For many years, disability advocates in southwestern PA have worked to support the visible, diverse leadership of people with disabilities. While strides have been made, there are still challenges around elevating disabled leaders to positions of power and influence, and to creating a culture where established leaders can openly acknowledge living with chronic conditions and non-apparent disabilities. Without representation at decision-making tables, disability is regularly left out of conversations and issues that matter. In thinking through how to amplify the perspectives of disabled people in leadership roles, FISA learned about Disability Lead.
Disability Lead increases civic engagement and diverse leadership by developing and building a network of leaders with disabilities—consistent with the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Disability Lead program connects graduates of its year-long leadership development institute to opportunities such as speaking engagements, service on task forces, boards, commissions, and other powerful positions aligned with the graduate’s personal goals and interests. During and after the leadership institute, participants have access to mentoring, networking, and other support. “Despite our efforts, I knew it was possible to do more to advance disability leadership in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Having followed the impressive work of Disability Lead for many years and knowing the impact it has had in Chicago, it struck me that replicating the Disability Lead model in the Pittsburgh region was an ideal next step for our community,” noted Kristy Trautmann, FISA’s Executive Director.
Disability Lead was started in Chicago as part of commemorations of the 25th anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disability Lead intentionally recruits disabled individuals from all backgrounds, who encompass diversity across disability type, gender identity, race, age, and expertise area. Its intersectional approach to building up changemakers aligned well with FISA’s goals to uplift diverse populations here in Pittsburgh, further sparking interest in collaboration.
After nearly a year of meetings and planning sessions with more than 100 leaders, FISA Foundation is partnering with Disability Lead to bring a leadership program by and for people with disabilities to the southwestern PA region. In October, FISA awarded its largest grant in the organization’s history to Disability Lead to launch the multiyear program expansion in Pittsburgh. The funding will support Disability Lead in equipping the greater Pittsburgh region to connect diverse disabled leaders to opportunities for leadership development and strategic networking. Disability Lead will serve as connector and educator, guiding and providing support, tools, and resources to diverse local leaders.
“After talking with stakeholders, we’re so excited about the potential impact a model like Disability Lead can have in southwestern PA,” said Ms. Trautmann. She added, “Of course, no one from Chicago can come into the region and implement it for us—the model must be built from the ground-up by local leaders who best know the assets and needs of our community. FISA is eager to work together with Disability Lead to empower leaders here to create a network and system of disabled leadership across the region.”
Emily Blum, Executive Director of Disability Lead, commented, “Disability Lead and FISA still have a lot of work to do to build-up community trust. It’s important that we take our time, ensure voices are heard, and that our processes are thorough and strategic. If our goal is to uplift multiply marginalized disabled leaders here in southwestern PA, we must ‘move at the speed of trust’ to make that vision a reality and ensure that local stakeholders are fully onboard.”