The Social Entrepreneur ft. Disability Advocate and Founder of 'Diversability,' Tiffany Yu
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Kriti: [00:00:00] Hey guys. Welcome to WhyFI Matters!
It's definitely been a bit of a crazy busy past few weeks, but I am super happy to get back to talking to you and providing the space to listen to some amazing stories. And today's story is actually one of a kind. I am so excited to have Tiffany Yu on the podcast today.
She is the CEO and founder of "Diversability", which is an award-winning social enterprise that amplifies disabled voices. She's also the founder of the Awesome Foundation Disability Chapter, which is a monthly micro grant that has awarded $ 49.5 K dollars, to 50 disability projects in 8 different countries.
Also she's the host of Tiffany & Yu, which is another podcast. She serves currently on the San Francisco mayor's disability council and was the 2020 co-chair of the world economic forum sustainable development impact summit. That is so cool.
In addition to all of this, she has, she's a public speaker. She has spoken at the TEDx three times and she spoke on five sessions of the world economic forum annual meeting. She's also been featured in Mary Claire, the guardian and Forbes, and for all of you TikTok lovers out there, including myself, she was named one of TikTok, 15 Asian American Pacific Islander trailblazers. And it's through this platform on TikTok, where she posts amazing educational content, including her anti ableism daily. So you should definitely go follow or at least check her out on Tik TOK. And I'm just super excited to hear her story learn more about her entrepreneurial journey, but also about her life at the intersection. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Hi Tiffany. Thank you so much for coming on WhyFI Matters today. You're such an inspiration and I can't wait to learn more about you as an entrepreneur and how you're able to create social change through it. So thank you so much for coming.
Tiffany: [00:02:44] Of course, thanks for having me.
Kriti: [00:02:46] So you have a very interesting life starting off when you're obviously very young.
Can you tell us more about your life as a child and eventually as a teenager and how you've had the experiences in your life have kind of shaped what you are as a woman today.
Tiffany: [00:03:06] Sure. So, I'm the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant and refugee from the Vietnam war. And, first-generation youngest of four grew up in the Washington DC area in a city called Bethesda, Maryland.
And when I was nine years old, I kind of, you know, some people will call it a pivotal moment. A defining moment. I was involved in a car accident where my dad who was driving, unfortunately passed away and I permanently paralyzed one of my arms. That experience really shaped a lot of what ended up happening in my adolescence and to be totally transparent with you. I think the more that we learn about trauma, what we are learning is that some people who have experienced the type of trauma that I've experienced do have selective memory. So I don't remember a lot from my teenage years other than the fact that now I'm reconnecting with a lot of people that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with and they'll all tell me, " Tiffany, you are this prolific disability advocate, but I had no idea about the car accident". What these little puzzle pieces are showing to me is that I felt like I didn't have space to be who I truly wanted to be because I was holding this trauma of the car accident so tightly in my body. Um, and it's been 15 years since I was a teenager. Now doing all this backtracking with people who knew me and my teenage years are actually helping me put together more of a clear picture of who I was. And I think a lot of it was rooted in, you can call it masking, you can call it suppressed emotions. It's just having been through an experience that you, that I didn't even know how to grieve through or comprehend or process. And then also not, not having the spaces, the public spaces, even with close friends or family, to be able to air that out.
Kriti: [00:05:11] Well, first of all, I'm very sorry for everything that you had to go through. It's very hard to even imagine how anyone could react in a situation like that. But I think one thing that I want to touch on is your Asian American identity as well, because you talk about how death and disability and trauma have been stigmatized specifically within the Asian American community.
So, how were you able to self-reflect and look inwards and grow out of the stigma, cultural beliefs and like you said victimization in one of your speeches and learned to embrace this new identity of an Asian American woman who does have a paralyzed arm.
Tiffany: [00:06:06] Yeah. I think that's a great question and something that I'm still leaning into and learning more about because when I was growing up, I was only one of a handful of Asian people I knew outside of my family. And so I actually think what creates, whether you want to call it internalized racism or internalized ableism or internalized sexism is a combination of receiving the messages that you are different. You're less than you're broken, combined with not having the spaces to talk about. So the reason why I bring that up is not only did I not have the spaces to talk about what a positive empowering disability identity could mean. I also didn't have the spaces to talk about what it meant to be Asian in America. So, yeah, I do talk a lot about some of the taboos that my parents' generation imparted onto me, which are my mom was a single parent. Being seen as widowed was sometimes, uh, seen as a cause of shame because it meant something wrong with your partner, that they had to die. Again, that's where the taboo around the death came from. Disability, again, you know, every shame is really seen in the context of the family unit is, uh, especially if it's a physical manifestation. You know, don't show that to anyone, hide it. Don't tell anyone, uh, combine that with the trauma of the car accident. You know, Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health support. But it's this idea that your parents worked so hard for you to come here to the U S have a great life. So you shouldn't be complaining about anything, just toughen it up and move through it. One of the things my therapist said to me is that, the longer you suppress your emotions, the bigger they get. And ultimately you may get to a point where they become so big that you can't suppress them anymore.
