Tiffany YU: Intersectional Disability Representation and Democratize Visibility (#315)
Our Guest Today: Tiffany YU
Tiffany Yu is a multi-hyphenate disability advocate, entrepreneur, and content creator.
- CEO & Founder of Diversability (rebranding disability through community)
- Founder of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter (monthly micro-grants for disability projects, $58.5k granted to 59 projects in 8 countries)
- Host of TIFFANY & YU (the social impact podcast)
- Content creator (on TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn among others with 166k+ followers)
- San Francisco Mayor’s Disability Council, appointed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed in 2019.
Watch Our Interview
Tiffany Yu and Fei Wu: intersectional disability representation and democratize visibility. – powered by Happy Scribe
FeisWorld Media and I’m here with Tiffany Yu. And we have been following Tiffany’s work for a while now because of Enable Disabled podcast with Gustavo Serafini. And we just love Diverse Ability as a community that you have created. And I’m thrilled to be here because because you have accomplished so much more. So welcome.
Tiffany, before we go yeah, thanks for having me.
So thankful for your time. And for those of you who are not as familiar with Tiffany’s work, I just want to give you a brief intro and very, very impressive track records. And Tiffany is a multihyphenate disability advocate, entrepreneur and content creator, CEO and founder of Diverse Ability rebranding disability through Community. Also, she’s the founder of the awesome Foundation Disability Chapter, a monthly micro grants for disability projects, 58,000 and $1,000 granted to 59 projects in eight months. Host of the Tiffany and you, the Social Impact podcast content creator on TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, among others with over 166,000 followers. And last but not least, the San Francisco Mayor Disability Council, appointed by the San Francisco Mayor London breed in 2019. So wow. Tiffany, I didn’t even know so much of this background and origin stories about you and what does it feel like to be an advocate and to be a speaker for the disability community?
Yes. I will also say that this month was actually my last month with the San Francisco Mayor’s Disability Council and I’m really proud of some of the wins we had during my time. But I’d actually moved out of San Francisco, so that’s why I’m not on the council anymore. But I think I came into all of this accidentally. I call myself like an accidental advocate, an accidental community builder, an accidental entrepreneur. And I think over time, as I started to realize the power of my voice and the power of my story, I was able to kind of take that model and pick it up and think about how can I advocate in all of the spaces of my life where I feel like I have influence.
And you have been doing this for quite a while. Right. Tiffany, I think about your advocacy as an adult versus what you have been living through and maybe there’s something that came through before seeing this as a professional career. How long has it been?
Yeah. So I’ll take a little step back and talk a little bit about how I came into this work. So I call these our disability origin stories. And as I think, you know, we don’t owe anyone our stories, but they do have the opportunity to deepen connection and make our human and life and disability experiences more accessible. So I actually acquired my disability at the age of nine in a car accident. I permanently paralyzed one of my arms. I would much later be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, which is a nonaparent mental healthrelated disability. And my dad also passed away and for the first twelve years after the car accident, after becoming disabled. Given that I’m the daughter of Asian immigrants, it was instilled into me, perhaps culturally, that we shouldn’t share anything that might cause shame to the family and that could include the visible manifestation of a disability, the fact that my dad passed away or the fact that there was this traumatic event, the car accident. So I internalized that for about twelve years after the car accident. And the car accident was in 1997 and in 2000 and 912 years after the car accident.
That was the first time when I had been bottling up the secret of the car accident and my disability, and the fact that my dad had passed away and shared that story for the first time. So this year that will actually mark 25 years since I’ve become disabled. But I do want to highlight that I spent the first half of that, the first twelve years not telling anyone about it. And then for the past 13 years have been unlearning. That internalized shame to say, wait, my story does have power and it’s valid and it deserves to be shared and take up space.
There’s so much to break down there, as Gustavo would say. But I am intrigued by what happened at the age of 21. Did someone invite you to the conversation? The message just burst it out because it has no place to stay anymore.
Yeah, I think there were kind of like three key things that happened starting the summer of 2009. So the first was I had just finished the summer internship in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. So I didn’t study advocacy or anything in college. I studied finance and accounting. So if you’re studying finance, accounting, you might want to go into consulting or you might want to go into banking or startups or who knows? So I ended up in banking. And while I was there, I had a really tough summer. I was making mistakes all over the place. I was sleep deprived, but every single week you could go in and talk with a talk, get feedback from the recruiter about how you were doing. And I remember going in and getting feedback and walking out feeling a little bit sad, like kind of carrying myself like this. And the recruiter said, hey, Tiffany, I want you to know that you deserve your place here. You don’t need to have a chip on your shoulder. And this recruiter was familiar, was familiar with my disability. And so that was kind of like thing number one that happened, which is this recruiter kind of like called me out in a way and said, hey, I get the sense that you are not operating at your potential and I want you to know that you deserve your place here.
