What the ADA Means to a Disability-Owned Business 

As the founder of a disability-owned business enterprise (DOBE), I was proud to attend the Disability:IN conference in Dallas, TX, in July 2022. It was a week of highs and lows.

Highs, from heartening topics like the number of corporations who have taken the Disability Equality Index assessment and an update on the development of a global version of the tool.

Lows, from hearing absolutely gut-wrenching tribulations people with disabilities have had to just keeping moving and contributing on a daily basis. 

So, on this anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reflecting on the conference, all I can think to myself is: Wow—we have come so far, and yet we still have so far to go.

Mentors matter to a disability-owned business

During the Disability:IN meeting, I took to the pulpit for a small gathering of Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (DOBEs). Those attending included both the current and incoming cohort of mentees, and their mentors in industry. I spoke on what it meant to me to work with a mentor over the last year on developing my “origin story,” one of the goals I had set for the mentorship.

I had struggled for a few years trying to tell various audiences about how and why I had started the company. Historically, it was a very emotional topic for me. But I found over the course of the year in developing the story that the more I told and practiced it, the more people started sharing back their stories. They would tell me of situations where they needed accommodations or help, and couldn’t get them.

I encouraged my fellow DOBEs to do the same. Mentors, challenge yourselves to help DOBEs define themselves in this space. 

The more stories we hear in this space—the more people who take the chance and self-ID—the more voices and unique perspectives we add to the mix. And that makes us more likely to see representation where it is needed. That includes on boards and in positions of leadership. 

Tell me your story. I’m listening.  

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Jeanette Towles