And the reason why I bring that up is when I heard that, that gave me a little bit of hope because I had been suppressing grief and this trauma and how it had impacted my mental health around the car accident for so long, that the way it became so big was manifested through these post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, emotional outbursts, not being able to regulate my emotions properly, smiling my way through things that were really hard. So ultimately there ended up being, I don't know if I would call it a breaking point because people oftentimes will ask me, you know, when did the light switch turn on where huddle moment, correct?
Correct. But, but it all happens over time. Right? And for me it was a buildup of suppressed emotions for so long that in 2019, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to something that had happened 22 years prior. So like a 22 year treatment gap, and in the U S, I believe that the average treatment gap is about.
10 years from first starting to have symptoms to then ultimately, um, ultimately getting your diagnosis, correct? Correct. So, I mean, either way, 10 years is still a long time. 22 years is also a very long time, but because it was so stigmatized and seeing it as so shameful within my family unit, I thought, oh, you know, maybe time will heal all wounds.
Kriti: [00:09:24] It kind of reminds me of like Brene Brown. She talks about like vulnerability and how if you suppress something leads to more and more shame about the issue or matter. And I think that kind of relates to what you talking about
Tiffany: [00:09:41] For sure. And Brene Brown, you know, I ascribed to a lot of her work. I've read her book daring greatly in 2016. So about five years ago. And I was so fascinated, right. Because a lot of what she talks about is here's how you build shame resilience. And I started to become really fascinated by where all the areas of shame in my life and Brene Brown has said exactly like you are relaying to me, that shame festers when it is in secrecy, silence and judgment. At least for me, the way I am working towards not feeling so ashamed about parts of who I am is shedding light on them and vocalizing, Hey, this is an area of insecurity that I have in my life. Hey, I've got a little bit of shame around this. Can we talk about it? Right. And then finding those safe people are those safe spaces, whether it's a journal to have that space, to be able to process whatever I'm going through at the time,
Kriti: [00:10:36] It's almost like a mindfulness practice, um, ways to adapt or cope with and, uh, bring awareness to your thoughts, emotions, or like the shame that you're giving yourself or society puts on you. So I want to talk about the intersection and how you specifically live with so many different social identifiers. And what is your experience like being an Asian American woman with a disability, but how have you been able to make this experience impactful. Like how have you been able to not victimize yourself and really tap into those social identifiers and embrace them?
Tiffany: [00:11:19] Mm, such such a great question. And I think, you know, one of the things you make me think a lot about is we have so much external messaging that is telling us that we should feel shame about ourselves or that we should not like part of ourselves.
And that's so unfair because this is the one body, for me, my, uh, the one gender, my race, my disability status, that I've been gifted by the universe. And if I wasn't supposed to be this way, then I wouldn't exist on this earth. You know? Um, that's kind of the way that I have rationalized all of this, but, but of course I think it comes, I think it comes over time.
Right. Which is, once I let, so the car accident happened in 1997 and it wasn't until 2009 that I first shared the story of the car accident publicly.
Kriti: [00:12:14] Oh, wow.
Tiffany: [00:12:15] And, um, and so again, you have 12 years of shame, right? 12 years of silence around something that I felt was so shameful. And once I started sharing that story, I mean, from 2009, until 2021, like that's 12 years of sharing this story either on podcasts like this or other stages or in writing you know, it, it be, it turned from a 20 minute sob thing that was clouded by shame. And that's why it was so drawn out. Let me tell you all of the details of this thing versus now it can be one sentence because I've done the work that I've needed to, to process the emotions of how I feel around that event. But I also know that I share the story of the car accident more so now to provide context than it is for me seeking healing or seeking some external validation. But the other thing I think about too is it just feels so liberating to be myself. And I get questions a lot from people who have similar injuries to mind who are much younger, who ask how to address beliefs. And, um, you know, of course I want to say things like it's, it's more about them projecting some insecurity on you, but.