And that kind of became the catalyst of me starting to think more critically about what other areas of my life I was kind of feeling defeated because of my disability, you know, and then thing number two happened, which is I ended up applying and a lot of people don’t know this story, but I ended up applying for a Fulbright in China.
The spring of 2009, I had studied abroad in China, and I just my family is actually Taiwanese, but I was learning Mandarin at the time. And so I was like, oh, I really want to figure out a way to go back to China. And I found my angle and this was my proposal, and I ultimately didn’t end up getting selected to do the full break, but my proposal was the Sichuan earthquake had just happened in 2008, and in mainland China there was this saying that in order to continue with your education, you needed to be physically and mentally well. And so I became really curious about the kids from that earthquake who became physically disabled and whether or not that impacted their outcomes later on and their access to education. And that was the first time that I had really leveraged my disability. So it was interesting. You have to get so many letters of recommendation. And I got one from I got one from a professor and he read my proposal and he actually didn’t know about my disability. But after reading my proposal, he was like Tiffany at first, when you propose this and any mention of such an earthquake, you know, it’s probably not going to go through.
But he’s like, after learning more about your story and your disability, I realized that you are likely the best person to execute on this if it ends up going through. And that was the first time I really actually talked about my disability in an application or in anything.
And then the final thing that happened now we’re in the fall of 2009, I’ve submitted my full credit application. I actually have my fulltime offer from Goldman in hand. I was actually a resident assistant of one of the dorms, and we had to participate in this diversity and inclusion training. And we were asked to cut out pieces of a pie based on how important different aspects of our social identity were to us. So there’s something known as like the big eight aspects of social identity, and these can range from gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, disability, and I may be forgetting a couple, but it was the first time I had seen disability in an identity pie. And up until that point, I had always viewed my disability through a medical or a charity model where I was like, this is my diagnosis and I just go and get treated. But now it was saying, similar to the way that I’m Taiwanese, or similar to the way that I’m American or a woman, it is just as important my disability identity. And once I started realizing, hey, disability is a part of my identity, I started getting more curious about why we aren’t talking about it the same way we talk about being Asian or being a woman.
And that’s kind of like the beginning of diversity and all of the advocacy that you see now.
Wow. It’s so intriguing to me because this is not the first time for me to have a conversation around disability. Previously I was actually going live with three of my dear friends and I was the only one without a visible disability. And I was very frankly still very nervous knowing all of them fairly well. So I think I would like to welcome some education here, frankly, because I think when people turn away from disability, at least from what I can see, whether one, they’re not someone they identify themselves as someone with a disability where they are so afraid to offend some people. So there are a lot of people who do have respect for, much respect for the cause and advocacy, but they just don’t know how to understand it, how to really communicate that. And I feel like I really want to be a guinea pig because this is such an important and an interesting area. I also believe all of us go through life experiencing some level of disability. You know, with my mom’s, even recent hand surgeries as she ages, there’s just a lot of things she can’t really do anymore and it’s such a humbling experience to be there with her.
So I would love to welcome a conversation with education on perhaps what you tiffany thinks that how we should approach the topic, how to engage, not offend, kind of break that down a little.
Yeah. And I think this is part of the reason why my company is called Diversibility, because the disability experience is so diverse. Right. For example, if you had asked me about my disability in those first twelve years, we wouldn’t have been able to have a conversation. I remember any time I would get stares or someone would ask me, I would just start crying and I wouldn’t give people an opportunity to get to know me and to get to know my story. And so you just don’t know.
Some people, like, for example, for me, you could ask any question and it would be totally fine, but you could ask the same exact question as someone else and they may interpret it or internalize it a totally different way.
And so I actually think the key to Allyship is really understanding nuance and understanding that you could take the exact same script and use it here and it’d be fine and use it somewhere else and it may be interpreted differently, but the key is to just be open and curious.
Because I think that a lot of the time if someone doesn’t want to answer our questions or someone calls us out for saying something that might have caused harm in the language, we get defensive.
But so much of the reason why we’ve gotten to the place that we have is because we’re so nervous about starting the conversation in the first place. So I’m the type of person I like to just call out whatever the discomfort is starting out. So kind of like you did say by saying, hey, I do have a handful of friends who do have disabilities, but I notice that I’m feeling uncomfortable and I want the name that I’m bringing discomfort into this conversation, but I want to learn and grow and move forward with you.
So I actually think that the way that you did that is a great example of how to do that as well. And one thing I usually tell people is if you are a curious, you’ll notice kind of like a difference in the language. So a lot of times our curiosity is like, OOH, I want to know about your disability and all these different things. But I think about asking questions to deepen connection or when you ask a question, that creates disconnection. So a question that can deepen connection could be, hey, are there any access needs or access requirements you have that you might benefit from in order for us to have this conversation or in order for people to engage with this podcast versus being like, what happened to you?
