Episodes

270 CEOs Can’t Be Wrong

13 Letters
April 30, 2020

What’s it like to hide your blindness from the world? Caroline Casey did it for years. Her parents never told her she was “blind,” and, when she got into the working world, she hid it from everyone else. Holding down a high-powered job as a consultant at Accenture for several years while still “in the closet,” Caroline finally came to the realization that it wasn’t worth it anymore – and that’s when her life really started. Caroline chatted with us for the new episode of the Be My Eyes Podcast, about her childhood, her work, and her new initiative to get 500 of the world’s most powerful CEOs to sign a commitment to include disability in their business agenda.

Transcripts sponsored by Diamond

Notes

Listen on:

Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

There were 25 Barons of Magna Carta, 56 names on the Declaration of Independence, but Caroline Casey is thinking bigger. Right now, she has 270 signatures from some of the most powerful people in the world on a document that is intended to bring freedom and independence to billions of people.

Will Butler:

You might know Caroline from her TED talk about how she grew up, until the age of 17, not knowing that she was legally blind. Next week on the Be My Eyes Podcast, we have an in-depth interview with Caroline. And it was too good not to share it with the accessibility crowd here at 13 Letters. So we're giving you a little preview.

Will Butler:

If you like what you hear, go subscribe to the Be My Eyes Podcast at bemyeyes.com/podcasts and listen to the tons of other interviews with dynamic, passionate, accomplished and just interesting blind and visually impaired folks from around the world.

Will Butler:

For all you diehard Letterheads, we'll be back next week with an awesome new episode. I can't wait for you to hear it.

Will Butler:

Also a big shout out to our new transcript sponsor, Diamond. Diamond is an innovative digital agency based out of Los Angeles, an accessibility leader, building stuff that works for everyone and raising the bar on development and delivery. Check them out at diamond.la.

Will Butler:

And now our exclusive first listen to Caroline Casey on the Be My Eyes Podcast.

Will Butler:

Didn't you have instances where you would have a run in with a kid or not see something that the kids saw. And then they would kind of tease you, say like, "What? Are you blind?" You know, something like that. And you'd come home crying and say, "Mom, dad, someone called me blind at school." Can you walk me through how something like that would play out and how it would lead into you feeling, still unaware that you had a very significantly different level of eyesight?

Caroline Casey:

So there was a name I used to be called in school called shaky eyes because I'd gotten nystagmus, so my eyes flicker all the time. And I didn't really think very much of that. I couldn't see the blackboard. This is me [inaudible 00:02:20] my age.

Caroline Casey:

And I just thought, because there was lots of kids who wore glasses, do you know, that just had normal short-sightedness. So I kind of thought I was just one of them with bad vision. Nobody really wanted me on their team, for anything like hitting a ball. Because I was rubbish. I mean, I couldn't play the basketballs, the netballs, the hockey. I mean, and I love sports, but I just had no hand-eye coordination.

Caroline Casey:

I tell you, there's a few times ... I was bullied by the way in school too. And I was bullied because I was sitting in the front row because I couldn't see the blackboard. Once again, not really understanding that I couldn't see the blackboard. And I was called the teacher's pet. And so then I just, well, screw that, I'm not sitting in the front, so I scooted off to the back.

Caroline Casey:

And then the other part of my thing that I remember is feeling really awkward walking into rooms and not being able to see people's faces. Now I know where my people pleasing nature has come from. I know now why I reach out to hug somebody first. Because I don't want anybody to feel as awkward and so lacking in confidence as I used to feel. Because I couldn't see. I could see the outlines, but I couldn't see.

Caroline Casey:

And I think I felt so socially awkward. And look, everybody growing up as a teenager, I guess, feels socially awkward. But I know I was feeling socially awkward because I couldn't see who I was talking to half the time.

Caroline Casey:

And I fell a lot. And I walked into walls a lot. And I couldn't see who I was waving over to see. I didn't know, at the discos, who was there. Yeah, it was really weird. It was such a strange thing.

Caroline Casey:

And then because my mom was quite sick, I didn't really ... All of that seemed ... Because the stuff going on at home was even bigger than the eyesight stuff, which I didn't know about. So I really felt my childhood was quite lonely. I really felt very lonely in my childhood. And very not seen, and not heard, and not good enough. I never felt good enough. I never thought that I was lovable. I always felt odd.

