Our Manifesto

Building Bridges, Breaking Down Walls

Building Bridges, Breaking Down Walls — Our Manifesto 

2/2/22 was such a rare, symmetrical date that it spurred me into action. I decided that on this day, I would give voice to The Accidental Ally’s purpose and values. I penned The Accidental Ally Manifesto.

The Accidental Ally Manifesto Part One

The essence of our manifesto was to articulate why we exist and why our mission matters. It’s about more than just building a business; it’s about igniting a transformative shift that recognizes and celebrates the unique talents, potential, and contributions of individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

The manifesto articulates a series of core beliefs driving our mission. These beliefs center on empowering and integrating individuals with disabilities into the tech workforce, emphasizing the value of their contributions and the need for inclusive practices within the industry.

The manifesto challenges conventional perceptions of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, advocating for a paradigm shift towards recognizing and harnessing their abilities rather than focusing on limitations.

Building Bridges, Breaking Down Walls — The Accidental Ally Manifesto Part Two is an attempt to update our manifesto to reflect the insights and learnings from our work in the last year. It is outlined as follows:

  • Breaking Down Walls — Created by employers, Friends & Family, and Platforms claiming to solve for disability inclusion.
  • Building Bridges — Setting the wheels of the transformative shift in motion with — The Ally Academy, Project Udyana, and Project Alice.

Exposing the prevalence of conscious bias against individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities is crucial, particularly within sectors like Web Accessibility, Disability Advocacy, and Employment, where one might expect greater awareness and sensitivity. It’s alarming to discover that even those who work directly with people with disabilities may harbor such biases, potentially perpetuating systemic barriers and hindering true inclusion. By shedding light on these biases, we can challenge assumptions, foster greater understanding, and advocate for more inclusive practices that honor the diverse strengths and contributions of individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

Breaking Down Walls — Created by Employers

I was holding back tears during the call. As soon as we hung up, I sobbed. Because I was so angry. I was talking to an influential disability leader, someone I greatly admired. But the words that came out of their mouth made me wonder if there is any hope for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

The purpose of the call was to share the work of our team, and the incredible progress we had made in a short period of time, leading with the hypothesis that people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities can learn marketable skills and can perform mainstream jobs in a real-world work environment. We had proven our hypothesis several times via internship programs, and now it was time to go broader and go bigger. I assumed that since this was a company that valued diversity and had leaders who invested in people with disabilities, their business strategy included contributions to the disability community, this conversation should go smoothly.

After listening to a short overview of our work, the person I was presenting to responded in a way that led me to feel total despair. They appreciated the work but pointed out that the only opportunities available were low-level facilities jobs via supported employment programs in partnership with the state agencies.

How could someone I admired, a leader in the realm of disability advocacy, fail to see the boundless potential of those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities? What more do we need to do to prove to the world that they can do more and be more? I wanted to scream!

Our mission was clear: to prove that these individuals could excel in mainstream roles, armed with marketable skills and a determination to succeed. Yet, despite our proven track record, our aspirations were met with a dismissive nod towards menial, dead-end jobs. The sinking feeling in my chest mirrored the loss of hope that this influential figure’s words brought.

“Oh god, I am letting my team down. I am so going to let them down. If this company does not get what we do, then no one will”, was the recurring thought in my mind. The next day, the team was back at work. I shared the incident with them. All of them looked up at me with the same expression,

“So what if they don’t believe we can do more?

WE believe that we can do more. So, we need to keep moving forward”.

The message was simple. We have to just keep swimming!! We went right back to work! In that moment, their strong belief hit me like a bolt of lightning. It wasn’t about convincing anyone else; it was about sticking to our goals no matter what. We decided to keep going, not because others agreed, but because we believed in the potential of every person we wanted to help.

This experience reminded me of the biases that still exist, even in groups that promote inclusion. But it also showed me the strength of resilience — the power to overcome challenges and keep moving forward, knowing that change will come.

Breaking Down Walls — Created by Friends and Family

A young woman with Down syndrome wrote this on the sticky note during a workshop I was running on dreams and aspirations.