And so you’ll notice that in both of those questions, it gives that first question of, you know, what access needs or requirements do you have in order to participate in this conversation? What that does is it gives me the agency to share as much as I feel comfortable sharing, versus if you say what happened to you, it’s like a different thing that doesn’t actually like further accessibility or further allyship. It’s just your own curiosity.
Interesting. I love the subtlety of that.
Yeah. But it’s like such so an example could be a lot of people will say, tiffany, what’s wrong with your hand? Right. When you preface a question by what’s wrong? You’re already it’s almost like a leading question to say, there’s something wrong about my body, which doesn’t feel as good. So then the next layer, that could be what happened to your hands, right, which is not as severe as a what’s wrong but is still like pinpointed on the difference in the body. And then the third layer, that could be, you know, what’s your story? And then I then again have the agency to share whatever parts of my story I feel comfortable. But again, with the nuance, we then come back to this whole idea that we don’t necessarily owe anyone our story per se, but it creates an invitation to have a conversation in whatever direction I feel comfortable.
It makes so much sense. I love these examples and I love that our conversation isn’t just in the theory what should happen or the feeling, but I love your approach. You have a lot of videos you have a podcast and the videos I have seen, especially on YouTube, you’ve done a lot of YouTube shows. And I love just how practical that is. Then it’s okay if it doesn’t even if it doesn’t work, I feel like we are so many steps ahead. Like you said, not everybody is going to interpret the same situation message the same way. But by us trying exploring different conversations through creative ways, I feel like we’re just we’re light years ahead of perhaps where we are right now. And one of the things that really resonated with me was a conversation you had with another female creator. And I remember repeating that to our producer, to Gustavo, a few other people, to my mom, where you said, we don’t owe our story to anybody. Why? Instead of, I mean, telling our story, being on a podcast where the whole thing is about the accident, what happened, it could just be distilled down to a sentence.
And I love that because I’ve witnessed a lot of my dear friends who have visible disabilities appear on various podcasts and literally that’s the only thing people tend to focus on. I feel offended sometimes, but then people are like, oh, I don’t really know exactly how to navigate out of that. So I would love for you to maybe talk about that as well.
Yeah, I mean, I think back. So I had an opportunity to give my first Ted Talk in 2018, and that Ted Talk was like an eleven minute version of the car accident, lots of details. And I realized that I can have an eleven minute version of that story, but I can also have a one sentence version of it. And I think about I’ve done a couple of speaking engagements where they’ve actually had people watch the Ted Talk, the eleven minute version of the car accident, and then we show up and I talk about my advocacy work.
And I wanted to highlight that because what you’re actually saying, Fey, is we can get so caught up in the story that we end up kind of missing the point. Right. And the point of that talk isn’t necessarily I mean, that talk is very detailed in terms of car accident, but I share all of those details because I wanted to give people context to understand the gravity of what had happened to me at nine years old. And the whole, you know, that talk is called the power of exclusion. Talking about kind of like the compounded grief that led to compounded exclusion in a lot of different ways. And I wanted to share that nuance between the eleven minute version versus the one sentence version because I think that a lot of times when people want to know more about disability origin stories, there’s a lot of trauma in there.
And I think with an eleven minute version of that, you have to have a level of care to take people into it, but also take people out.
So for me, with the one sentence version, which is I got into this car accident, I paralyzed my arm, my dad passed away, I take you in, but then we can spend the rest of the time talking about other things, right?
Yeah. It’s very, very important and I don’t know why we have the tendency of staying there.
And I think I think it’s just curiosity.
This is why people love podcasts, right? Because you get a deep dive into if you do an interview style podcast into who that person is and learn a little bit more of the nuance.
But I do think that if you hear the eleven minute version of my recounting of the car accident, you’ll never forget it. Right. Because there’s right. So it’s like we resonate and we feel connected to stories, but we want to share those stories not at the expense of someone having to relive their trauma, but instead just retell it so that we can focus on other things. But again, I do want to focus, you know, there’s especially on clubhouse, became really popular last year. There was a lot of what’s called like trauma dumping where people would overshare a lot of things that they hadn’t necessarily healed through. So I talk a lot about sharing stories, but I’m also doing a lot of healing work that you don’t see in front, that you don’t see because it’s behind the camera. Right. And we kind of need to make sure that understanding that for those of us who do show up on camera, we are content creators. Which is meaning that we’re actually curating content. Meaning we’ve done the work we need to do on the back end so that we can show up in front here.
