Announcing the Lime Connect Tom Wilson Leadership in Disability Inaugural Awardee: Varun C.!
Congratulations to Varun Chandak for being our inaugural awardee!
To mark the 15th year of our founding, Lime Connect established “The Tom Wilson Leadership in Disability” award in honor of Lime’s “first believer,” advocate, and board chair emeritus. This prestigious award recognizes young professionals who live out Lime Connect’s mission of “rebranding disability through achievement,” and is presented annually. Out of many amazing applicants, we are excited to announce Varun as our first awardee. To notify Varun, the Lime Connect team surprised him during a virtual call including Karen Kelsey (Relationship Manager), Susan Lang (Founding CEO), Michael MacKay (Global Board Chair), and Tom Wilson.
When asked about how he was notified, Varun mentioned “I was actually not free, and suggested how about another day?” speaking of the mysterious meeting invite from Karen. “But then I said let me move some things around, and I was able to make it for the time she suggested… and when I joined everyone was there and Susan had the celebratory background going and it was a very pleasant surprise,” he says as we laugh.
Tom Wilson says, “This award reflects Lime Connect’s steadfast commitment to rebranding disability through achievement, and I am greatly honored to congratulate Varun as our initial recipient. He exemplifies leadership not only in his own career advancement but also in his innovative and committed approach to supporting students and professionals with disabilities. We are thrilled to support and partner with Varun in every way we can.” Learn more about the award
Get to know Varun
A long-time Lime Network member in Toronto, Varun works full-time in the financial services sector as a private market strategy manager. He is also the founder and president of Access to Success, a national, volunteer-run not-for-profit that supports the development of future leaders with disabilities and assistive technology.
How has he rebranded disability through his work?
“As a little kid in India, my biggest dream was to have a successful corporate career – while living with hearing loss and Erb’s Palsy, a form of partial paralysis in my left arm. And yet growing up, I never met anyone in the corporate world who had visible disabilities. Hearing aids were considered stigmatic in a corporate career. Disability as a topic was taboo, and people like me did what we could to hide our disabilities.
Coming to a country where no one knew me, where I didn’t have any family or old friends, set the stage well for a fresh start. In September 2016, less than a month after I landed in Canada, I launched what would become the Access to Success Organization. It started as a small student club that supported MBA students with disabilities at the Rotman School of Management. Today, Access to Success is a national, volunteer-run not-for-profit that supports the development of future leaders with disabilities and assistive technology. The Access to Success Fellowship now provides up to C$90,000 in scholarships annually to MBA students with disabilities at four of Canada’s top business schools. Alongside, the team I put together supported dozens of MBA students with disabilities with recruiting and other support, taught disability inclusion and inclusive design to hundreds of students through events and organized the world’s first MBA conferences and case competitions on inclusive design.
More recently, I expanded Access to Success’ mandate to launch ATS Labs, Canada’s first accelerator for accessibility startups. ATS Labs is a 3-month program that will provide unique programming tailored to help accessibility startups scale to mainstream markets. By making accessibility tech mainstream wherever possible, we hope to contribute to removing stigma – much like how closed captioning and electric toothbrushes were once accessibility tech but became mainstream. To do all this, I frequently partner and collaborate with dozens of organizations and disability advocates around the world. I do this work alongside a full-time professional career in the financial services industry. I do it because I want disability inclusion to be the default, not an afterthought. This is how I’m rebranding disability.”
How will Varun maximize the award recognition and platform?
“It was just a few years ago that I was uncomfortable with being handed the mic, with being on the stage, with being in the spotlight. I’ve always just wanted to keep my head down, do the work, and let the results speak for me. However, my work with Access to Success made me realized that being handed the mic is not a personal honor, but a privilege – a privilege to use that bullhorn to shed light on the causes we work for, the values we fight for. As the inaugural Tom Wilson Leadership in Disability recipient, I will use this opportunity to rally more people to the importance of building a pipeline of future leaders with disabilities and helping accessibility tech scale. Both of these are goals that extremely few organizations around the world are working on, so getting more people involved is paramount.
Lastly, I would use this privilege to build a community of not just future winners of this award, but also shortlisted finalists. As research has proven, there are extremely few accomplished leaders with disabilities, particularly in the corporate world. The award is a chance to invite those leaders to contribute some of their personal time, network, and goodwill for supporting deserving students with disabilities. This support could be in the form of mentorship, networking support, and exposure to opportunities that may not otherwise be available. I truly believe that the Tom Wilson Leadership in Disability Award is a chance to not just recognize a deserving recipient, but also use the opportunities that come with this award to elevate efforts in disability inclusion. I hope to receive the chance to do just that.