In the realm of corporate leadership, a group of remarkable individuals is not just making waves but breaking down barriers—CEOs who, despite facing physical challenges, have risen to the top echelons of their respective industries. Their stories of resilience, determination, and success serve as beacons of inspiration. Let’s delve into the lives and achievements of the top five physically disabled CEOs who are transforming perceptions and paving the way for a more inclusive future.
Satya Nadella – Microsoft:
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, stands as a testament to the power of inclusive leadership. Though not physically disabled himself, Nadella’s commitment to accessibility and empathy in technology has been shaped by his son Zain, who has cerebral palsy. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft has prioritized accessibility initiatives, creating technology that caters to individuals with diverse abilities.
Jen Easterly – Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA):
Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the United States, has had a distinguished career in cybersecurity and counterterrorism. Easterly’s achievements highlight the importance of diverse perspectives in critical fields. Despite facing physical challenges, she has risen to lead a key agency responsible for securing the nation’s critical infrastructure.
Alexandra Reeve Givens – Center for Democracy & Technology:
Alexandra Reeve Givens, President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, has combined her legal expertise with a commitment to technology policy. Daughter of the late Christopher Reeve, she carries on his legacy of resilience. Givens advocates for digital rights and is a prominent voice in discussions surrounding privacy, online freedom, and disability rights.
John Kemp – The Viscardi Center:
John Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center, has dedicated his career to empowering people with disabilities. As a person with a disability himself, Kemp’s leadership has played a pivotal role in advancing disability rights and accessibility. His work at The Viscardi Center focuses on education, employment, and empowerment for individuals with disabilities.
Caroline Casey – The Valuable 500:
Caroline Casey, though not a CEO in a traditional sense, is the founder of The Valuable 500, a global initiative advocating for disability inclusion in business. Casey, who is visually impaired, has been a driving force behind major corporations committing to making their workplaces more inclusive. Her work emphasizes the business case for diversity, challenging companies to prioritize disability inclusion at the highest levels.
The journeys of these physically disabled CEOs highlight that leadership knows no physical bounds. Their stories inspire us to reevaluate preconceptions and recognize the value of diversity in leadership
Ade Adepitan, a Black BBC presenter and disability inclusion advocate, is breaking barriers.
In the world of television broadcasting, Ade Adepitan stands out not just for his charming personality, but also for his incredible journey as a black and disabled BBC presenter. Adepitan’s narrative is one of perseverance, breaking down barriers, and becoming a strong advocate for disability inclusion in the media.
Ade began his athletic career at an early age, motivated by a love of wheelchair basketball. His talent in the sport inspired him to join the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team, which competed in the Paralympic Games in 2004. His passion and accomplishments on the court established the groundwork for a tremendous career that would span other sports.
Adepitan’s journey into broadcasting began as a sports presenter, covering major events such as the Paralympic Games and the Invictus Games. His eloquence, passion, and depth of insight quickly caught the attention of the BBC, leading to his role as a prominent broadcaster and documentary maker.
Ade Adepitan’s impact at the BBC is both profound and trailblazing. As a black presenter with a disability, he brings a unique perspective to the screen, challenging stereotypes and reshaping narratives. Adepitan’s warmth and authenticity have made him a beloved figure among audiences, transcending barriers of race and ability.
Besides his on-screen talents, Adepitan is a strong champion for disability rights and inclusivity. He uses his platform to raise awareness about the issues that disabled people experience, as well as to advocate for more media representation. Adepitan’s lobbying includes efforts targeted at increasing opportunities for disabled people in the entertainment sector.
Ade Adepitan’s experience as a black, disabled BBC presenter acts as an inspiration for aspiring broadcasters and anyone confronting physical problems. His accomplishments emphasise the necessity of diversity in media representation and add to the continuing conversation regarding inclusivity in the entertainment business.
In conclusion, Ade Adepitan’s tale demonstrates the power of determination, tenacity, and honesty.
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Listen to Dis’: Disability-Led Arts Organisation
Listen to Dis’ are the inclusivity-focused, disability-led arts organisation championing disability culture through art and performance
Listen to Dis’ is a registered non-profit community arts organisation that champions disability culture through the medium of inclusive art and performance. Their work manifests in many forms including workshops, artist series and theatrical touring, and everything has an underlying message to support and empower the global disabled community.