I love where you’re going with this. I am getting such a kick out of it, frankly, because I want to talk about healing. Healing is not a destination, it’s really a process. They’re ups and downs, they’re anticipatory grief and learning. There’s posttrauma. I lost my dad in 2009. I remember watching this one earthquake with him leading up to his passing and it was such a very, very traumatic but yet also interesting period of our lives. And yeah, I would love to hear more about your process of healing because I think right now we’re in this kind of collective trauma. Everybody’s experiencing everything all at once. So what do you do?
Yeah, that’s a great question. The first line of my bio actually used to be I’m a human who’s healing. And I start out with that because you can look at the LinkedIn highlight reel, you know, you kicked off with my bio and it sounds very impressive. But I think we forget the human element of actually what it means to be human. Right. So you can have a lot of achievements, but then you can have a lot of failures. Right. Everything kind of, like, exists on the spectrum, but I think for me so I got diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD in 2019. And starting in 2017, I started noticing that I was I was having really intense emotional moments that would that seemed kind of random to me. And it actually happened in 2018. Someone witnessed someone was witnessed to one of those and came up to me and asked if I might have PTSD. And by that time, it had already been 21 years since the car accident. I don’t know if I froze, but I saw myself freeze for skin. But it had been 21 years since the car accident. So I thought, time heals all wounds, right?
Which I have now rephrased that saying as time plus a lot of selfworth and healing heal some wounds, you know? And so in 2019, when I got the diagnosis, I went to go see a handful of different therapists. I got the diagnosis, and in a way, I felt a little bit of relief in the sense that now I understood that there was something happening with my mental health that was resulting in these. And then I started to do more work around, better understanding what what my triggers were. And also they haven’t necessarily gone away completely, but now I’m more aware of, wow, I’m in an emotionally dysregulated state right now. What I usually do in these moments is do something very rash. So now it’s like, can I take a deep breath, take a pause, meditate a little bit? But I think there’s a reason why they call it a web of support or a support system, because it’s not just one person. So that’s, like, what my healing looks like for me, which is I have my professional support system, which is I go to therapy weekly, which has been very helpful. I also have a partner who’s very supportive, and I have friends and even diversibility as a community.
And we have a part of our community that’s called the Diversibility Leadership Collective. And in there, we have a solid group called Real Talk, which is if I’m going through a hard time and I’m just looking for pure support around disability or other things, I can just go there, right? So my hope is that for folks who are watching this to understand that you’re healing, like, yes, you are the captain of your own ship, and you are responsible for your own healing, but at the same time, knowing that you can heal in community actually helps you along that process. So I’m really grateful for the mental health diagnosis. I also know that there probably are a lot of people out there who either don’t have the means or access to get a diagnosis, and that’s just as valid as well. And I feel really grateful that you’re bringing up this conversation around healing, because in the Asian community, I think we’re three times as likely to seek mental health support. And that means you have a lot of people out there who aren’t getting the support that they need because we unfortunately need to destigmatize that.
Seeking mental health support services means that you’re broken. I almost feel like even when I’m not in periods where I necessarily feel like I need therapy, I still go for ongoing maintenance. Because we’re not static people. There are always going to be new pressures that come in. Right?
I love it. No, I had to give you a thumbs up, especially when you said you treat mendel support or therapy as an ongoing maintenance. So many people don’t see it that way. I completely agree with you because over the years, I’ve worked with several Asian therapists who in their 50s, who want to devote the rest of their lives, who have been working towards this, but then realized how important it is to do just that and to introduce therapy as something just like you go to sleep every day, you brush your teeth every day. Something that I still feel so traumatized through my dad’s experience with no palliative care support and not knowing what it was, and something ice for some reason, I was 24 years old. I offered to my parents to say, you know what? Let’s go get help as a family, individually. Let’s figure something out. And the response was, no, no, this is such shame. You know, this is such shame to the family. I was like, how are these two things even related? Shame and illness.
Shame and grief. I will also share, on the grief side of things of losing a parent. I discovered a group, maybe you are familiar with them, called The Dinner Party, where it’s targeted mainly towards millennial, people who have lost a loved one, but they’ll put you in Dinner Party groups of people who have experienced loss in the same way. So if it’s a sibling, they’ll put you with a sibling. If it’s like a best friend or romantic partner, maybe they’ll put you and if it’s a parent, they’ll also put you in a similar group as well. And that was part of my support system too.
And I see you putting The Dinner Party in here on the screen. But yeah, I lost my dad 25 years ago, and I read this book, Option B by Cheryl Sandberg. And the thing about Option B that she talks about is that grief is nonlinear and it comes in waves. So even you, I think you’re almost 15 years for you, almost 15 years that Greece is still very much going to be there. But I both share one thing about my dad that actually changed my relationship with him a little bit is in 2020, I had an opportunity to right before the pandemic started, or at least we were aware of it in the US. I climbed about Kilimanjaro, and I think the third or fourth day is the hardest, which is your summit day. And while I was there, like, on those final steps to the summit, I had one of our porters, like, lifting one of my arms and one of the guys in our group on my other, and I was like, wow, this is something my dad would have done. He was always outside playing, and then maybe it was altitude, and I was very lightheaded, and I was like, my dad is here, because I’m here, and I’m my dad.
