Disability Pride Month: Five Takeaways for Tech Transfer  

Lisa Mueller

Chair, AUTM EDI Committee


July is Disability Pride Month. I didn’t really appreciate what that meant until my niece Madison was born. Having her in my life has educated me about the many ways awareness and acceptance of disability can be rewarding, both personally and within the tech transfer profession.

Disability Pride Month celebrates visibility and positive awareness for people with disabilities, promotes acceptance and recognition of disability as a cultural identity, and reminds us that people with disabilities are entitled to the same rights and values as non-disabled people.

Madison, my niece, has Down Syndrome and was born with a hole in her heart and an intestinal nerve disorder. Now at age nine and half, Madison has spent too many nights in hospitals, endured too many doctor visits, and lost countless hours of play time. 

Despite all these challenges, Madison is one of the most resilient, passionate, engaging and funny individuals I’ve ever met. Ever curious, she loves to learn, be challenged and experience all that life has to offer. Because of Madison, I have been inspired to volunteer in organizations like Best Buddies, the National Down Syndrome Society, and Gigi’s Playhouse. 

I have been deeply influenced by Madison as well as other individuals I have spent time with who have disabilities.  Some of the things I have learned include: 

  1. Don’t judge a person by their looks. We shouldn’t automatically assume that a person’s disability means they are not capable of being impressive or successful. In fact, individuals with disabilities who have had very successful and rewarding careers include physicist Stephen Hawking, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, inventor Hugh Herr, and entrepreneurs Francesco Clark and Collette Divitto.
  2. Resilience is key.  My niece and other individuals with disabilities have taught me that they never give in without a fight—something innovators can relate to. Whether you are an inventor, a technology transfer professional, or a startup founder, resilience will give you the ability to navigate the challenges of the innovation ecosystem and respond with intention.
  3. Celebrate your differences. One of things I most admire (and envy) about Madison is that she knows who she is and is not afraid to let the world know it. Madison sees the world through her own unique lens – another attribute that should resonate with those of us involved with innovation, where thinking differently is a superpower. If we all saw the world through the same lens, innovation would proceed at a much slower pace.
  4. The importance of patience. I can be a very impatient person. However, Madison and other individuals with disabilities have helped me appreciate that others may need more time and space to learn something new or complete a task, and not everything needs to be done at breakneck speed. Patience is also a virtue when it comes to innovation, where there can be pressure to make hasty decisions instead of taking the time to develop a strategy and course of action. In reality, there is no such thing as an overnight success. Achievements take time. 
  5. Innovation matters. Medical technology allowed doctors to identify Madison’s conditions before she was born and anticipate the care she would need. Before such diagnostic tools were available, my niece might not have survived birth. Other relatively recent innovations, such as the monoclonal drug palivizumab (Synagis), have allowed her to grow and thrive. 
I am grateful to have learned so much from Madison and other individuals with disabilities. During Disability Pride Month, I encourage AUTM Members to spend some time getting to know one or more individuals with disabilities to see what you can learn.