#DiversabilityAMA Recap: Breaking the fear of disability and finding empathy
By Brittany Déjean, Founder and Executive Director, AbleThrive
Tiffany Yu, founder of Diversability, opened up the event sharing her own experience when she started her life with a disability at age 9 after a car accident. Tiffany talked about the challenges of being made fun of, of feeling isolated, but she turned it to strength. We all know what it feels to not belong, but the theme of the night entered around finding the power within.
Stress and challenge can be a gift, which can be used to help overcome the stigma of disability. There’s no reason to feel shamed or be ashamed for who you are.
Gina Moffa, a licensed clinical social worker for the past 15 years, set the tone for the event by sharing her own experiences as an advocate for speaking our truths, finding our truths, and finding a place of acceptance with one another.
The first speaker was Sarah Fader, who spoke passionately about her work with Stigma Fighters to get rid of the negativity surrounding mental illness. It started with her embracing her differences and diagnoses rather than trying to fit someone else’s “normal”. “I’ll never be normal and that’s ok because normal isn’t real,” she shared from her Diversability.TV piece.
Allie Cashel, author of Suffering the Silence, always found herself performing, even when she tried to hide the impact of Lyme Disease. As she struggled with symptoms over the years, she struggled with the impact of doctors who didn’t believe her. “I lost faith in myself and stopped talking about it,” she shared. She also had to find a way to accept herself.
The third speaker was Erica Lupinacci, an actress, who also struggled with misdiagnoses and mistrusting doctors until she was diagnosed with Lupus. She also kept her struggles to herself. Ironically enough, she was best friends with Allie in school, yet neither ever spoke to the other about their challenges. Now, they’ve come together to create Suffering the Silence, a movement to allow people the opportunity to find strength in vocalizing their experience.
The last speaker was Dior Vargas, who is a Latina mental health advocate who struggled with mental illness when she was younger. She was left even without language to express her feelings. People in her community didn’t speak about mental health, but she’s now passionate to break the cycle of silence. She started a photo project to document and humanize other people of color facing similar challenges.
These stories sparked a fruitful discussion among all attendees about what it means to find strength in adversity. Story after story shared made it clear that the common thread was empathy—we don’t need to be the same to find points of connection and strength.
Tiffany closed with a powerful idea—while we all work to break our internal glass ceilings to reach our dreams, keep in mind that we’re all a work in progress. We can’t do it alone, and we’re certainly stronger together.
About the Author
Brittany Déjean is founder and executive director of AbleThrive, a social enterprise with a one-stop platform of curated resources for living well with a disability and an inclusion consultancy service. Brittany’s dad was paralyzed in a car accident when she was 12 years old and she saw first hand that it’s possible to live well with a disability and has dedicated her life to spreading that message. A 2008 Harvard University graduate, Brittany also worked with disability communities in 5 countries, giving her a sense of the common issues across geographic areas. Brittany specializes in removing the fear and discomfort that are barriers to inclusion and focuses on how to engage with people with disabilities as human beings.