And then I was like, oh. Like, I never actually lost him because he is me. And I think after that moment, I started realizing that instead of at least and this is my own healing journey, I used to fixate a lot on the loss, you know, in the car accident. And instead, I started to remember all the memories I had with him in the nine years that I knew him. And I think that now whenever I talk about my dad, it’s always in terms of a memory. Like, he taught me how to ride a bike, and we were always outside and doing all these other things, and the world was a playground, and that sense of adventure instilled in me rather than being like, oh, I lost him.
And I think we can exist in all different forms of that grief, right? I think grief can also be grief can also look like joy and doesn’t always need to be sad. And so it’s like, how can we understand all the different forms of grief?
Wow, it’s such a clarity to grief. I agree that sometimes we as human beings were so fixated on what we don’t have. And sometimes I think about the way my grandparents, especially my grandma, has lived through it. She’s still with us, has lived her life with so much dissatisfaction, it’s still dissatisfied with things. Wish you could have certain done certain things, and just such an exhausting way of going through life. And I once thought about, like, writing stories about daughters without fathers, and how do I break it down? It’s such a kind of a unique experience to us. And I’m on the train sometimes watching daughters like, hey, Daddy, I just want to tell you about my day. I was like, well, my dad was alive. I never had that relationship, as most Asian fathers don’t do that with their daughters. And I felt like I’m missing out on something, and why is he gone? Why was he gone so soon? I was 26, and then you were just nine years old, and I was like, all the interesting stuff that happened in the past ten years, I wish you could have seen that instead.
But with you talking about this, I realize, well, I did have 26 years with him, and he was this hilarious bigger than life and kind of crazy person. There’s just so much to it that I’m really grateful that I. Had those years with him.
Yeah, that’s beautiful. And I’ll also say I think one of the things, one of my growth areas is being more compassionate toward. I think it’s a generational thing. The way that our generation as the daughters of whether it’s Asian immigrants or second or third generation here in the US. Is just understanding there’s a generational difference, and that’s okay. Right. The way my mom has dealt with things is a lot different with how I have.
And that was imparted on her, likely by her parents or the generation above. So it is cool to me to start watching that shift right, in our generation of not only how we heal and grieve together, but also how we celebrate our Asianness, too.
It’s something I finally started doing because while you’re talking, I was thinking, you have to talk about the pea diddy experience with your mom. Didn’t know who he was and didn’t really care. So I’m going to park that in just a second. That’s why I was chuckling a bit. But celebrating Asianness is something that I finally get to talk about because I came here when I was 16 and right around 2000, I remember, frankly, something I didn’t quite share. I didn’t think anybody would care one bit was we were from mainland China. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had enough. Like, we should be very glad of what our parents did give us. And Chinese people were seen very differently back then. And fast forward 1012 years. I will go somewhere here in Newbury Street in Boston the most, all these, I don’t know, very high end luxury stores. I have these Asian kids, they’re buying stuff. I was just like, wow, a decade apart. Things are changing really rapidly. And all of a sudden, we walk into I remember walking the bank of America, and they’re like, oh, Miss Woo, this way, please.
Not just expecting me to, I don’t know, carry a suitcase, a $3 million cash in there or something. And, you know, there’s such a transformation because I felt like I was in, not hiding, but I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about being Asian.
Yeah. And Michelle Kim, I think in the last year, we started to gain a little bit more consciousness. And Michelle Kim, who is highly recommend following her on any social media, she talks about how a lot of the Asian experience is defined by erasure. Erasure. And what that means is that, at least for my parents, immigrant story was to downplay our Asianness. Assimilation was our key to success, or being invisible was the only way we would survive. And now I think we’re unlearning that over the past year plus, or even during the pandemic, as we’ve seen the rise of antiasion hate, right. Is to say the world sees me as Asian, and I can choose whether or not I want to celebrate that aspect of my identity or not. But I’m tired of hiding, right?
Yeah. Very, very much so. Tired of hiding. And to be able to celebrate our origin stories, to celebrate our parents for what they have gone through, which is a very different experience now. I think it’s hilarious now with Bow as the Disney shorts, we’re all like bawling and crying and just a connection that seems so foreign or weird maybe to American family who don’t have that experience or background. It’s not something I’m really pleased about. So since I kind of like planted the seed, I want to hear about your experience working with P. Diddy and then trying to how did that come about and how did your mom responded to that? Yeah.
