The Accidental Ally Manifesto
The things we think and are not afraid to say.
I have been thinking about writing a manifesto. I don’t know why, but it has been swirling around in my brain for several months. I figured that since today is Tuesday, “2/22/22” or “two’sday”, a ubiquitous palindrome (because it works all over the world regardless of which date format you use) this is indeed a magical day to write and publish a manifesto. According to the National Weather Service, the next time this will happen, will be in 400 years, Feb 22, 2422. I am not going to waste another minute!
What is a brand manifesto?
A brand manifesto describes why your organization exists, it’s purpose and why people should care your brand.
What is The Accidental Ally?
We are a small but mighty startup based in Palo Alto, California. We were founded on Mother’s Day 2020.
Let’s, Start with the Why — Our reason for being!
We believe in a digital world that is accessible to EVERYONE, regardless of their abilities.
We want to stimulate and harness the creative capacities of people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities so that they can actively contribute to digital innovation.
We want to create engaging and enriching work experiences that will fuel the wellbeing and financial prosperity of people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
Finding your element
Sir Ken Robinson dedicated his entire life’s work in pursuit of unlocking creativity and imagination both in schools and in the workplace.
In his many talks and books, he emphasizes that human aptitude is extremely diverse, we take to things differently. We all have the capacity to be creative but it has to be something that we love. If you love something, we can overcome every obstacle and you don’t even think of it as work.
We aspire to harness the talents and passions of people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities so that we can enable their transformation from being invisible to becoming invincible. We want to help them find their element and create a deeply meaningful professional life based on their natural talents.
After almost two years of working on Web Accessibility, the burning questions is my mind were,
“Why are there so few people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities in the workforce?”
How can we dream of (and succeed in) building an inclusive world if people with disabilities are not part of the conversation?
I came across the Hiring Chain video in the spring of 2021 and was inspired to start my own hiring chain. I reached out to the NDSS for help connecting with young individuals with Down syndrome in the bay area. Within a few weeks, I had interviewed and selected candidates, who were to start a paid internship with The Accidental Ally in the summer of 2021. I wanted to see for myself if people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities can learn about Web Accessibility and work in the field. I was very nervous when I first saw Dashiell, Roan, Rohan, Madison and Laith in person. They were all incredible humans but I had no idea how this internship experience was going to shape up. Right from day 1, these young men and women, made it so easy for me. They were happy to be ‘at work’, learning whatever I threw at them, pouring what they learned into team projects. We were a cohesive, high functioning team by the end of week 1 and having a lot of fun in the process. By the end of the internship, they had acquired knowledge and skills in Web Accessibility, they enjoyed the work experience and wanted to keep the internship going! It was clear to me that they wanted to continue learning, they wanted to continue working and they wanted me to light up the path for them to do it!
Below is a picture of the interns on the last day of their internship. They did a final presentation to their team and to their families. Everyone enjoyed the day full of love, laughter and celebration! We had uncovered ‘magic’!
We can do no great things, only small things with great love — Mother Teresa
Food, Flowers and Trash
I first heard this expression when a mom described to me the limited opportunities available to her son who has Down syndrome. She said that the only jobs available to people like him are the jobs in a grocery store, on a farm or in a restaurant. The bar is set very low and the training opportunities are limited. Many young men and women with cognitive and intellectual disabilities are extremely independent, tech savvy and make it through high school but once they are out, the opportunities are limited. According the an Accenture study titled, Enabling Change, Getting to Equal 2020, we know that when it comes to employment of people with disabilities, “in the US, 31% are employed, compared to 75% of their peers. The low representation in the workforce is not for lack of desire, but of opportunity.”
There are many for profit and non profit organizations out there that are working on increasing the representation of people with disabilities in the workforce, provide job skills, match the skills to the jobs and so on. What we aspire to do is to go beyond job training, or job matching or focus on placements. We believe we need to do more. We need to change the way we think about “work”, we need to change the way we think about “people with disabilities”, we need a radical shift to take place in the way we think about disability employment. It’s not something we do for altruism, or because we have a business case, or we fear legal risk, or it’s good for the brand etc etc.
We do it because —
- we want to harness the ability in the disability.
- we want to leverage the diversity of thought and approach.
- we want to build a better future for our children and their children.
We need to —
- shift our mindset from focusing on dis-ability to thinking about discovering-ability.
- move beyond the us vs them mindset.
- accept the fact that disability impacts everyone and therefore accessibility benefits everyone.
- wake up to the fact that we have a large untapped talent pool that is eager to learn, contribute.
- light up a path for this to happen.
That’s what we are here to do!