Emotionally, it still hurts. Right? So no matter what advice I give, you know, you'll get through it or other things , I wanted to acknowledge the validity of how hard it is to sit in some social identities that our external environment has continued to condition us to believe that it's bad. I remember I was at an event and it was an interview with a Filipino American actor or content creator, and he was talking about how, as Asian-Americans, we have to work harder, we have to continue to assert our sense of belonging. Hopefully that will change as the dynamics of the pers the percentage of people who are people of color in the U S goes from minority to majority. But also just understanding that these are the dynamics that we exist in. So on the one hand, I feel very proud to be a stabled Asian American woman. At the same time, I know that I have equal competing forces that are telling me that I shouldn't like myself and all these different aspects of myself.
So it's exhausting to exist in that spectrum, where I fundamentally want to be proud to exist because we're all put onto this earth for a reason.
Kriti: [00:14:55] But everyone is telling you, you need to be something else.
Correct. And so there's a level of exhaustion and to be proud because I can't just be proud. I have, and to be proud, to be proud,
be proud in the face of.
Tiffany: [00:15:13] Yeah. It's like in the basis, on the face of misogyny in the face of freedom
Kriti: [00:15:18] Racism. Yeah. That's a very strong point.
Um, I want to talk a little bit more about disability and ableism in general, because honestly I have not had a guest who had the social identifier on the podcast or at least openly had one before.
And is disabled like the right word, because I feel like it has like negative connotations and Abelism, oftentimes is something I personally just don't think about.
In seventh grade, I we were supposed to pick out the five most important social identifiers to you.
And Abel ism just was like, no, like, I don't even need to think about that. But here's the thing, the fact that just because I do not identify with this doesn't mean that I should forget about it because it affects so many of my peers, like one in five people on the earth are disabled. So I guess what is your take on using this word is there for that's better. And can you talk to us more about Abelism.
Tiffany: [00:16:38] Sure. Yeah. So, I think what is interesting is again, the conditioning that we think disability has a negative connotation. When, to me, I really believe that my disability identity is neutral and it is up to us whether we attribute negative or positive value judgment to it. And so when we, so the TLDR, the Too long, Didn't read. Or the
Kriti: [00:17:04] too long didn't read
Tiffany: [00:17:05] or TLDL, which is too long, didn't listen. Um, is when in doubt, there is nothing wrong with the word disability. We should use it as much as possible because that is the word that people understand. What I think needs a rebranding.
I feel like disability needs like a PR campaign in a way, because it is something that I live with. It is something that one in five Americans live with. There are like 20 to 25% of your peers have a disability. And of that 20 to 25%, um, seven out of 10 of those you can't see. We have this word disability so much with this word.
Asian that is describing a whole group of people who have conditions that may not necessarily relate to each other. Um, but John Oliver had actually did like a really great 30 minutes segment on the etymology or the roots of where Asian-American came from. And the reason why they chose Asian is because they wanted to create a stronger block , in order to advocate for Asian studies being included in, in racial studies in their classes. Correct.
So for me, I see disability as a similar, either political block or power block to say we have a group of people who have a body and our mind that operates differently, that the world hasn't figured out how to adapt to yet. And so again, disability doesn't have a negative connotation. I will say ableism, the culture of ableism that we live in has contributed to disability being seen as a bad thing. When in reality, again, like if my body wasn't supposed to be like this, if I wasn't supposed to have a paralyzed arm, then I wouldn't. Right? I'm a little bit of an idealist, but you know, oftentimes, like I think we have a little bit of discomfort with the physical manifestation of a disabled body, but the universe and, you know, I talk a lot about the universe. You can pick whatever spiritual being you decide. That person was created to impart some gift on the world. And part of what our journey of living is to figure out what that gift is.
And, and so for me, and I don't know if you follow me on social media, but, I learned how to curl my hair with one hand and my hair is really long now and I curled it.
Now you can see it on the video. And, then the next question could be like, people are like, oh, well, how do you curl your hair with one hand? And the, and the response could be, well, why are we only designing devices that assuming two hands to curl your hair? Right.
So, so anyway, so I got really creative there, but, but to transition over, to talking a little bit more about ableism, I think that, um, so to just share some definitions, So the definition of ableism is when society or people place value and worth on a person based on their body and or mind.