I heard something from another API disability advocate named Mia Ives Rubley, and she said that because we’re disabled, we can never be the model minority. And so when I look at my early years going to Georgetown, graduate with honors, working at Goldman Sachs at Bloomberg, getting promoted really quickly, I think I was just trying to be this model minority. It sounds like you watched one of my talks on my YouTube, but it was never enough for my mom. And so what ended up happening was someone that I used to work with at Goldman was now working at one of these private equity firms that had invested in this media company that Sean de Vomes was creating. And he had seen that I made the transition from Goldman to Bloomberg. And while I was at Bloomberg, I covered healthcare companies. So not really that connected with the media world. But then he saw that I moved to Bloomberg, which is Bloomberg, bloomberg Television. And there’s Bloomberg magazine. There’s like an entire media entity side of Bloomberg. And so he said, hey, you have the finance skills. You also have shown an interest in media. Have you thought about coming back over to the finance side and working at this company that is cofounded by PDDY?
And at the time I was like, you know what, I’m not looking right now because I was still only just a couple months into my time at Bloomberg. But I’m happy to have the conversation. And, you know, looking back at my career, I think a lot of the opportunities I have gotten have been because of my network. If I think about who diverse ability’s first, not first, but one of diversity and the first larger paid clients, it was someone who was like in my analyst class or someone that I had met while as an analyst at Goldman. And so he had now been started to start up and he’s like, hey, we really want to build this right from the beginning. Could you come and talk to our team? And at the time, there were only ten people and then they got acquired. So it’s so cool to watch leadership evolve. But back to P. Diddy, so I ended up interviewing with them. And when I started working there, I was actually the only fulltime Asian person there in the New York office. I want to put an asterisk there because I think there was someone in a different office and then there was like a producer show.
So anyway, but because this was a blackowned company, I started to see that they were really prioritizing racial equity, whether that was intentional or not. And then I noticed over on the media side, sometimes you’ll have a little bit better gender equity than I did when I was working in finance. And while I was there was actually the inspiration of relaunching diverse ability outside of being a student club at my university because I was now working at a company that was racially diverse, that was gender diverse as well. And that started to make me wonder, could some of the work that I had done being actively involved in Goldman’s disability, employee resource group and Cofounding Bloomberg’s, could I like and now I was at a startup that was too small for employee resource groups at the time, could I just create my own? And that is ultimately kind of how we best describe what Diversibility does to some of our corporate partners.
That’s fantastic. I want to dive into Diversibility and also help people really learn something about the employee resource group. And I heard sometimes the employee resource programs, I only got to learn this through a conversation very recently. And so could you maybe explain what that I think ERG means? What does it include and how did it inform the creation? Diversibility?
Yeah. So employee resource groups are really just identitybased communities and so the reason why they’re called employee resource groups is that they exist inside of a company. So you could have a whole slew of them. You could have one for veterans, you could have one for I think a lot of people are creating neurodiversity so more specific in the disability space, neuro, diversity, employee resource groups, women’s, Asian, black, Latinx, disability. And so the power of an employee resource group is if you are Shaunna Rhimes has this term Fod, if you are a first only difference, which means if you’re an underrepresented or an underestimated identity in any one of these companies, what you realize is that you thrive when you realize you’re not alone, aka in community. And then you also start to unlearn some of the harmful things that you may have internalized about your identity. And that was a mouthful. So I’ll just use myself as an example. So even when we were talking about being Asian, right, we had internalized or I had internalized that I shouldn’t talk about my race, I should just try to blend in with the wallpaper and not draw any attention to myself and that will be my key to success as a woman in finance.
That’s where I started my career. I was told to act like a man or not use too many exclamation points in my emails. Right. And so we’re almost told that certain parts of how we are and using exclamation points isn’t gender. But I’m saying, like, if you interpret it that way, we’re being told that we should feel shame about certain parts of our identity and then in these communities or employee resource groups, you end up starting to unlearn that and realize that it is our difference that actually makes us an asset to some of these places.
So even say when you open by talking about your mom’s hand surgeries and her having to navigate over time because I can’t use my arms, she will learn how to be extremely creative and innovative and adaptive and flexible in how she does things.
There’s going to be this friction point or this point of tension in the beginning where things are hard, but if it is a permanent injury, we’re some of the most creative people out there. I feel like I’ve been very long winded to all of your answers, but it’s a podcast so we can yeah, absolutely. But that’s so effectively what employee resource groups are, is their communities, but they’re identity based so that you can do those two things, which is realize you’re not alone and actually in community, you realize that you’re more powerful. Right. You end up becoming like a voting bloc as the midterm elections are coming up and starting to think about and Asians, I think, are the fastest growing voting bloc. So you’ll start to see like politicians start to cater their messaging to these groups that they know are growing, whose vote could actually sway an election. But I digress. So you realize you’re powerful in community and that you’re not alone. And then number two, you start to unlearn that you don’t need to feel shame about who you are. Right. And I actually think I’m probably so I kind of have this trifecta of being a woman, being a person of color and being disabled, right.