We are not here to play it safe
We have every intention to run this as a for profit business with a strong and achievable mission. We have a strong business model that we plan to execute as a woman owned, self funded, bootstrapped business. We understand and acknowledge that our offerings are not for everyone.
Our goal is to do business with people who believe what we believe — Simon Sinek
We are not here to create the next viral tiktok or become the next big unicorn. We are here because we care deeply about people, and we want to build a strong, sustainable business that is built on the foundation of trust, respect, compassion and love. We are here for the long haul. This business requires a lifelong commitment from all of us. We are not afraid to make such a commitment.
We are here because we have a strong desire to prove to the world that people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities want to be seen, want to be heard, want to contribute and most importantly want to feel like they matter! We are more than thrilled to be a part of this incredible community of people who believe in our mission and want to bring about this much needed change in our world today!
Why should you care
For starters, we are delivering impact. Every. Single. Day. We have created a community of people with disabilities and their families that not only believe in our mission but are fully invested in bringing it to life. We have built a learning environment that is built on trust, respect, love and compassion.
We believe that you should care for the following reasons —
- You believe what we believe.
- You want to see change happen and you want be a part of the change.
- This is a no brainer! We have a large untapped talent pool staring right at us, eager to work and thrilled to contribute!
- Hiring people with disabilities (specifically Down syndrome) improves organizational health. A McKinsey study, ‘The Value that employees with Down Syndrome can add to organizations’ states, “People with Down syndrome generally have a positive impact on the organizational health dimensions such as leadership, client satisfaction, culture and climate, motivation, coordination and control. This impact has been measured in qualitative and quantitative surveys of leading organizations that have chosen to hire people with Down syndrome.” We know that many companies especially in the technology space are battling many problems related to organizational health. This is something for everyone to consider as we focus on building sustainable and nurturing work environments.
- Companies with high organizational health are more likely on average, to have above average net margins and EBITDA. Source: McKinsey study, ‘The Value that employees with Down Syndrome can add to organizations’.
- Companies led by executives who are focused on disability engagement are growing sales and revenue faster than their peers. Source: Accenture study titled, Enabling Change, Getting to Equal 2020.
- People with disabilities are the 3rd largest market segment in the US. The discretionary income of working age persons with disabilities is a whopping $21 billion! Source: Accenture — The Disability Inclusion Advantage.
- Building DE&I (including Web Accessibility) into your business strategy can be a competitive advantage — as proven by Microsoft and Apple.
- Web Accessibility Products and Services is a growing industry but very few of these companies hire and train people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
I want to share with you this scene from the movie, Jerry McGuire. In this scene, he is writing a mission statement about the business, about what he believes needs to change. He talks about, ‘how we have forgotten what is important’. ‘The answer was fewer clients, less money, more attention to caring, caring for ourselves, starting our lives’, he writes. He writes and delivers his mission statement to his colleagues. The next day as he walks into the office, it erupts in applause. Some congratulate him for saying what has been ‘on their minds’ while others bet on when he will get fired for challenging the status quo. He gets fired that day but that’s what gets him to bring his mission statement to life! You will have to watch the movie to see how it all works out in the end.
While we know and understand that there are no guarantees in life, I know that this work is what I care deeply about and I think day and night about the people we are impacting. I think of it as a huge blessing in my life. I believe that this work found me at a point in my life when I needed it the most. For that, I have a deep sense of gratitude!
Let’s be honest. I know this is an uphill climb. Heck, it’s more like climbing Mt Everest but it’s not an impossible task. I am a woman, over 40, married, mother of two, a person of color, a person with an invisible disability and an immigrant in the US. Not much scares me any more. I am intimately familiar and aware of what it feels to be underestimated, to be ignored, to be sidelined, to be invisible. But I also strongly believe in the power of human resilience, that we all possess an intrinsic power to rise above our own expectations. We intend to nurture this innate power that we all possess in people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities because the world has made them believe that they do not possess it, that they cannot harness this power and they cannot utilize that power to impact lives! We have every intention to address this with our work.
There was a lovely animated short film that I watched when I was a kid. It was called, Ek, Anek aur Ekta, meaning One, Many and Unity. I could not find an accessible version of this video. You can read a brief description of the video on the below.
The film was intended to teach the value of unity and teamwork to children (Unity in Diversity). It also contains the message of how India is stronger if its citizens stand united, regardless of cultural differences. It begins with a group of children playing in a garden with one of them asking his elder sister, “Didi, yeh anek kya hota hai?”, or in English, “Sis, what do you mean by Many?”. The rest of the film is the sister’s reply, using a metaphorical story of how a group of birds escape a bird catcher by uniting to recruit their friends, a group of mice. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ek_Anek_Aur_Ekta
We believe in the power of many. Join us in moving our mission forward!
Love to you and yours,