“My dream is to be an influencer on social media,”

I saw the note and looked up at the face of the person who wrote it. She was so determined to make her dream come true. She believed it would come true. But unfortunately for her, her parents did not share her vision. Many parents of people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities do not believe their kids can achieve what everyone else can — that they can reach for careers that have been off-limits for them. One mom told me explicitly that she does not believe her son with Down syndrome has any interest in working for tech companies. He is not a “coder,” so why will he work for a tech company was her thought process. One mom was convinced that ‘Food, flowers and trash’ jobs are the only options offered to her son with Down syndrome even though she knows that he is very tech-savvy and can live his life independently with very little support from his parents.

There are countless examples of families and friends of people with disabilities putting up visible and invisible walls around these talented individuals. There are many reasons for this: it is love, protection, fear, unfamiliarity, fear of the unknown, lack of role models, lack of precedence of anything better, and so many other reasons. In some cases, it is pure neglect. I have watched helplessly as parents treat them with disgust, as burdens placed on their lives.

We want to help these individuals break down the walls built around them by friends and family. We want to empower them to do this by providing opportunities to acquire marketable skills, work on real-world problems in a real-world work environment, and lead by setting an example for those who will follow them.

It’s a heartbreaking reality, witnessing the dreams of the marginalized crushed under the weight of societal expectations. We want to highlight the pervasive barriers erected by friends and family members around individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, hindering their pursuit of dreams and opportunities. It underscores the common misconception that individuals with disabilities are limited in their career aspirations and abilities, perpetuating a cycle of exclusion and missed opportunities. By shedding light on these invisible walls and advocating for change, we can empower individuals with disabilities to break free from societal constraints and reach their full potential, paving the way for a more inclusive and supportive future.

Breaking Down Walls —Created by “Disability Inclusion” Platforms

Disability Inclusion is undeniably a significant aspect of modern business practices, with companies investing millions in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. However, a critical examination reveals that many of these initiatives primarily serve the interests of large employers, rather than addressing the needs and perspectives of individuals with disabilities themselves.

Candidate search and recruiting platforms, touted as solutions for facilitating job placement for people with disabilities, often inadvertently perpetuate harmful stereotypes and exclusionary practices. Standardized criteria and algorithms prioritize conventional qualifications, leading to the overlooking and pigeonholing of individuals with disabilities into limited roles. This not only exacerbates feelings of marginalization but also perpetuates systemic barriers to employment. Moreover, the lack of accessibility in these platforms further hinders the participation of individuals with disabilities, restricting their access to job opportunities and perpetuating inequalities.

Similarly, platforms facilitating research studies using people with disabilities solely as subjects often fail to consider their autonomy, agency, and dignity. Instead, individuals with disabilities are tokenized, reduced to checkboxes for diversity quotas, and exploited without fair compensation or meaningful involvement in the research process. This tokenization and stigmatization reinforce negative stereotypes, further marginalizing the disability community and hindering efforts towards genuine inclusion and empowerment.

In light of these shortcomings, it is imperative to rethink disability inclusion platforms, prioritizing the voices, needs, and experiences of individuals with disabilities. Genuine inclusion requires a paradigm shift towards more ethical and empowering practices, ensuring that individuals with disabilities are not only represented but actively involved in decision-making processes. Only through such inclusive approaches can we truly break down the walls of systemic bias and create a more equitable and supportive environment for all.

Building Bridges — Creating New Pathways to Business — Powered by People with Cognitive and Intellectual Disabilities.

At The Accidental Ally, a social good enterprise dedicated to creating meaningful career pathways for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, we are working towards the following —

  • Helping people with disabilities make money, save money, and live better.
  • Helping companies create personalized and amazing customer experiences for people with disabilities and, in the process, for EVERYONE.
  • Helping the world recognize how people with disabilities are pretty tech-savvy because technology allows them to access and navigate a world that is not usually designed for them and available to them.
  • Connecting the contributions of people with disabilities to business value and helping companies deliver innovation with purpose and intent.

Creating Business Value

We want to build bridges for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities to contribute to business value and outcomes. Without this, we will not see a transformative shift in this space. We absolutely have to find ways to connect their contributions to creating business value. Here is how.