Here we highlight how Listen to Dis’ is bringing this message to life:
Listen to Dis’ VOICE
Listen to Dis’ VOICE is a weekly open-access program where artists join forces to learn, create, explore, and connect. The focus topic changes each week yet is always in keeping with the Listen to Dis’ core message of advocating for the disabled community. Through this profound program, Listen to Dis’ has created some truly important work surrounding ableist ways disabled bodies and minds are viewed.
The Other Ordinary
The Other Ordinary is Listen to Dis’ touring crip theatre company. Launched out of a class at the University of Regina named Devising Inclusive Theatre, and directed by Listen to Dis’ founder and artistic director Traci Foster. Dubbed TOO, it fosters the talents of emerging professional artists that produce tour shows with a focus on how it feels to live and work as disabled people.
Take their first show, ‘Neither Heroes nor Ordinary People,’ as a prime example, which uncovers the realities of living with disabilities through music, monologue, dance, beatbox, and singing. Their second show, Mine to Have, is about sexuality, sensuality, disability, and
the political right to live in one’s body.
Visiting Artist Series
LTD’s visiting artist series connects disabled artists with the wider arts ecology by inviting artists, both disabled and not, to host workshops that explore disability art. Inviting artists from outside the LTD’s group enables LTD’s network to expand but also ignites deeper learning on both parts of the essence of disability culture and mindset.
LTD’s is amplifying the voices of the disabled community through a variety of mediums that all celebrate art, performance and culture. Follow their journey on their Instagram here.
Through facilitated dialogue and inclusive art practice and performance, we weave new realities for our members and for the broader community – shifting the way people perceive disability and creating an understanding of and appreciation for crip art, mad art, and disability culture.
Jane Martin: Disability and Writing her Own Path Into Theatre
Jane Martin and her path to theatre
Jane Martin has always had a passion for theatre. She describes how her interest stems from wanting to be a detective or a writer at the young age of five. Given her diagnosis of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis when she was two years old, Jane opted to be a writer. She had both hips replaced when she was 19 and had difficulty walking. After suffering a bad break to her leg in 2010, she was then reliant on wheels to get around. This quashed her hopes of being able to run after ‘baddies’ if she chose to be a detective.
Her passion for theatre
There is so much more to Jane’s story because she hasn’t let physical limitations hold her back. She has taken her love of writing and theatre and carved out some amazing achievements throughout the years.
I asked Jane where her interest in the theatre began. She told me, “I became interested in theatre when I was about eight, trying to get my school friends to perform Wind in the Willows. I was very lucky to grow up near a small amateur theatre in Surrey which gave me experience in most aspects of theatre. I have written and directed a number of plays, but when I moved from Surrey to Lowestoft in Suffolk in 2009, I took a break from theatre.”
Jane also credits her parents as a major influence, having been season ticket holders at the Redgrave Theatre in Farnham. This allowed her to see more theatre than she would if her family just bought tickets to selected plays.
Writing her own plays
She wrote a play in 2019, with the plan to take it to Edinburgh Fringe in 2020. ‘Overlooked’ features a character who is a wheelchair user. Jane says, “Instead, I wrote a 15-minute monologue which I performed and filmed as part of the online festival. That was when I decided I needed to continue with the project but perform the role of the wheelchair user myself. I’d always shied away from performing – most roles required more physicality than I could give. Then I did some voice acting for a comedy soap I wrote with a friend for community radio, and really enjoyed it. Making the film was a step closer to performing live. It helped that I got some really positive feedback.”
From writing to acting
After relocating to Manchester with her husband, Jane watched a production at Guidebridge Theatre shortly after lockdown, which later became the first stage she performed on. First in Morecambe and Wise’s Mastermind sketch, then in the premier of Overlooked. She worked with other theatre members to create more material for production. This led to the creation of the writer’s group, Writers INK, and Fresh Voices, which will showcase four new one-act plays and two monologues.
These new productions include overlooked, and also The Ink Runs Dry by TV McKaren, which is directed by Jane. Performances take place between 13 and 15 April at Guidebridge Theatre, and you can see Overlooked performed in Edinburgh from 14 to 19 August 2023.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Jane has a literary agent for her YA novel featuring a teenage protagonist with a disability. So, keep an eye on the shelves of your local bookstore, because her book may be there someday.
If you’re local to Guidebridge, or just visiting the area and feeling inspired, you can also attend (and maybe even perform at) one of the quarterly spotlight nights held at Guidebridge Theatre and hosted by Jane. The first night back in January was an enormous success, with poets, storytellers, musicians and even a magician performing to an audience in a packed-out room.