Congratulations to Ariel Small for being our 2022 awardee!
Announcing our 2022 Lime Connect Tom Wilson Leadership in Disability Awardee: Ariel!
Last year, 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 Ari (pronounced AH-ree) who not only has accomplished many great things in his life and career but has also been deeply connected to Lime Connect as a 2014 Lime Connect Fellow and leader of our Veteran’s Community Group.
Get to know Ari
What would you like network members to know about you?
I was in the Army for five years and got to live all over the country, including Hawaii and Washington state. I’m an avid hiker and reader and love all things fitness. Connect with me on LinkedIn!
How have you rebranded disability through achievement in your work?
Growing up with Tourette Syndrome presented challenges that felt like a constant effort to crawl up a steep mountain. I advocated in school for accommodations to have an equal footing with peers, but when I found success the rumors would say my accommodations, not my hard work, got me there. To make matters worse, the disability advocacy programs I sought support from told the story that I could still be “normal” despite my Tourette and that to be ordinary was an accomplishment. I increasingly felt that normal wasn’t good enough for me and set higher goals than just meeting status quo. I started speaking at schools nationwide to promote disability awareness and changed the narrative through telling young people that their disability could be the catalyst for their success. I knew however that I needed to show this in my own life to give it legitimacy.
My dream was to serve in the military, and after getting accepted to the Naval Academy I was denied because with Tourette “I wasn’t fit to serve”. While initially crushing, this emboldened me to continue striving for the top to show the world nothing could hold me back.
I applied and was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania where I studied engineering so that I could best support the defense industry. However, I never gave up my dream to serve. I wrote senators, generals, and medical professionals to help grant a medical waiver for service. Finally, five years after my medical waiver was initially denied, the Army granted me an opportunity to serve and the next chapter in my journey began.
When I joined the military, the most obvious change for me was that no accommodations were given out and there was no acknowledgement of disability. Throughout my military career, I broke through barriers to demonstrate my true capability through hard work, conscious self-reflection, and dedication. I wanted to prove that even with Tourette, I could achieve success in this environment. I assessed and was selected to join the Army’s elite special operations commandos: the 75th Ranger Regiment and received multiple medals in my time there. In difficult environments at home and deployed overseas, I used my experience struggling with Tourette to manage new obstacles with great success.
After five years of service and the transition to civilian life at hand, I wanted to continue pursuing excellence and making an impact. I prepared for months to interview at top consulting firms. After over 100 hours of interview prep, I was extended an offer at McKinsey & Company despite not having an advanced degree.
I recently spoke at a conference of young people afflicted with Tourette. I remembered sitting in a similar audience as a kid, and hearing that I could be just like everyone else. This time I made sure to change the message, and emphasized that their disorder is what gives them the perspective to approach life differently from everyone else, and that they could achieve anything they set their mind to.
What gave you the confidence to apply for this award? How did you feel applying?
When I sought support from disability advocacy programs growing up, the message they espoused was that you could still be “normal” despite your conditions and that to be ordinary was an accomplishment. I was disheartened by the low bar they set for our community. However, when I took part in the Lime Connect fellowship in college, the experience showed me that ordinary doesn’t have to be my narrative. In fact, I learned that forging a path while living with a disability gives you unique perspective, strength and fortitude that can be a catalyst for success. The agency Lime Connect helped me harness is something I’ve taken with me through life and I am inspired to pay it forward by supporting its efforts to rebrand disability. It’s with the confidence of the impact Lime Connect had on my life and the hope that sharing my story can similarly impact someone else that I applied for this award.
How do you hope to remain connected to and involved with Lime Connect as a result of this honor?
My goal is to approach advocacy through a wholistic rebrand of disability in both disability communities and employers. I plan to advance this on three fronts: changing the narrative for young people living with differences, changing how employers view and accommodate disabilities, and finally fostering connections between both parties. I want to use my story to push the message that your disability is what gives you the unique perspective to push boundaries. The Lime Connect network lives and breathes this approach, and I’m excited to work with individuals across the organization to help affect this change.