For Diego Mariscal, the goal was never perfection. The goal was resilience.
“I remember falling off a horse as a kid and I was like, ‘Okay! Let’s go back up,’” Mariscal recalls. “The coach was so shocked. But for me it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s like any other day: you get up and try again.”
Mariscal is no stranger to finding new ways to do things. He was born with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder that affects his motor functions, including his ability to walk, read and write. As CEO of 2Gether-International, a leading DC-based accelerator for disabled founders, he now knows that the resilience that drives him as an entrepreneur is the same fire that drives him to overcome his physical challenges.
“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” says Mariscal. “I started my first company when I was 18 – I don’t really know it any other way. But people still see that disabled room as novelty and charity and not as a genuine investment.”
Continue reading: With Disclo, disability disclosure and HR compliance get a technology-driven overhaul
Entrepreneurship, Mariscal explains, can enable disabled workers to escape from unfriendly or even discriminatory work environments and offer a more flexible and accommodating career. According to the National Disability Institute, disabled people are founders largely invisible to most venture capitalistsin part because, unlike other minority groups, the Census Bureau does not collect data on this community.
As a result, the level of support made available to disabled entrepreneurs is often less than that available to other minority groups, the NDI’s research found. More than 1.8 million Entrepreneurs with disabilities in the US report that they face unique barriers to entrepreneurship compared to their able-bodied peers.
“You search Google search results for support for [BIPOC] Entrepreneurs, and there are a billion results,” says Mariscal. “You look at support for women entrepreneurs, another billion results. But if you search Google support for disabled founders, there might be thousands of results. It’s not even a comparison.”
Continue reading: Excellence in Technology: This CEO helps companies hire top talent in the disability community
This is why Mariscal launched 2Gether-International in 2015. He wanted to create a space where aspiring entrepreneurs with disabilities could access masterclasses, participate in one-on-one mentoring opportunities, and provide resources and events that prioritize accessibility. He believes that people with disabilities in positions of power are the only way to create truly inclusive spaces for them.
It will take time and careful thought, he knows, at a recent event Mariscal co-sponsored – an event designed especially for her disabled entrepreneurs — A scheduled deaf speaker could not go on stage because one of the organizers failed to hire a sign language interpreter.
“As an entrepreneur without a disability, you can just look for a meetup and start building your Rolodex and your ecosystem,” says Mariscal. “But if you’re an entrepreneur with a disability, you need to make sure: is the venue accessible? Will there be sign language interpreters? If you’re blind, will they describe what’s going on? It’s a lot of systematic thinking.”
Since its inception, more than 44 remote and in-person startups worldwide have participated in 2Gether-International’s accelerator cohort programs, and the company has built a network of over 500 disabled entrepreneurs.
Continue reading: ADP executive: Technology could make work harder for employees with disabilities
If there’s anything Mariscal learned from Working in and promoting his community, It’s about making the change of perspective necessary to create a better environment for disabled talent benefit not just his community, but all growing businesses.
“We are the largest minority in the world,” says Mariscal. “And each of us will one day have a disability if we live long enough Everyone, not just people with disabilities.”
Mariscal’s goal is to help create a landscape where disabled people not only have a seat at the table where they feel safe, but a landscape that recognizes the inherent value that these people have because of their disability, not despite.
“Different disabilities will develop different abilities in different ways,” he says. “But seeing how this disability is a competitive advantage for companies is really the essence and uniqueness of this conversation.”