Rikki Epstein, Executive Director, The Arc of Northern Virginia
1.In your opinion, what makes a company innovative?
A company is innovative when it creates or develops an idea or process that holds value in the community around it. We often thing of innovation as something we create or build that brings more efficiency or better profit, but it can also be the creation of the vision for how we live in the world with each other. While we all benefit from innovations in business through technology to create a more efficient or effective workplace, innovative technology can also create and build a better workforce. A company is innovative when it works to build more collaborative and diverse relationships in employment that better taps the unique and individual talents and gifts that all can bring to the workplace.
2.What makes your company innovative?
The Arc of Northern Virginia supports and advocates on behalf of and with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The 54-year old organization began at the cusp of the civil rights movement by parents desperate to find programs and services for their children so they wouldn’t have to be sent away to institutions. While the world has grown to accept that people with disabilities live in their neighborhoods, it hasn’t yet grown to where people with and without disabilities regularly work alongside each other. The Arc of Northern Virginia believes that individuals with disabilities can and should live and work and play right alongside you and me. We believe that people with disabilities want what everyone wants – a home, a job, friends, family – A Life Like Yours. The Arc of Northern Virginia has an innovative vision for our communities here in Northern Virginia. That vision includes businesses and companies including people with disabilities in their workforce and learning together that inclusion builds a better place to work for all. Not only does The Arc of Northern Virginia have this vision, but it also works diligently to develop resources and tools to work towards making this vision a reality.
3.What or who are some innovative companies or people that inspire you and your team?
Spending time with individuals with disabilities who overcome great obstacles every day is tremendously inspiring. Many of these people have been told throughout their lives that they will never amount to much and yet everyone they come into contact with is touched by their determination and love of life. I am especially inspired by all of the parents and families with loved ones who have disabilities and who come up against brick walls in daily life. These parents, who want their children to be a part of this world and to have a voice, fight every day to find a place for them to be happy, independent, and productive citizens. They overcome enormous obstacles to level the playing field for the ones they love. These families inspire us.
4.What are some publications, print or digital, you read daily or have read that help you stay on top of your game? These could be books, magazine, blogs, e-newsletters, etc.
I have found that as technology and social media have grown and changed, so has what I read. I am inspired daily by The Mighty. In this online blog, I read about individuals and families striving to live each day to the fullest. They have overcome enormous challenges and are very inspirational. I have also found many articles from diverse and interesting viewpoints through my social media contacts. I work hard to keep my “friends” and “likes” varied across the spectrum of business and disability, especially in areas where those intersect, such as assistive technology. The result is that every day I read about different innovations, especially in technology, that create better lives.
5.What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders striving to be innovative in today’s business environment?
Think outside the box! Never let someone tell you that it won’t work or that we can’t do it that way. Always be willing to see the world from a different perspective. Hire a person with an intellectual or developmental disability. The numbers are clear…. Soon you won’t have a choice as the incidence rates of individuals with autism keep getting higher, the dynamic of the workplace will be changing. Your company can be at the front of this curve if you start now!