  • Customer-Centric Approach — People with cognitive disabilities are extreme users of technology and experiences. They can provide valuable feedback on specific needs and preferences that can enhance the overall customer experience. They can “stress test” your solutions in ways that no one can.
  • Innovation and Technology Transformation — People with cognitive disabilities can contribute to ideation and testing processes, offering perspectives that lead to the creation of cognitive-friendly interfaces and technologies.
  • Seamless Integration of solutions — People with cognitive disabilities can contribute to the design of integrated solutions for a seamless user experience. This opens up the door for groundbreaking innovation to benefit a broad range of users.
  • Diversity and Inclusion — People with cognitive disabilities can contribute in various ways to create inclusive digital experiences in stores and online.
  • Unlocking New Revenue Streams — People with cognitive disabilities are uniquely positioned to help unlock new revenue streams by addressing the underserved market of individuals with disabilities and recognizing their significant purchasing power.

What the data says — Design Delight from Disability — The Underserved Disability Market

The report — Design Delight from Disability — by the ROD group, a Toronto-based research group, is very eye-opening and reiterates (with data) the following key points —

  • People with disabilities (plus Friends and Family) represent an emerging market larger than China — 4+ billion consumers controlling over $13 trillion in disposal income. (Additional Data Source — The Hidden Market — Spending power of people with disabilities)
  • Only 3.6% of the largest US companies are acting to create shareholder value, representing an opportunity to gain first-mover status in this sector by connecting to a large market with a low level of investment. There is a substantial unmet demand.
  • Accessibility is not the goal — Designing experiences that delight is the goal. “Accessible” is an outcome of success. Insights and innovations derived from disability improve the experience for all.
  • 90% of the disability messaging today is in the CSR / PR category.
  • Established brands need new ways to engage a mature market. PWDs touch 73% of the global consumer marketplace!
  • The design that solves the pain points facing extreme users also improves usability for the average user. They help companies build “the wow factor” into their offerings.
  • Innovation is borne from extremes. To find breakthrough designs, brands must get outside “normal” use. In the “Stress testing” experience through the lens of disability functionality, brands not only solve for people with disabilities, but they also open a new path to delight core users.
  • Consumers have changed their behavior to shift purchases to brands they perceived as “good” stewards of the environment and more aligned with the “new” value for equality.
  • The question is not “why” to engage disability markets but “how” to translate the amplified demands of people with disabilities for all.

How we are building bridges

Our initiatives are powered by forward-thinking companies committed to inclusion. By establishing these in-house initiatives we are aiming to cultivate lasting change within these organizations. By establishing incubators, customer advisory councils, and academies internally, our goal is to empower these companies to become self-sufficient advocates for inclusivity, ensuring a legacy of progress long after our initial support.

Our ultimate aim is to make ourselves obsolete. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. We envision a future where our expertise and guidance are no longer needed because the principles of inclusivity and accessibility have become ingrained in every aspect of society.

By empowering companies to establish their own inclusive programs and initiatives, we’re planting the seeds for long-term change. Our goal isn’t just to create a temporary solution but to catalyze a cultural shift that lasts for generations.

We have set the wheel in motion with the spokes of our work while we continuously work on adding more spokes to this wheel.

  1. Project Udyana — An Incubator for Inclusive Innovation
  2. Project ALICE — Advisory Council for Listening, Inclusion, and Customer Experience.
  3. The Ally Academy

Project Udyana — An Incubator for Inclusive Innovation

Udyana in Sanskrit means ‘garden.’ We aim to establish a garden where we can ‘Plant-Nurture-Grow’ disabled talent to foster innovation.

Our vision is to create an inclusive innovation incubator as a source of innovation that will generate new revenue streams for companies, aligning with their specific business strategy.

The inclusive innovation incubator may be set up inside a tech hub in a company with a shared services model to provide disability-centric insights and support to teams innovating across the company. The services provided may range from co-creating opportunities, to research and testing initiatives.

Establishing a Disability Incubator will deliver business impact by —

  • Addressing a growing need for product teams to connect with real users with disabilities and better understand their needs.
  • Creating an in-house customer advisory comprised entirely of people with disabilities reduces your dependence on outside (and expensive) sources that do not provide relevant contextual insights to researchers and product teams.
  • Tapping into an underserved market.
  • Creating new revenue streams.
  • Capturing the purchasing power of individuals with disabilities.
  • Enhancing brand reputation by addressing social responsibility.
  • Creating meaningful employment opportunities for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, opportunities that were previously unavailable and unattainable for them.

Why an incubator?

