by Mai Ling Chan
Breaking a bone in your body is excruciatingly painful, traumatic, and typically requires emergency medical attention. Imagine experiencing this more than 200 times by the time you are 38 years old. Sara Simpson was born on April 3, 1981, with multiple fractures of her ribs, clavicle, arm, and skull. Diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones, Simpson’s extremely fragile bones have been broken or fractured repeatedly and frequently, without overt cause.
Although she has spent nearly her entire life in a constant state of recovery, these physical challenges have not stopped her from achieving an undergraduate degree in travel and tourism and building an accomplished career in the airline industry.
Building on her experiences, Simpson has found purpose in sharing her story of an impressive corporate career and leadership roles as a person with a disability.
“I’m starting to learn that everything I’m going through in life… is my purpose.”
In my Xceptional Leaders Podcast interview, “Strong Foundations Build Leadership” with Sara Simpson, Simpson shares her story as a person with a disability thriving in the corporate sector. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, Simpson still experienced employment issues early in her career which included negotiating accessible transportation to align with scheduled work shifts and navigating disability leave benefits.
In addition to these concerns, Simpson also reflects on a very private mental health challenge that arose early in her work experience. Although she was always strong-willed and independent, within this new work setting, Simpson suddenly found herself requiring support from fellow employees ranging from minor tasks to direct physical assistance. This heightened her personal insecurities related to public sentiment, employer satisfaction, personal productivity goals, career achievement, and eventually, threatened her positive outlook and mental health.
“I felt that because I never really did show signs of weakness ever, that was a lot of pressure… but I felt that I would be letting everybody down by showing signs of weakness”.
True to her can-do nature, Simpson immediately connected with a counselor and through introspective conversations, she was able to recharge her inner strength and renew her ability to manage new work-related obstacles and challenges.
Since then, Simpson’s determined attitude and friendly disposition have prevailed, and she has achieved industry acknowledgments such as Employee of the Year. She is particularly proud that this was awarded as a result of her career accomplishments, regardless of her disability.
Simpson is beginning to share her story through speaking engagements, interviews, employee training, and education opportunities. With a focus on the youth, she insists that her success in life stems from the fact that she was always accepted by her peers, rather than just seen as a person with a disability. Because of this, she is taking a strong position to educate students about the powerful effects of inclusion in an effort to stem any possibilities of bullying of children with disabilities.
Reflected in her winning smile, Simpson’s public message spotlights her ability to live life fully as an able-bodied person and to help shed light on achieving a fulfilling career from a disability perspective. “I don’t want to have special treatment. I want to be just ‘Sara,’ and not ‘Sara in a wheelchair’.” Her leadership focuses on the individual instead of the diagnoses, a perfect reflection of her own strength and accomplishment.