And some other people will have different intersections and it’s again, coming back to like Allyship as nuance, understanding that how can we kind of celebrate the uniqueness that exists in this identity but know that there are also common threads? So the last thing I’ll say on this from a disability perspective, again, all of our disabilities and disability experiences may be diverse, but we all share a common experience of being oppressed in our disability identity and having to be resilient in the face of an ableist world. Right? And so those are like two very large themes that most disabled people can resonate with. So the fact that I can’t use one of my arms, I’ve experienced those two things, having to adapt and being discriminated against or, you know, being oppressed and someone else with a different disability will share those two experiences, but probably in a different context.
And when I think about diverse ability and I encourage people to explore. And I would say from my perspective as a producer working on a show, someone who’s so interested in learning about disability in general. I also have my own invisible disability. I have a fertility issue that most people don’t think about or know about or it is such a something that I’ve learned so much. Not to go into too much details here, but not until I kind of enter a group of women who have those issues. The amount of shame and depression that are related, it was really astonishing to me and felt like let’s do something, including people with invisible disabilities. So I guess my question for people who are listening, watching is for me, I have gained tremendous amount of knowledge and information and comfort through being part of diverse ability as someone, you know, you look at me, you might not know my origin stories right away as well as people gustavo Serafini and we have other friends in the group as well. So I would love for you to share maybe who is the group right for and how can they best take advantage or engage in the community the right way?
Yeah. So I will share. We have two communities right now. One is the Facebook group, which you are a part of. And the Facebook group, I think the last time I checked, has around 51 members in it. It is open to nondisabled people. So as you join the group, it’ll ask, how did you hear about this group? How do you identify disabled nondisabled? Prefer not to answer. I mean, all the questions are optional. And we actually put that there because one of the things that we want to do with a group that is open to disabled and nondisabled people is we want to meet people wherever they are. So if it were a disability only group and maybe people are earlier in their disability journey and not loud and proud. I also want to share about 70%, 70% of disabilities are not apparent, right? Including yours, Fay. And so we have a lot of people joining the group who might not be sure how they want to identify, maybe they don’t want to out their disability yet. And once again, we have to respect where everyone is on their journey. But my favorite thing that happens in that Facebook group is that we have longtime lurkers who have a function of being witnessed to the conversations that are happening and seeing how people are supporting each other are like, I’m ready to share my story now.
And when I think about what our overarching mission is, that diversity is to elevate disability pride and then you’re like, well, what does that mean? So I think step one is awareness. Great, you know, disability exists, but I actually want you to be proud of who you are and all of the identities that you have. So our goal is to try and take as many people to that Disability Pride journey where, you know, I’m actually, I’m wearing these bracelets that we partnered with, like a female found a brand. They say disabled and proud. We’re like, I’m going around wearing a bracelet that says that I have an identity marker that says, I’m really proud. Right? And actually, it’s always fun. It’s just fun. Sometimes I’m on collars or I’m typing and I just looked down and I’m like, I am. But yeah. So no matter where you are in your disability journey, if you are on a disability allyship journey, or if you’re disabled and not quite sure where you are, the Facebook group is open to you. We also have a second community, which is much smaller, called the Diversity Ability Leadership Collective. And the purpose of that group is to kind of like, look at Tiffany as a case study of here is this woman who had something traumatic happened as a kid and became disabled.
And for twelve years I didn’t tell anyone. I felt a lot of shame. And for the past 13 years, I’ve watched my advocacy grow in so many different ways, right? You have advocacy like most of us understand, which is showing up at City Hall, writing resolutions or letters to the mayor. But then there’s advocacy in so many different ways. Like, I love our disability micro grants and the fact that we can use our economic power to help empower other people to turn their incredible projects, take them to the next level, or turn them into a reality. But all of that to say, the Diversity of Leadership Collective is really focused on if you want to take your leadership and advocacy to the next level, if you want to build your thought leadership. I think about impact a lot, right? And actually, I’ll share this one thing. Someone saw my Ted Talk, a surgeon who actually handles, who works with kids who have my injury. The formal name of it is called a Brachio plexus injury. And he came up to me, he came up to me, he said, hey, Tiffany, I watched your Ted Talk.