Will Butler:

Even when Caroline realized she was blind, she continued to hide it throughout her young adulthood. And even when she took a high powered job as a consultant at Accenture. So how does she feel looking back?

Caroline Casey:

It's not worth it. It's not worth it.

Will Butler:

Hopefully if someone's listening to this and going through the same thing, they understand it's not worth hiding, right?

Caroline Casey:

No. Do you know what, if I could go back in a time machine, right. I was 17 years old when I found out. And I would put my arms around myself and I'd give myself the biggest hug and say, "Just because your eyes don't work so well, does not take away from who you are. And the most important thing that you can do, Caroline, is just go out and live your life in your unique and crazy way. And the best chance that you have of doing that is being honest."

Caroline Casey:

Listen, I wasted a lot of years of my life. Don't get me wrong, I was very successful. Those 11 years, I punched well and truly above my weight, but at a cost.

Caroline Casey:

And these are the cliches that are going to run off my tongue now. But they're very important. Look, the only business that any of us have is being who we really are. We are better in our relationships, we are better in our friendships, we're better in our working life, when we know ourselves and we accept ourselves for the good, bad and the ugly. We're not all supposed to be perfect or shiny all the time. And I wasted a lot of time being somebody that I thought was good enough. When actually all I was doing was undermining and underestimating myself.

Will Butler:

The real breakthrough came when Caroline admitted she had a disability.

Caroline Casey:

When I finally accepted that my eyes were wonky and they didn't work, I actually got to have my dreams come true. And this is the weirdest, weirdest thing about my story. Which is why I'm trying to ... I feel so passionate. Is that when I let go of trying to control it and to be perfect and to fit in, I found a place to belong. And that is just why did I waste so much time? Why would you waste so much time?

Will Butler:

Caroline stopped wasting time and turned all of her attention to inclusion advocacy. Today she runs an organization called The Valuable 500 which is seeking to get 500 CEO signatures on a commitment to disability in business.

Caroline Casey:

The scale of the inequality crisis is so big. And we've seen that governments cannot change it on their own. Charities cannot change it on the own. And all those kinds of things. It can't, we've not seen exponential accelerated change for 15% of our global population. We haven't seen it. And I know we have the ADA, and I know we have the UN Convention for people with disabilities. I get all of that. But we are still seeing mass exclusion.

Caroline Casey:

It is only my opinion, but I believe that business is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. If business is not at this table meaningfully seeing the value of the 15% of our population who have a lived experience with disability. If they don't see the value of this market as customers and suppliers and members of community and talent. If they don't see this value, and they consciously or unconsciously exclude, then society will. However, if business include it and value it, society would include and value it. Far as I'm concerned, inclusive business creates inclusive societies because of the power of business.

Caroline Casey:

Now, if you want to see disability be equally included within business, why is it not happening? Far as I'm concerned, three reasons. One, we do not have leaders. We have not had leadership. We didn't have people like the Richard Bransons or the Sheryl Sandbergs or the Mark Zuckerbergs standing with and for disability. We've never had that.

Caroline Casey:

Secondly, when we look at the diversity and inclusion agenda, disability has always been on the sidelines. We have devised this ridiculous hierarchy of exclusion and inclusion, which always leaves disability sitting on the edges. Where we're saying that this year we're going to prioritize gender and race and inclusion is gender, race and LGBTQ. I mean, that's insane. That's a delusion. And we've been getting away with this for way too long. There's a horrible statistic saying that 90% of our companies say they're passionate about inclusion and yet only 4% consider disability. Well, I'm sorry, but that is not inclusion. That is an absolute illusion.

Caroline Casey:

And the third reason that I think disability has being sitting around the outsides, is actually the voice of the disability community is only now really, really dialing up because of social media and the digital revolution and the next generation. And that's the great opportunity that we have.

Caroline Casey:

And so as far as I was concerned, how do we make business inclusive? We need the leadership. And that has been my obsession for as long as I have known. And I don't want your business leadership to say, "Oh, it's a good thing to do and it's a worthy thing to do." No, no, no, no. This disability market is worth eight trillion. It's a source of innovation and growth. It's a source of talent and sustainability.

