Diversability is an award-winning social enterprise to rebrand disability through the power of community.

Diversability is an award-winning movement to rebrand disability through the power of community.

Guest Post: What it's like being a business owner with a chronic illness

By: Keisha Greaves

My life has been a roller-coaster ride at times much like yours, I’m sure. Expectations, responsibilities, and everyday pressures can take a toll on anyone. Imagine dealing with the normal everyday stress of life while trying to build a business and balance having a chronic illness like Muscular Dystrophy (MD).

When someone without a chronic illness wakes up to the buzz of their second (or maybe third) alarm in the morning, a lot of thoughts may be running through their head.

Is it 7:00AM already? Do I really need to go to work today? Can’t I just lay here for another 10 minutes and still make it to work on time?

My thoughts look at a little different:

Will I be able to get out the bed without falling today?

Will I have the energy to attempt to tackle my to-do list?

How long can I actually work today before I start to experience pain?

That’s what it’s like to wake up with MD. It’s a never-ending round of questions that can alter the flow, productivity and course of my day. Not only does it make everyday life a challenge, it also affects my business.

Will I have the energy to send this email today?

What physical challenge will I face today?

All these questions and more are constantly flowing through my mind, and can seem a little deflating at times, but what good story is absent of any struggles? My villain just happens to be MD, and the hero happens to be me.  If you are living with a chronic illness of any type, I want to encourage you to keep pushing forward, especially if you have dreams or are in the process of creating your own business or brand.

Having this passion project gives me the motivation and purpose I need to get up every morning and find a way to get things done. Even if only one or two things get done from my list, I make sure I put what energy I am able to muster into getting those things completed. When I have the strength and opportunity to go out and share my Girls Chronically Rock brand with the world, it gives me a sense of fulfillment and purpose that I wouldn’t be able to achieve if I didn’t fight to get out of the bed every morning.

I won’t let MD stop me from reaching my goals and pursuing my purpose and neither should you.

Here are a few tips I want to share as a business owner with a chronic illness that I hope will encourage those who may be battling the same:

1. Have something that keeps you sane. When I can’t find the strength to do work or when I just need to get my mind off of everyday life, I watch my favorite shows. DVR is the BEST thing to ever happen to me (any Love & Hip Hop or Jane the Virgin fans out there). I get excited to catch up on my favorite series and having this outlet helps me remain balanced and upbeat when not working on my business. Find that one thing you love to watch, play or enjoy that helps you unwind and relax.

2. Have goals for your business that you follow. I have dreams for bigger and better for my business. One day, I d’ love to see the GCR brand in Target and bigger department stores, but that dream isn’t going to happen overnight. I have to continue to plan, evaluate, network and put myself and my brand out there in order to reach the right people and make the right connections. Battling a chronic illness is not knowing what happens next. I am always hoping for the best and having goals to keep my focused on the future are key to growing and developing a business. Make a vision board for your business and look at it every day to inspire you to dream bigger, work harder and aim for the moon (you’ll fall among the stars).

3. Have a Plan for Your Slower Days. I am queen of the to-do list. I’ve been super organized since being a little girl (just ask my mom), and I take pride in having a strategy for what’s next. You have to have a plan A and plan B for the days when you literally can’t make it out of the bed, or if you’re like me, you have leg or back pain that prevents you from sitting up or being in a comfortable working position. Make a plan that can be done in any state you may be in. Your future self will thank you.

4. Know When You Need to Just Rest (and be ok with it). Sometimes, the activities from the day prior can influence the degree of energy I have for the following day. I can’t control what my body wants to do - like anybody, but with a chronic illness it can be even more of a challenge. So, don’t fret about taking an hour, day or two in order to get your strength back. Sometimes, one productive day can get the same results of having a few hours here and there throughout the week. Work a few rest times and even days into your schedule to make it feel less like a day wasted. A day rested is another day of strength gained.

No matter where you stand when it comes to chronic illness or starting a business, you have the ability to pursue your dreams and live your best life. Take these notes, make them your own and remember that chronic illness is just a chapter of your life. There is still so much more left inside of you and so much more to your story. Dream big!

Keisha Greaves smiles at the camera, wearing a “Girls Chronically Rock” shirt.

Keisha Greaves smiles at the camera, wearing a “Girls Chronically Rock” shirt.

Keisha Greaves is a motivational speaker, the founder of Girls Chronically Rock, and the Massachusetts State Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Girls Chronically Rock (www.girlschronicallyrock.com) offers inspired fashion celebrating Muscular Dystrophy and other chronic illnesses. Over the past few years, Keisha has been featured in Improper Bostonian, Boston Voyager, Herself 360, Liz on Biz, among other outlets on and offline.

