A few words about inclusion

Anytime we can have a discussion around diversity and inclusion, it is a positive step. However, often times people with disabilities are left out of the conversation.

When people think of diversity or under representation of minorities, they think first about race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. 

But what about people with disabilities? Did you know people with disabilities represent the largest minority group in the world? This is important to know because unlike other minority groups, you can become a part of this minority group at a moments notice. Everyone is just one freak accident, one car crash or one unexpected diagnosis away from being a part of our minority group.

I have spent most of my life trying to break the proverbial glass ceiling and fighting for inclusion. One of my earliest experiences with discrimination came when I was applying for my first job. I went to college with dreams of working as an on-air television news journalist, only to be told television stations would never hire someone who looks like me. Sadly that was true, and still today, very few people with disabilities work in this field.

I did end up working as a journalist, just behind the cameras not in front of them, but that first experience would be one of many opportunities I would have to fight for.

I paralyzed in a diving accident in 1983. I was very young and determined to find my place in the world, a world that didn’t always accept me. People tried to discourage my dreams of being a model, entering a beauty pageant, competing as an athlete or becoming a ballroom dancer, because at the time, nobody else had ever done it or it wasn’t a traditional role for someone with a disability. Nonetheless, I prevailed. 

It is never easy being the first or only, but you should never stop fighting for change or what you want to accomplish in life. Be bold, be brave and be unapologetically you. Society will never accept people with disabilities if we don’t break out of the boxes they put us in and dispel the preconceived stereotypes they have of us. 

We still have a lot of work to do. It’s been over 30 years since my accident and I can still turn on the TV, watch a movie or flip through a magazine and still not see anyone who looks like me. But as a minority, instead of waiting for a seat at the table, I plan to keep rolling up to the table to be noticed and heard. Besides I don’t need a chair...I bring my own wherever I go.

About Cheryl Angelelli

Paralympic medal winner, World Record holder, and Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, are just a few of Cheryl Angelelli’s many accomplishments. She is also a professional ballroom dancer and works in healthcare marketing.