.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson, both personally and professionally, came from my first mentor, Mike Sviridoff. And I’ve often heard it echoed elsewhere. But effectively, it amounts to celebrate all wins — big, small, and in-between. Social change happens incrementally, so it’s important to appreciate and work for the process as much as the results.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’d love to engage with readers on Twitter (@CarolGlazer) and encourage all to connect with me on LinkedIn (Carol Glazer).

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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