Susan Lang's Mission To Rebrand Disability Through Achievement
Susan Lang is a founder, and president/CEO of Lime Connect, a premier resource for top talent in the disability space in the United States and Canada that is focused on “rebranding disability through achievement.” She has led the growth and development of Lime Connect from concept prior to its inception as a not-for-profit in 2006, cultivating and managing the organization’s high-level corporate, pro bono and community strategic partnerships (Google is a corporate partner) in addition to overseeing all day-to-day operations. Ms. Lang has an extensive background in marketing, communications, and executive-level management in both corporate and not-for-profit settings and is a frequent speaker on the strengths and talent that people with disabilities possess. We caught up with Susan to learn more about about Lime Connect’s history and to garner some of her wisdom and advice on specific steps on how to find employees with unique perspectives, strengths, and talents.
Congratulations on Lime Connect’s 12th Anniversary! Could you share a bit more about your journey from ideation to eventual creation of Lime Connect?
Thank you! We have done a lot of things in the past twelve years, however, we are continually exploring lots of ways to reach many more people.
I’ll be honest, if you had asked me thirteen years ago if I would be where I am today, I would have laughed. I would not have thought I’d be running an organization committed to individuals who happen to have disabilities. It’s simply one of those things that you can’t predict in life.
My background is in marketing, communications, and executive-level management. Roughly thirteen years ago while in a short-term role leading another not-for-profit, I realized that there was a big gap in the disability talent space: there was no organization in existence that focused on connecting high potential university students and professionals who happened to have disabilities with leading corporations. The existing nonprofits in the space provided training programs for noncompetitive jobs, not guidance on substantial career development. We knew that we needed to address this gap, and, in 2006, we set off on our own and took a leap of faith. We had no financial support or backing, but we had a winning proposition! We initially hosted recruiting events at Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown on behalf of a major financial institution, which hired a number of interns. Based on this early success, they became our founding partner. I firmly believe that without the support of my associate, Pat Holt, and the strong belief in our value proposition by our global board chairman, Tom Wilson, Lime would not be in existence today.
We took a flier, but developed a unique, important niche in the disability talent space. We firmly understood that our concept could grow and add value not only to students and professionals who happened to have disabilities, but also to corporations looking for diverse employees with unique perspectives, strengths, and talents. The value proposition was bipartite.
What has Lime Connect’s partnership with Google looked like?
True to form, Google was an “early adopter” and has been one of our longest and strongest partners. Our partnership began when we invited Google to join us for a recruitment reception in New York City. Blown away by the individuals that they met, Google jumped right onboard in January of 2008. At Lime Connect, we always say that there is no better way to showcase the caliber of candidate that we attract than by meeting them. In 2009, we launched The Google Lime Scholarship to help university students with disabilities work toward their academic goals in the field of computer science. The program is now in its tenth year of existence and, together with Google, we have provided scholarship funds to students in the United States and Canada. In fact, a number of scholarship recipients have gone on to have successful careers at Google, along with other Lime Network members.
Our relationship with Google is ongoing and dynamic. We feel as though we are treated as part of the bigger Google family and we love, love our partnership. We are very selective about the companies with whom we partner; they must be best in class and have to show that they are committed to the value that people with disabilities provide. Google understands this, fully embraces it, and wants more, all the time. Google can’t get enough!
What do you wish people knew about those in the workforce or seeking employment who happen to have a disability?
In 2017, Lime Connect was a lead sponsor of the Center for Talent Innovation’s report, Disabilities and Inclusion. This study found that 30% of the white collar workforce self-identify as having a disability. So there is already a very large percentage of workers who have disabilities of all types in the workplace. That said, the main thing that Lime Connect would love to impart is that disabilities are so often accompanied by talents and strengths that make someone an even stronger asset than they would be otherwise in the workplace. From the creativity derived from dyslexia to the “entrepreneur’s advantage” that is ADHD, disabilities allow individuals to bring a diverse, different perspective to work and to life.
What inspires you most about your work?
We really are changing lives. I know that Lime is providing some of the tools and self-confidence that allow people with disabilities to reach personal and professional heights. We are constantly expanding our tools, coaching programs, and professional development initiatives to help individuals with disabilities be successful in anything that they want to do. There’s no stopping us.
We are focused on breaking down the barriers to disclosing disability and to showcasing the powers and perspectives that people with disabilities possess. By having individuals with disabilities find success at great companies, we are showing other companies (and society at large) the real value that people with disabilities bring to the table.
How does designing for a marginalized community (e.g. individuals who happen to have disabilities) benefit society as a whole?
It not only helps people ascertain that they are a part of a group, it also allows individuals to understand the broader depths of diversity that exist in the world. This gives people the ability to own, celebrate, and lend their perspective and embrace their disability as a broader part of the diversity that they embody.
Curb cuts in sidewalks are a tangible example of designing for the marginalized and benefitting society. Originally designed to ensure accessibility for people in wheelchairs, curb cuts provide benefits to nearly everybody. Think about how many times you enjoy them! Whether pushing a stroller, pulling a suitcase, or riding a bike, you benefit from inclusive design!
Photo credit: Lime Connect