This expanded definition comes from someone named Delilah Lewis and Dustin Gibson. And what I like about that definition is it's not just constrained to, or confined to disability discrimination. It's talking about all differences in bodies and minds. Think about all of the messaging that we get as women about what our bodies should look like. Even the roots of colorism and thinking about what color our skin, the skin on our body.
Kriti: [00:20:30] Sure, for sure.
Tiffany: [00:20:31] That, to me really highlights how pervasive ableism is in all of these other isms. Um, but, but the, and I think that this exercise that you did in middle school really highlights that what privilege is, is not having to think about things. Exactly. The fact that you don't like the fact that a white person doesn't have to think about racism is privilege. That a man, uh, or as someone who's male presenting, doesn't have to think about their gender or people looking at their objectifying, their bodies, is privileged. The, I think that was a really great thought exercise for you.
I did a similar one when I was a senior in college around really picking out which aspects of my social identity were the most important to me. And that was actually the aha moment for so much of the work that I do now. I don't think anyone is intentionally trying to ignore or exclude disabled people.
One of my friends, Jordan Reeves calls it limited exposure. Because we have limited exposure and he does a lot of work in the LGBTQ community. Because we have limited exposure, we have all of these views of what we think disability is and what the lived experience of a disabled person is. When we continue to take steps to continuously expand that exposure, whether it's following a bunch of disabled people on Instagram or whatever, social media channel you're on, having someone like me on your podcast.
And I'm just one experience, right? So hopefully this opens up pathways for you to start talking to more people who have different types of disabilities on your podcast so that you can get expanded exposure view what disability actually looks like. Who are people who are living in that experience.
Because I, because I also want to share that there are going to be disabled people who have a very negative self view because of negative connotations that they have internalized around what they think disability means.
But if your listeners can take anything away from this, disability, to me is a neutral term. It is really us to, it is up to us as a collective or as individuals to attribute positive or negative value to it. And oftentimes when we ask the question like, Hey, I feel uncomfortable about the word disability. That is an opportunity to reflect on. Am I attributing positive or negative value judgment to this word? When I talk about my discomfort around it. Right? So that's, I mean, exactly the way you asked this question is a great example to say, Hey, I've been conditioned to have a connotation with this word, but I talked to Tiffany and Tiffany said where it's just the word, you know? Um,
Kriti: [00:23:23] Yeah. I think I've definitely been conditioned to believe it was, it does have negative connotations. Like I personally. I don't think that if you're disabled, it's either bad or a good thing. It's just what you are. I don't think that if you're Asian, it's a bad or good thing, it's what you are. I think I just have been conditioned. Sometimes there aren't ramps., so someone might not be able to go to a certain place or they might not be able to go on a roller coaster or they might not be able to watch this movie. And, I think part of it is that society hasn't taken the right steps towards including everyone, because they automatically assume that you are privileged or you don't have disabilities.
Tiffany: [00:24:09] Yeah. Yeah. Again, when I talk about like my hope is that no one is intentionally trying to exclude, but if the assumption is that a deaf or a blind person doesn't want to watch a movie or the wheelchair user doesn't want access to the store. There's kind of like a three-pronged way to think about, like first you start with a stereotype, right? Which is that realizing a group of people then that moves to prejudice, which means attributing negative value, judgment to certain behaviors or their way of being, which then leads to discrimination. Right. Which is kind of like the most severe version of how you see stereotypes manifest. So even when you say like, you don't necessarily see something negative around being Asian, there are people who do see it that way. Right? I mean that's root of racism is, is one race as more superior than another. And, of course, like these might not be individualized views, but there are systemic.
I think in the past, and still many people were, many people are saying, oh, they're ignorant. Or, you know, they're, they're on the right there on the far right. Or they're conservative. And that. That's not fair. And so that's why I really liked this term limited exposure, because it's saying you haven't been exposed to people who have a different view or a different lived experience.
And if we want to be better to each other, what are the steps we can take to expand that exposure?
Kriti: [00:25:33] I think that was interesting. But I feel better about using the term disabled now, so that's good.
Tiffany: [00:25:40] Yeah. I think the other thing, many of us learned over the past year with everything that happened with George Floyd and Brianna Taylor people really gaining consciousness about what it meant to be anti-racist part of the reason why I think we spent so long, not engaging in real conversations about race is that we felt uncomfortable about it. And so you may feel uncomfortable using the word disability or using the word disabled, uh, for a while, right? Because you, you have to actively unlearn this negative, these negative connotations.