And because of you and how you talked about the mental health impact that being excluded, having a body that was different impacted you, we’ve actually decided to incorporate mental health support services into how we view our holistic care. So in the past it was you had a surgeon, you had maybe a pediatrician, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, maybe all these things, but nothing serving your mental health. And the psychological aspect of having an arm, that’s different, thinking about surgeries that can result in medical trauma. And so that was cool. That was not just cool, but that is the way that I think about impact, which is and that was all free. No one was disagree with that. But you watch a talk and it inspires you, or it empowers you in a way that you are changing something about how you run your medical practice. Right. Like and actually, I learned that one of my triggers from a PTSD perspective was dealing with medical professionals because they were always so fixated on my arm and never thought about the emotional and psychological aspect. I forget what your original question was, but yeah, I think about impact.
So, yes, the Leadership Collective coming back around the Leadership Collective is, I want you to build your thought leadership. I want to create more Tiffany Hughes. I want you to become a TEDx speaker. Say you have a nonparent disability. We really need more people who have nonaparent disabilities to be active and visible and take up space. The whole reason I created diverse ability was, can we be stronger and better and have more influence and power together as a collective? And we’re starting to see that. I’ll close by saying there’s a quote that I really like, and it’s from someone named Dr. Robert Bullard, and he says, the fight for justice is a marathon relay. And the reason why I wanted to bring that up is I started Diversibility in 2009. It’s been 13 years. And the Diversibility Leadership Collective, our smaller community, to me, is how I hand that baton on in the marathon race that is fighting for justice. Hopefully, that’s how I would like to see my own impact kind of grow and flourish.
I absolutely love it. And I know that I only have booked 1 hour of your time, and I want to respect that, but I do want to just highlight something you said. I can’t believe it’s a conversation I literally share with my mom this morning. One of my biggest sounds weird concern or fears by not having children or younger siblings. And most of my friends are older than me. I had this fear of where she painted everything in my office. She was a master artist, and we have collections. I’m like, Well, I’m not really doing finishing my duty as a daughter to pass this art form onto something to preserve it. And lately, I started to kind of have not so much worried about my own well being or even worried about, oh, I want a child to serve me when I’m older. I’m not really concerned about that, but more about what about the influence of these artworks. And then what you just said was very enlightening to me because somebody watched a Ted Talk and decided to modify or improve their medical practice. That person may or may not ever become a Ted Talk person or speaker, but that is, I think, the longevity of an impact that we truly want to have.
And that reminded me of people watching my mom paint on Instagram reels and all that, and they go, you know, I’m retired too. I want to start painting. A 30 year old said, I don’t want to give up this career. I mean, look at what this person is doing and that is perhaps what we’re doing here. And to me this conversation makes me realize that what you’re doing is so much bigger than yourself. And I know you’ve known this for well over a decade at this point. So first of all, thank you for doing that. And secondly, before we close, what can we do to return that favor to help you publicize to grow the community? Anything that comes to mind.
Yeah, I would say when people always ask me what can people do to carry on your work? I think the biggest area of growth right now is and the one dream or one of the dreams of the Ada, the Americans with Disabilities Act that we haven’t really seen realized is what’s called economic selfsufficiency. So all of that to say is hire disabled people if you can. There is tons of talent out there. I haven’t had an opportunity to witness that firsthand. And if you’re not in a position to hire, or even if you are, I would suggest joining our Diverse Ability Facebook group. I mean, you’ve put a link in here. If you go to Bitly Diverseitycommunity, that’s another way you can access it as well and just be witness to the conversations that are happening. Even if you don’t post anything, you are interrupting your own algorithm by saying this is a group that I want to learn from. I may not have this lived experience or even if I do and I don’t know how to talk about it yet, just to understand what we’re talking about. In a way it’s like the nondisabled allies who join our group are kind of like you’re getting like the insider scoop of conversations and questions.
And it has been really cool to watch the group grow because two years ago the group only had probably like a little bit more than 2000 members in it.
And I think we have found that online communities are here to stay and all of us experience social isolation in one way or another and realized how important communities are to our overall wellbeing, those are the two. Hire disabled people and pay them. And if you can’t, you can even just amplify that share button on whatever social media channel you’re on is a great way to help support our work and get more eyeballs on it. And then if you want to take the next action, just joining the group or following us across social media and we post a lot of educational content, but within the group there are a lot of really great conversations going on. But I think to your point say this is much bigger than me. Diverse Ability is a community and I understand that we need our nondisabled allies to be a part of this journey, a part of this journey as well.
Absolutely. I’m so grateful to you and Tiffany, I almost forgot, got to mention also because of you getting to know you. You really inspired us to take advantage of July being the Disability Awareness Month here in the US. And I just posted a link against Gustavo. Really wanted to invite you as well, but you’re super busy as always. And we’re going to be hosting a four week web series for anybody who wants to join Visibility as part of the New York Public Library and anybody who wants to join for free, that would be fantastic. So thank you so much, Tiffany. All the links to you, your work are in the description below. Wherever you’re watching this, I’m going to repurpose this also as a podcast coming this Friday on Google, Apple and Spotify. Thanks again so much.
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