Thirty years ago in Washington, D.C., a group of subject matter experts from the insurance industry gathered with trade groups and legislators to talk about a new piece of legislation called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
I was thrilled to have the opportunity, early in my insurance career, to take part in this meeting and see the legislative process at work. That day, I heard a phrase that has been at the heart of my leadership style and everything I’ve done over the course of my career.
One presenter spoke passionately about the importance of the ADA, and she reframed my entire mindset with this statement: “We have to stop referring to the people we want to help as ‘disabled people.’ They are ‘people’ first. They are ‘people with a disability,’ not ‘disabled people.’ “
I understood. The words we use — and the way we use them — matter.
If I ever made that mistake again, I was quick to catch myself and correct it. And over the years I’ve helped countless colleagues understand the importance of putting people first. As the leader of the Group Protection business at Lincoln Financial, that’s what I emphasize with my team.
We are dedicated to helping people in difficult circumstances. And we can show them that we respect them, we support them and we are here to help, by always making sure we put people first — with our words and with our actions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act continues to push all of us to get better, to get that equation right. Today, it’s the norm to see ramps at the corners of sidewalks—we expect that. And though many people are using those for strollers or skateboards, we should remember those cutouts are there so that all people can benefit from the same access.
I remember walking with my daughter when she was younger, not long after the passage of the ADA, and we would come to a curb without a ramp. She always noticed, and I always told her “they just haven’t gotten to that one yet, but there’s a law that says they have to.” Being able to witness the implementation of the ADA in these ways has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.
The ADA still drives us to be better, and within our industry so does the Council for Disability Awareness. Through its work to help people understand the likelihood of a disability occurring, the financial impact those events can have and the value of planning to protect those we love, the CDA and the ADA operate with the same spirit – both put people first.