And you may have people correct you and say, oh, don't use that word. And you can say, well, I actually talked to a disability advocate. And if you're telling me to not use that word, you are further perpetuating stigma. . Yeah. And there's a really great campaign. I would encourage your listeners to take a look at is called #SayTheWord. And it was really a campaign that was started by someone, another disability advocate named Lawrence Carter Long. And he was just so perplexed that non-disabled people were so uncomfort able and literally using any other word, but disability, because they were so uncomfortable with it. When those of us who are disabled or many of us who are disabled are going around saying I'm disabled.
And what is it about me identifying with the label that is the one that everyone understands that makes other people. That makes non-disabled people so uncomfortable. We literally look like the differently abled or special abilities or unique abilities, you know? And, and I will say like in the language is always evolving. I will say in the nineties, that's actually, when the term differently abled kind of became more, more frequently used. But part of the reason why I prefer like a disability or a disabled terminology first is that we need to understand that there is a political identity behind here that has been discriminated against for a long time.
And when we call people as differently abled, it is softening, diminishing the experience. I'm very passionate about this. So I have lots to say, so that's it.
Kriti: [00:27:50] Of course. Well, we're going to continue talking about this, but I want to talk a little bit more about your entrepreneurial journey as well.
So can you give us, I guess you talked a little bit about how you were a senior in college and you went to this workshop and did a similar activity to me, but how did you really end up coming up with and creating Diversability?
Tiffany: [00:28:14] Yeah. Um, great question. I often will tell people that all of this happened accidentally.
When I was in college, I studied finance and accounting and worked on Wall Street, worked in investment banking. That's what I went to school for. So that's what I got my internships in and my senior year. Is actually when I started to really think critically about disability, because interestingly enough, while I was working at the bank, I was part of these affinity groups that were for women and for Asians, right. To bring these employees together, to find mentorship and exchange resources and help support each other in their career journeys. That really got me thinking. Like I was like, why am I be invited to this lunch? You know, I had never really thought that critically about my identity, because I don't know what the experiences to not be in my skin. And, um, and so then when I came back from this and from my internship, I was like, wow, I spent so much time thinking about what it meant to be Asian and kind of like, not have a lot of like Asian people in senior leadership, similar thing with women.
And then I did this PI exercise of the social identifiers for the social life identity, similar to you. And I said, wow, uh, I'm not having any conversations like this around being disabled. That was 2009. I've only been full-time on diversability since 2017. So there was a period of time where I went back into the finance thing. Then there's a period of time where I was hosting Diversability events on the side. And I guess what I'll say is what I so desperately needed as a kid. What I wish I would have had is I wish I would've had the spaces that I'm creating now to talk to other disabled people about the experiences that I'm having. And as a function of meeting other disabled people, learning that I'm not a victim in this narrative, there are other ways that my story can be. It wasn't even until I created diversability that you're hearing this version of the car accident, right. What happened to me at nine years old, I would not wish onto anyone. And, and oftentimes I have people coming to me and they're like, Tiffany, your life is so amazing. Like, I want to be like you. And I'm just like, do you want it childhood trauma? Like, do you want PTSD? Like want to lose your dad? Like, those are hard. And, and like, it's like kind of funny, but it's not because it breaks my heart that a nine-year-old girl goes through that, something like that, right?
Kriti: [00:30:45] Yeah. Like you don't have to act like positive about something that bad. Like there's no point in doing that, you know?
Tiffany: [00:30:52] Correct. There's there's no sugar coating that, that relation. Um, but what I also will highlight, and I think there is emerging research coming out around this, but about 10 people who experienced trauma will, uh, will experience something called post-traumatic growth.
And post-traumatic growth is coming out with a new appreciation of life and a new worldview. So there is a little bit of positivity, right? And so the reason why I, I mean, I'm digressing a little bit from your original question, but I'll come back to it. The reason why I bring up Tiffany has a nine year old girl then being diagnosed with PTSD is I know that there are a lot of other children out there who experienced some level of trauma, whether it's a little T or a big T trauma who do not have, who do not have the same life outcomes that I now have in my thirties. So, um, so that's why I also want to highlight kind of like the 10% of post-traumatic growth, because there's still a large thing. The pandemic over the past year, that is a form of trauma, right. There are going to be 10% of us who come out of that, you know, feeling very enlightened and a new appreciation for life.
And that's fine, but I also don't want to forget. What would those went through is very hard and, and all of it is valid.
