Amy Bois of Greenland, New Hampshire, finds herself at a bit of a crossroads. She’s a single mom, long-time caregiver to her son Tyler, 17, a senior in high school, and his 14-year-old brother who is a freshman, and yet, she still possesses a keen entrepreneurial streak and a devout passion for those with disabilities.
“When Tyler was born we lived in Southern California, I was deeply entrenched in corporate and office life as a marketing executive at (credit card finance firm) MBNA,” Ms. Bois says. “But as we learned of the best treatment options for Tyler, we needed to be closer to Boston Children’s Hospital and I became a full-time caregiver.”
Tyler was born with Spina Bifida and Chiari Malformation II, a congenital birth defect that affects the spine and spinal cord from developing properly, thus creating deficits that often lead to mobility issues. Tyler experienced his first surgery at just one day old to prevent additional damage to the spinal cord. By age 9, he had already undergone 20 major procedures to improve his quality of life involving many body and skeletal systems. In all, he (and his family) have endured 33 surgeries over 17 years.
“And at this point, he’s a happy, energetic young man with a bright future who will graduate from high school in the next two years,” she continues.
Tyler may be ready to take on the world, but his mom questions whether the world is ready for him.
“It’s really unfortunate that there are so many stigmas associated with those with disabilities, and to a lesser extent, those who care for them,” Ms. Bois says, citing U.S. Census data that shows that one in four Americans will be deemed disabled at some point in their lives. “It’s 26 percent of our population that is underutilized and not fully understood beyond the surface. Individuals living with disability have so much to offer and are sometimes referred to as ‘hidden talent.’”
A majority of disabled people do not disclose to their employer that they are living with a condition for fear of being looked at as less than, she says. “Companies want to hire members from this demographic, but often don’t know where to start or how to integrate the disabled into their corporate culture,” Ms. Bois says.
Similar challenges exist for those who have cared for their loved one and want to re-enter the workforce. Caregivers possess qualities many companies seek like empathy, resourcefulness and problem solving, yet some have gaps in their resume or incomplete education histories since they spent years caring for a family member.
Organizations like Inclusively and The Valuable 500 (think Fortune 500 for those with disabilities) are a good place to start, Ms. Bois says, as their member companies and CEOs have expressed a desire to hire those with disabilities – and do so – working with caregivers along the way. Member firms read like a who’s who among the world’s elite companies: Apple, Hilton Hotels, Delta Airlines, Accenture, Edward Jones, Pfizer, NBC-Universal, JP Morgan Chase, Intel, among many others.
Ms. Bois marches on, supporting her small family as a strength coach and adaptive inclusive trainer, assisting companies with understanding DEI, and developing specialized athletic equipment for those with special needs. She has co-developed the EvolutionVN adaptive workout system that supports more than 200 different exercises yet is not much larger than a stationary bicycle. She helps clients of all fitness levels and needs on the online platform Fit With Amy B (FitWithAmyB.com).
“It’s really an untapped market and resource available to companies,” Ms. Bois continues. “Just think that there are, literally, 76 million Americans, at some point in their lives, considered disabled. That does not mean disinterested in having a career, or that they’re unhealthy or immobile. They want to contribute to a better tomorrow just like the rest of us.”
PHOTO: Amy and Tyler Bois stop during their busy schedules to snap a lovely mother-son photo.