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Q&A with Disability Interests Advisory Committee Co-Chair

Oct. 10, 2023

Headshot photo of Cristin Taylor

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and we recently commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act that transformed the federal workplace to make employment, programming, and services more accessible and equitable to people with disabilities. We’re spotlighting Cristin Taylor, co-chair of the SEC’s Disability Interests Advisory Committee (DIAC) and a learning officer in the agency’s Office of Human Resources. In this Q&A, Cristin shares her background, role with DIAC, and thoughts on the advancements in accessibility over the last 50 years.

Q. Can you share a little about your background and your path to the SEC?

A. I graduated with my master’s degree from the University of York (UK) and I knew I wanted to build a career around adult education and training. I was fortunate to find an opportunity developing vocational qualifications for the British food and drink production sector. I traveled extensively around the UK and gained a wealth of experience in consulting and developing content for nationally recognized training programs. After making the decision to return to my home state of Rhode Island, I took over running a Department of Labor program designed to retrain individuals who had been impacted by the soaring unemployment rate. Helping people in need find meaningful employment, while also helping local businesses, was an immensely rewarding experience.

I soon found my way to the D.C. area, where I began working as a government contractor specializing in training and development programs, which ended up taking me to the SEC. I started as a contractor, supporting SEC University, and eventually accepted a position as a full-time employee managing a variety of training and educational programs.

Q. Can you talk a bit about the DIAC’s mission and what has been most rewarding in your role as co-chair?

A. The DIAC works to promote events and issues of interest to people with any disabilities, including physical, sensory, cognitive and psychological. We focus on accessibility, Schedule A hiring, assistive technology and investor protection in the disability community.

The most rewarding part of being involved with DIAC has been the people I have been able to connect with. We have more than 160 members from a diverse range of disability backgrounds, and it has given me the opportunity to not only meet people with disabilities like my own, but also connect with people from different backgrounds. It is a wonderful forum to learn from others and work together on common goals.

My advice is to recognize that it’s not your job as an individual to educate the world on your disability. If you feel that you are not getting the assignments you should be or people are questioning your abilities, don’t be afraid to ask questions and respectfully challenge those views.

– Cristin Taylor,
DIAC Co-Chair

Q. What unique perspectives do you bring to your DIAC role to help enhance diversity, accessibility, equity and inclusion both internally at the agency and externally in the community that we serve?

A. As someone with a disability from birth, I have a lifetime of experience that I can share with others. I certainly know what discrimination can feel like, but I also hope I can help people who develop a disability later in life understand that their life is far from over. While change can be difficult, there are resources available to help you live independently and thrive in your career. Given the right tools, people with disabilities can continue to work, travel, study and achieve their goals. We see countless examples of this within DIAC and the disability community as a whole. That’s one of the reasons we started our "Outside the Box" series to highlight how people with disabilities have thought creatively to find new ways of doing things, challenge stereotypes, and help their community.

All that said, barriers still exist. DIAC continues to work with our partners across the agency to make sure the needs of our community are being met.

Q. At the SEC, we emphasize the importance of mentorship, sponsorship and internships as conduits for creating personal and professional opportunities. Is there a person, experience or event that was pivotal to helping you get to where you are today?

A. In terms of internship, I was fortunate to have the chance to participate as an undergraduate in a summer work program that gave me the opportunity to work in several municipal government offices. Having this early work experience ended up being very helpful as I went to apply for my first professional job after graduate school. Not only did it help build my resume, but it also gave me experiences to draw on in interviews and eased the transition into the workplace.

Starting my career at a small company, I found that there wasn’t a formal career development or mentoring program to help new employees. Thankfully, I was gradually able to build up a small network of people to help me through that transitional period. It was immensely helpful to have a group of people around me to share their insights on receiving feedback, the role of professional development, navigating difficult conversations, and authenticity in the workplace.

Q. What barriers have you encountered on your career path, and what advice might you give to help others overcome similar barriers?

A. I think the hardest barrier for many people with disabilities to overcome is the doubt you encounter from others. Many non-disabled people don’t understand assistive technology or how a person with a disability may adapt to various situations. Because they don’t understand, they assume it can’t be done.

My advice is to recognize that it’s not your job as an individual to educate the world on your disability. If you feel that you are not getting the assignments you should be or people are questioning your abilities, don’t be afraid to ask questions and respectfully challenge those views. I also encourage people to get involved with their company or agency’s employee affinity groups as another career development opportunity. Volunteering to assist with affinity group events or initiatives can help provide exposure to different parts of the agency as well as help develop new skills. Employee affinity groups provide a supportive environment and an understanding group of professionals who have been through what you are going through and can offer tips and advice.

Q. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

A. The ability to speak every language. I love studying foreign cultures and to travel, and it would certainly make things easier. As a bonus, it’s also great to enjoy literature in its original language rather than relying on a translation.

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