An incubator model is best for the following reasons —

  • Incubators promote innovation and creativity, encouraging a ‘test and learn’ mindset.
  • Incubators emphasize user-centric design. By placing users with disabilities at the center of it, you are positioned to develop solutions that understand and address the specific needs of extreme users.
  • Incubators foster a structured and supporting environment where people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities can learn, grow, and thrive.
  • Incubators are agile and promote rapid development and iteration of solutions.

Project ALICE — Advisory Council for Listening, Inclusion, and Customer Experience.

What is ALICE?

ALICE stands for Advisory Council for Listening, Inclusion, and Customer Experience. It is an inclusive Customer Advisory Council (CAC) powered by people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. It is a collaborative platform designed to actively involve individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities in providing insights, feedback, and recommendations to improve products, services, and experiences.

Why Listening?

Listening is at the center of ALICE’s mission. It is a commitment to listen and understand the unique perspective of individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. By actively engaging in listening, ALICE aims to help companies build inclusive customer experiences based on accurate and authentic user feedback.

Why Inclusion?

Inclusion is at the heart of ALICE’s mission. ALICE aims to create a collaborative platform where insights and experiences contribute to improving products, services, and overall customer experiences not just for people with disabilities but for everyone. Innovation is born from extremes. Designing for inclusion can lead to breakthrough innovations that benefit a broad audience.

Why Customer Experience?

Customer Experience is the focal point of ALICE’s mission. The insights and feedback from individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities play a crucial role in shaping products and services to meet diverse needs. People with cognitive disabilities are extreme users of technology and experiences. They can provide valuable feedback on specific needs and preferences that can enhance the overall customer experience. They can “stress test” your solutions in ways that no one can.

The Ally Academy

The Ally Academy is a supportive environment where individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities can learn, grow, and partner with others to achieve their goals. It encapsulates the idea of collaboration and support, which is essential in empowering individuals with disabilities to thrive.

  • Offers hands-on learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
  • Partners with companies to develop tailored training materials.
  • Provides project-based learning experiences to enhance skill development.
  • Facilitates on-the-job learning opportunities for practical experience.
  • It focuses on teaching marketable skills that align with each individual’s inherent abilities.
  • Recognizes and respects each person’s unique needs and strengths, understanding that no two individuals with the same disability are alike.
  • We provide this incredible learning opportunity to individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities at no cost to them.

A call to action

We want to inspire action. It is up to each of us to take meaningful action to break down barriers and build bridges for individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.

  • Consider partnering with us to implement the above inclusive initiatives in your organization.
  • Help us with amplifying the voices of those who too often go unheard.
  • Share this manifesto with the leaders in your organization and people in your network.

Every human being deserves to feel a sense of self-worth and belonging. We believe it is time to empower people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities to feel like they belong, to feel like they can do more with their lives, and to feel like they are important contributing members of our community.

A giant leap of faith

Hanuman’s giant leap of faith is iconic in Hindu mythology (The Ramayana), symbolizing unparalleled courage, devotion, and unwavering belief. When tasked with the mission to find and rescue Sita, Lord Rama’s beloved wife, Hanuman, faced the daunting challenge of crossing the vast ocean to reach the island of Lanka, where Sita was held captive by the demon king Ravana. Undeterred by the task’s enormity and the dangers ahead, Hanuman invoked his divine strength and leaped across the ocean with unlimited determination and faith. His leap transcended physical boundaries, defying logic and inspiring awe in all who witnessed it. Through this extraordinary feat, Hanuman demonstrated the power of unwavering faith and selfless devotion, reminding us that we can overcome any obstacle and accomplish the seemingly impossible with faith in our hearts and courage in our actions.

I recite the Hanuman Chalisa, a prayer to Hanuman every day. There is a line in the prayer,

“बल बुधि विद्या देहु मोहि हरहु कलेस बिकार।”

(Bal budhi vidya dehu mohi harahu kalesa vikara)

This line asks for strength, wisdom, and knowledge and seeks relief from all difficulties and afflictions. It encapsulates the essence of seeking Hanuman’s blessings to overcome obstacles and attain spiritual growth.

Just as Hanuman’s leap across the ocean symbolizes the power of faith and perseverance to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, so too can our efforts to build bridges and break down walls in the pursuit of disability inclusion.

With Hanuman’s blessings, we are empowered to navigate the challenges ahead collaboratively and cultivate a sense of belonging for all.

We are taking our giant leap of faith!

Will you take this leap with us?