Guest Post: Successful Disability Hiring and Inclusion Initiatives are Rooted at the Community-Level

By: Hef Matthews, Disability Solutions

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. It is essential to acknowledge during this time, the various benefits to increasing employment of people with disabilities. Accenture recently found that, “The 45 companies that [they] identified as standing out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had, on average over the four-year period, 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins than their peers… if just one percent of unemployed persons with disabilities joined the US labor force, the GDP could get a boost of up to US $25 billion." Therefore, to celebrate NDEAM, we are thrilled to share this guest post from nonprofit Disability Solutions, a consulting group working with top companies to strengthen their workforce by hiring and retaining talented individuals and veterans with disabilities.

As an organization that partners with several employers on strategies to recruit, hire and retain individuals and veterans with disabilities, we know that companies who prioritize disability inclusion are able to differentiate themselves from the competition, attract new customers, reduce turnover and change their corporate culture. While disability inclusion can result in people and business driven outcomes, we also recognize that change like that doesn’t happen overnight by executive decree.

For many of the employers we work with that ultimately make the decision to put resources to diversity and inclusion, the conversation often starts at the top, with senior leadership. But even after an organization makes the long-term commitment to disability inclusion, it is not until action is taken at the local, community-level that the real change starts. After all, at even the largest corporations, work is simply a collection of people, all working and living together in a community.

A CEO of a company giving a speech to the media about how their organization prioritizes disability hiring and inclusion programs is great, and you hope that vision is adopted company-wide. But those statements are irrelevant if the hiring managers at each individual location throughout the organization fail to follow through in execution. For diversity and inclusion initiatives to truly be successful, it takes a well-trained, engaged, collaborative group effort at the local community-level.

Establishing a Community Brand, One Employee at a Time

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider these people my heroes.” – Fred Rogers

When people see a company’s employees as a reflection of their community, a community they care about, they see that company as a place they can work and a business they’d like to support. With one in four people in the U.S. living with a disability, people with disabilities should be well represented and properly supported within any employer claiming to care about inclusion.

In working with several clients, including some familiar brands such as PepsiCo, Synchrony, American Express and Aramark, we’ve learned the best ways for employers to strengthen their brand so they can effectively recruit and hire people with disabilities at the local level, is through employee training and by establishing local community partnerships.

Workforce Training

If a company plans to engage with the disability community, it’s critical they provide training and development to help those workplace leaders and employees to integrate with and value people with disabilities. It is statistically more likely that a hiring manager in any given community will NOT have a disability. Therefore it’s imperative that a company does everything in their power to breakdown any fears, stigmas or common misconceptions those individuals might have about the disability community. Training employees at the local, community level not only empowers and enlightens the team, it creates a more diverse and inclusive work environment, one that ultimately improves business.

Community-Based Partnerships

For companies ready to diversify their workforce by hiring people with disabilities, putting in place the proper community supports through local partnerships is absolutely paramount to successfully recruiting, hiring and retaining individuals and veterans with disabilities.

It’s not enough for a business to simply post a job because chances are, if they aren’t perceived in their local community as an inclusive, employer of choice for people with disabilities, it’s likely their qualified candidate pool will look rather thin – often due to a lack of self-disclosure from fear the employer is discriminatory in their hiring practices. To combat this, employers looking to hire people with disabilities must engage with local talent partners at the community-level.

We work with companies to help them identify and build these talent partnership groups but for the disability community, we know these organizations very well. Talent partners include veteran’s groups, local colleges and universities, city governments, state workforce agencies, vocational rehabilitation providers and community organizations who provide services to individuals and veterans with disabilities. Among specific common groups found in cities across the country, we often will establish talent partnerships with the state-level Department Veterans Affairs, Goodwill, Easter Seals, Wounded Warriors, U.S. Vets, and many more.

These organizations typically operate in a particular geography and through their efforts, they have established a significant level of trust within the disability community. By partnering with community talent partners, employers can position themselves as a business that people with disabilities can work for and one they’d like to support.

Senior executives for large employers must take the first steps by setting forth a vision to achieve disability inclusion across the organization. But a vision only goes so far as the success of any disability inclusion initiative hinges on the ability to organize and create change at the community-level.

About Hef Matthews: Hef’s is role as Marketing and Sales Manager for Disability Solutions, he works to develop partnerships with employers and help them assess current their outreach, hiring, and retention systems, policies, and processes that impact their ability to successfully engage and retain qualified jobseekers with disabilities and then develop recommendations for solutions based on the results. You can connect with him at hef.matthews@disabilitytalent.org and follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


About Disability Solutions: Disability Solutions is the consulting division of nonprofit Ability Beyond. Disability Solutions works with employers to help strengthen their workforce through diversity and inclusion. We partner with top companies to deliver people and business driven outcomes by developing recruiting and engagement strategies for the disability community - delivering custom solutions in outreach, recruiting, talent management, retention and compliance. To learn more visit: https://www.disabilitytalent.org