So, so back to this entrepreneurship thing, the whole reason why diversability was not only was it something I so desperately needed, I so desperately wanted community. I wanted people like the one thing or one of the many things that this disability community shares is this feeling of social exclusion.
Is this feeling of this world not being built for us and having to navigate or code switch or mask who we are to either present, or pass as more non-disabled. But wow, how liberating is it to get to a point where I can just say, here's my hand, I want to curl my hair. I'm going to figure out how to do it, you know?
And why was that experience? Not, uh, not something that the designers of this. Yeah. Thought about in the beginning. During the pandemic, I got a one handed cutting board. You know, why was it assumed that a person who couldn't use one of their arms didn't want to cook food all the time.
And again, my hope is that no one is intentionally trying to cause harm or trying to exclude. But when we're out of sight, out of mind, and so much of the work I do is how can we be more visible, not only to each other, but to the broader world as well. Because once we become visible to each other, we become really powerful that we can then go out and be visible to the world in, in the way and in the narrative that we want on our own terms.
But I created diversability for three things for three reasons. One is I really wanted to create a cross disability movement. Selfishly, I didn't actually know that there was a community of people who had paralyzed arms. Now I know there is. My specific injury, but I wanted to create something cross disability.
Number two was I wanted to engage non-disabled allies in the conversation because even though we're 25%, they're still 75% of people who can be advocating for us in spaces that we don't necessarily have access to. And then the last reason was I didn't really see any other organizations that had a positive value judgment of disability.
A lot of them were about let's fix your disability. Let's make you more normal. Let's show how you're more abled, right? When in reality, I think a lot of my work is around how can I show how disabled and abled I am? You know, why does, why does one come at the expense of the other, um, talking about only how I'm abled again, diminishes the fact that I do live with a disability that is, that has impacted heavily impacted how I moved by the world, uh, based on that, you know, social identifier program.
So, the shift to full-time entrepreneurship, I will say kind of happened accidentally. And it's not a pretty story. I got fired from a job. And so I like talking about all these things because a lot of us have shame around getting fired. Like it sucks. Like it also sucks to get broken up with right. In a romantic relationship. The longer we sit in that shame, the more that shame has power over us. So I got fired. In the interim. I said, you know what, I'm going to work on diversability until I find my next job. Up until that point, I'd always been working in different corporate roles and fast forward four and a half years later, I'm still doing diversability.
So, so there's a quote by someone named Dr.
Robert Bullard that really inspires a lot of my work. And he says, the fight for justice is a marathon relay. And what I mean by that is that we are never going to stop fighting for justice, but it might look different depending on who was holding the Baton. And one of the things I've realized is at least in this past four to five years, diversability has.
Maybe one part of that Baton right now. Maybe in a couple of years, we will no longer be relevant. I'll go back into the corporate world. But for now I understand that now that we have some level of visibility, what can I do to move this conversation forward? And, and a great example of this is me coming onto your podcast.
Kriti: [00:36:19] For sure, because you've impacted like my view on the word disabled. And now I am going to make it a goal to have more people who are of this community come on. And I like how he said it's a marathon relay and not just a marathon because you're not going to get the outcome that you want just by yourself because. You need everyone else to also come along and help you like win this right. So, yeah, I really liked that quote.
So obviously you're assessing social entrepreneur because you're promoting change. How have, what, it would be your advice for anyone who does have something traumatizing, painful, something hard or something, I guess, that something that really they identify with and how can they create an impact out of it, whether that be through an organization, through a business, through promoting or speaking up about it, how are we able to take something that was hard and create change out of it?
Tiffany: [00:37:31] So. This is a heavy question because there are so many people who are not getting the mental health support that they need because we assume that time is going to heal all wounds. So the first thing I would say, and I did all of this a little bit backwards, I feel like I started my organization first. I realized I had some more work I needed to do. And now I'm doing that work very heavily. We have a team of, I think it's seven or eight people who really helped support the day-to-day of what happens. And so I'd be remiss if, if this is, of course not the Tiffany show.
But also having that support system of my team allows me to create the space and boundaries that I need to do the work so that I can show up fully for others.
So I think the first thing to do is to. If something hard has happened in your life to find your safe people and your safe people could be close group of friends, it could be your family, it could be professional support.
And I guess another thing I'm a little bit inspired by is that if you find that you are still hurting, based on something that has happened, understand that that's not the end of your story. Because a story has a beginning, middle and end, um, and that cycle continues to repeat.
