Skandalaris Center

The background image for the website. It is a multi colored mosaic.

A Summer at Inclusively: Understanding Authentic Disability Inclusion

Sara Brenes Akerman
September 5, 2021

My name is Sara Brenes Akerman, I am a sixth-year Ph.D. student in the English department at Washington University. As part of the Pivot 314 Fellowship, I spent the summer as a marketing intern for Inclusively, a professional network connecting candidates with disabilities, mental health conditions, and chronic illnesses to jobs and inclusive employers. Inclusively just celebrated their first year and, to mark their first anniversary, they rolled out a community portal for candidates, employers, and other contributors to discuss disability employment topics like ableism, networking, and authentic inclusion. As part of the rollout, they also asked disability influencers to expand upon particularly pressing disability topics as part of their contributor series. Some influencers chose the Q&A format to address their chosen topics and, in two of those cases, I had the opportunity to serve as the interviewer.

The first one was Matthew Shapiro, founder of 6 Wheels Consulting. I conducted three interviews with Matthew in which he addressed topics such as the value of self-disclosing at work. To produce the articles, we not only conducted the interviews but also edited them together to make sure they accurately reflected his voice and effectively conveyed his expertise. After having spent the last five years working individually as a Ph.D. student, it was an immense joy to serve as someone’s collaborator and to be able to apply my skill set as a writer and editor in a whole new way. I loved knowing that the articles would be of interest to a wide audience, and it was extremely validating to feel that I could be of use in putting Matthew’s savvy down on paper.

I also had the chance to interview Christina Mallon, an award-winning Inclusive Designer and Head of Inclusive Design and Accessibility at Wunderman Thompson Global who spoke about what it means to be a subject matter expert on disability. I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew next to nothing about disability inclusion at the beginning of the internship and the interviews became an invaluable opportunity to learn about it from experts in the field.

In terms of future goals, the internship solidified my interest in alt-ac careers and, specifically, my desire to work collaboratively. It has been a privilege to conduct research individually during my graduate career, but this summer experience made me realize that I am at my best when I am operating as part of a team. It also made evident to me that writing and editing are versatile skills that can be useful in numerous contexts and to many different ends. The process of writing a dissertation on Shakespeare in performance has sharpened my analytic and writing skills and I am excited to transfer that skill set to a new environment come graduation.