Caroline Casey:

And what I would say to any business is, your brands need to be aware of this huge market. And if you put a mother and a father attached to every one of the 1.3 billion people in the world you have a disability that is 54% of our global consumers. At your peril, business. No more excuses. You can't keep doing it. You'll be insane to let it go.

Caroline Casey:

And what I see it as, is when the human need meets a business opportunity, shit happens. And that's why we created The Valuable 500. The human need is for the 1.3 billion people to be respected and to belong and to be included. And the business opportunity is everything that I just said. And The Valuable 500 is the 500 leaders who are going to make it happen.

Will Butler:

The disability with a capital D has been such an important historical movement, but it also, the label does us a great disservice when you're trying to make a business case for it. Because it ignores the fact that it's about everybody.

Caroline Casey:

Well, it is. And you know something, I'm coming to the point that I don't want to make the business case for disability anymore. Since when were we ever supposed to make the business case for human beings?

Caroline Casey:

And I also want to say before covid, people with disabilities, if they wanted to work from home or they needed particular accommodations in the workplace, the accommodations were seen as expensive. And since covid now, it's all, oh, firms can be agile and flexible and remote working.

Caroline Casey:

Do you know what's just happened? We've just seen that the lived experiences of many people with disabilities have been emulated right across the world. And you know what we've also seen? Is the system can change if it wants to.

Caroline Casey:

So the question is, do you want to change or not? Do you have the intention? Do you have the energy? Do you have the commitment? And you will if it affects you. And you will.

Caroline Casey:

And this isn't just about a physical disability or a physical impairment, the situation is exactly as you say, it's temporary. But you know what, you'd want to design the world for every eventuality. That's what this is about, isn't it?

Caroline Casey:

And this is not about the business case. Because the business is about human beings. Business is about human beings. And I don't see why we need to make the business case for 15% of our global human being population. Who, by the way, if we designed for us, everybody gets the benefit.

Caroline Casey:

And on the last point of this. If nobody believed us. Look at Apple, baked into its DNA is universal design. It was the first company in the world to trigger a trillion. Because Steve Jobs wanted to design beautiful products for all. That's the best case for disability business inclusion or universal design or design for all that I know.

Will Butler:

And from a workplace perspective, is there anything, like is it the company's responsibility to make the workplace a safe place for people who are scared, like you and I were, to come out at work or is that a personal journey that's just on their own?

Caroline Casey:

Yes. Yes. No, 100%, sorry, 100%.

Caroline Casey:

The culture of the business needs to create an environment where all of us can ask for what we need. So, that we can be the best we can be. And I fundamentally believe leaders make choices, choices create cultures. And if that culture creates a safe space for me to say what I need or not to hide away, I will be a really much better employee. And we know that.

Caroline Casey:

And by the way, that's not a disability thing. That is not a disability thing. You are your most effective, you are your most compassionate, you are your most powerful, you are most productive when you are authentically being yourself.

Caroline Casey:

And before my dad died, he was well known for saying, "Be yourself because everyone else is taken." Which is hilarious because they didn't tell me I couldn't see very well, but anyway. And he's right. The only job we have to do is to be ourselves.

Caroline Casey:

And so the job that the business cultures have is to create those cultures that people can be themselves. We shouldn't be threatened by difference. We should see ... I mean, let's be honest, difference is the source of the greatest innovation that we ever have.

Caroline Casey:

You know, you do the same thing, you get the same results. You do something different and a different lived experience can give you insights into great innovation. Where do you think Google came from? It wasn't doing the same thing in the same way? Do you know what I mean? So I think innovation comes from different lived experiences and different opinions.

Will Butler:

That's all you get folks. Listen to the Be My Eyes Podcast on Tuesday for the full interview with Caroline Casey. And join us again next Thursday for another episode of 13 Letters.

Will Butler:

Thanks to my, today absent, but always wonderful co-host, Cordelia McGee-Tubb. And thanks to everyone who has made this podcast possible over the last several months. It's been a wonderful ride and we're excited to keep it going.

Will Butler:

Send your messages, feedback, hate mail, love letters to 13letters@bemyeyes.com.