And so, uh, the reason why I bring that up is, you asked me about my teenage years. There was a period of 12 years from nine years old until 21 where I didn't tell anyone, about what I was going through. And I think that now, in retrospect, I can understand all the pieces of that story now, but when I was in it, I didn't understand it.
So I'm digressing a little bit. You asked for advice for people who have trauma, who want to figure out some way to do it. So, um, the other thing I'll say, so first, uh, heal yourself first, before you can heal the world, uh, do that work. It's so important. And honestly that is a lifelong journey to just continue to do the work.
The second thing I'll say is that advocacy on your own terms. Because, I think we have such limited views of what advocacy looks like. For some of us we think that it is showing up to a protest and it's protest or bust. If you think about protests and physical disabilities, like those environments, some of those are not accessible. So for some of us, we turn to social media advocacy. How can I build a platform online to talk about my experiences? And, then you could take advocacy to the next level, which is showing up at city hall or writing letters to your mayor. I mean, I've done, I've done some version of all of these. And one piece of advice I got that I think I will impart onto yours listeners is really just reflecting on what do you want to do?
And I know that's not a great piece of it advice to take away. But what I mean by that is I know. I really enjoy talking. I've I know I've talked a lot on this podcast. I would prefer to talk over write. So I know that, you know, writing an op ed or being a guest contributor to different, you know, online magazines or websites is not your thing, correct?
Yeah. So, I also know that going to protests is not my thing. As much as I like talking, I don't necessarily like yelling, um, not to say that protests are all yelling. But I'm an introvert too. So large crowds always like caused me a little bit of social anxiety. And it's interesting because I just told you I was an introvert and I run a community. And part of what I'm learning , now that I've, I've seen a decade plus of this organization grow, is that there are people who are much better community organizers than I am. What am I feel like I'm really good at is building relationships on some of our strongest community members. You know, I have great relationships with them and I do think building a community and Or like creating a community and cultivating a community and building relationships are different.
You know, one happens at a large number. It's all about how big the community gets. One is about one-to-one, creating a level of intimacy and vulnerability and connection through, shared experiences on a smaller scale. So, so yeah, I, I think, I think as time goes on, it's really just figuring out what's and then, and then maybe like maybe someone just enjoys taking photos.
Photos are another medium, another piece of art and creativity and activism,
Kriti: [00:42:21] so powerful some of those photos,
Tiffany: [00:42:23] correct? Correct. Yeah. I mean, there's that saying? What is it like a photo? Oh, a photo.
Kriti: [00:42:28] A picture is like a thousand words.
Tiffany: [00:42:32] Yeah. Yeah. You, you get it. And so the advice is, I guess it's, three-pronged advice.
Number one, if there's work you need to do on yourself, make sure you prioritize that first. There is something within the advocacy, activism, even entrepreneurship, I call it compassion fatigue, where we serve, we take into account other people's needs first before our own or your own. Yeah. And so we're, we're pouring out of an empty cup, as the saying goes.
Then the second is really think about what are the things you are good at and that you like doing and turn that into your form of advocacy or activism.
And then the the last piece I'll say is just remember to have fun. I think it came. The issues that we're working on are serious. If your question is asking how someone can turn their trauma into triumph, there's a level of seriousness there too. But, just as much as we spend time in serious things, we need to spend an equal amount of time in lighthearted fun things, because having a sense of balance and you talked a lot and you talked about mindfulness too, right?
Like yeah. Having that sense of that balance, having that sense of, knowing how to get deep, but also knowing how to stay light is going to keep you is going to what does it maintain your longevity for this?
Kriti: [00:43:51] So I think finally, what would be your advice for your 16 year old self? Over the whole podcast you have been relating your story so much towards what was happening when you were that young, when you're hiding your story behind a mask. So what would be your kind of final piece of advice? If you could go back and talk to her?
Tiffany: [00:44:16] Um, I would tell her that it's okay to be herself. I did get asked a version of this that was like to your 18 year old self. And I ended up writing like a long post about it. And my last sentence of the post said something like, I can't wait for the world to see who you become. And I'm like trying to think back. Cause when I was 16, I was like getting ready to like get my license and stuff. And I remember, and I feel really grateful cause I kept a journal during that time too. And sometimes when I go back home, I'll like read it. But I was so angry. I was so angry at my friends. I always was chasing after some other friendship or some other thing. Like I was never satisfied with what I had. I think the advice is. It's okay to vocalize what you need. It's okay to set boundaries, like how you show you love yourself is by vocalizing what is going on with you. And, now looking back, like I had a lot of friends and I'm still connected with them, but I think there was part of me that didn't really see them as my safe people. And I've been talking a lot about safe people, both in this conversation in general, because knowing who those people are is how you are able to process emotions. Right. So, um, but yeah, but I would also tell her that journey of her becoming more of herself, I think the worlds will be ready to embrace whoever, whoever she is.
