I came into my disability identity later on. I always knew about disabilities but did not know of the community nor the work that needed to be done to promote more inclusion until I was in my early 20s. As a graduate of Howard University, I have always been convinced of the importance of breaking down barriers to exclusion in our society. However, as I began to learn more about my whole self and my identity as a person with a disability, I have come to believe that it is imperative that the disability and traditional diversity communities learn to work together as they both share the core values of inclusion.
I often think about the first job I had out of college. After my entire team had moved on to new positions, I found myself working for a new director, who wanted me to take on more clerical tasks. I have a visual disability and at the time was not using any accommodations and was not aware of the tools and resources that I could use to support my work.
I was terrible at what I was being asked to do. I had the necessary skill set but without a magnifier and screen reader had problems with the tasks, and I could not find the means of changing the opinion that my director had of me or my work. She thought I was sloppy and unprepared when the reality was that I was missing the tools that could enable me to do my best. It was my first job and the first job that I quit.
In my next position, I had a colleague, who like me, was low vision and he taught me much about accommodations and tools that I could have used. The use of these tools has kept my work quality at the caliber in which I know I am offering my best, and I always think of two things: 1. If I had known that I could ask for accommodations, and what to ask for, could I have kept that first job? 2. I had the capacity to move on and try something new when the first job didn’t work out for me, but what about people with disabilities that don’t have that luxury?
What happens to them, and how can we make sure that they don’t have to give up on a well-paying position because they don’t know how to access accommodations? These questions have provided motivation to not only make sure that I am always doing my best but also to work toward the inclusion of all people—especially individuals with disabilities.
I am proud to have had opportunities to act as an advocate in multiple worlds, balancing identities as a person of color and a person with a disability, and being a liaison to bring these communities closer together. Patrick Cokley Disability Policy Engagement Manager, Anthem
Cultural barriers have led to disability being a taboo subject in many ethnic communities, and the disability community needs the experience of the diversity field to continue their advocacy and policy goals. Only together can both communities realize the success of an America that is inclusive of all of its citizens. I am proud to have had opportunities to act as an advocate in multiple worlds, balancing identities as a person of color and a person with a disability, and being a liaison to bring these communities closer together.
Creating lasting change, especially around the inclusion of people with disabilities, takes strategic planning and engagement. Our work is not about easy victories or short timelines. Change in our communities and societies is a marathon – and a relay marathon at that. We must be prepared not only to do the long work of engagement, partnering, and allyship, but also create a structure in which we can pass that work off to others.
It is for this reason that I am most proud of the mentoring relationships that I have had, and the opportunities to share supports, resources, and tools with disability community organizations. Supports like these – many of which Anthem is promoting for its members as well as associates – help lay the groundwork for a future where supporting disability inclusion is something that all divisions of our organization do, and in turn, is emulated by everyone in our industry.