Kriti: [00:45:51] That's amazing advice. The world's ready for you. I feel more enlightened to see how you've grown through this whole story in your experience, and really have created a lot of social change and stuck to what you know best and are able to create this much needed community of diversability.
We want to know what we can do to like, be better allies towards people with disabilities. So what would be like something that we should all go do?
So the easiest thing, cause I know we're living in a social media generation and not easy by all means, but the, what we need to do is we need to start expanding our exposure, right? So how do we get more exposure to disabled people? You can follow whoever you want across social media, a plus if they are BIPOC disabled people, and just like follow, engage with our content, get to know who we are.
Um, a lot of us are. Putting out a lot of free emotional labor in order to educate. We never want to ask people to, we never want to ask people to do that, but we know that in order to start to move things forward, we need to at least put a little bit out so that people can start to become our allies.
Tiffany: [00:47:11] Start to create a little bit of proximity to us. That is one thing I would recommend. I do have a series both on Instagram and tic talk where, um, yeah, where we're at. I'm at day 101 now where I share either bite-sized stats about the disability community or things about language or other things.
And all of those are about 15 to 20 seconds, of different ways that you can be an ally, but I'd say number one, follow a bunch of disabled people. Don't just follow me. Cause I'm only one I'm only one narrative. Number two is, yeah. Check out that theories. If it's helpful. Number three is depending on where your interest is, is if you're more of a podcast person, there are some great disability podcasts to follow.
Uh, Judy human, who is a very well-known person in the disability rights movement has a pod. So I highly recommend doing that. You can also head to, um, for free on YouTube and Netflix is a documentary called Crip camp. I'm learning a lot now about Asian-American history. We should also be, you know, doing that work.
If you have 90 minutes, watch this free documentary called Crip camp, about a bunch of disabled teenagers who met as kids, who then ultimately ended up being like each other's advocates for protests and passing a lot of legislation that, that made it so that the world is much better today than it was 50 years ago for disabled people.
So that's the listen, the watch. And then if you want a read, there's a book that came out last year called Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong.
And actually, Judy human just came out with a book of her memoir, but for young adults. So if you want something that's like a little bit more attuned for young adults, you can check out Judy human's book. But I think disability visibility is going to be a good one for you.
So, so you've got a watch, listen, and a read suggestion. That third point. Yeah.
And yeah, pick again, you know, pick whichever one you feel the most affinity with.
Because last thing I'll say, I got a question a lot of times where, in this series that I was creating about how to be a better ally. Someone made a comment. And they said, oh, well, most of the people who are making those uninformed comments are kids. Are you going to like criticize kids? And one of the things we're learning, right there's so many books out right now that are for kids around braces.
Kriti: [00:49:38] Yeah. Like how did those Anti-racist baby or
Tiffany: [00:49:40] anti-racist baby, anti-ableist baby.
Like we can start learning how to ask better questions. Exactly, exactly. And that's actually where it all starts.
So, I love the curiosity that children have, but I don't think that's an excuse to continue to perpetuate ableism.
Kriti: [00:50:09] So I'll put all the links in the episode description. So thank you so much, Tiffany, for sharing these different mediums of, for us to improve our knowledge and grow and like you said, gain more exposure.
So thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. This was amazing
Tiffany: [00:50:29] For sure. Thanks so much for having me.
Kriti: [00:50:30] So that's the end of the interview and it was amazing to listen to Tiffany story. She is an absolute inspiration across all fronts as an entrepreneur, as a creative, as a leader. She embodies the phrase when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I hope you learned from her story and perhaps might start to self-reflect and on some of your social identifiers, like she did.. Also, don't forget to follow her and many other disability advocates on social media and learn more about a cultural identifier, a social identifier that has really been stigmatized still by society for just way too long.
For more information on Tiffany, I have her website in the episode description and make sure to contact us, shoot us an email and give us feedback on ways that we can improve and different episode topic ideas and more. And you can send that to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening. And I can't wait, talk to you next time.