Mindy Henderson: Turning Lemons into Lemonade
In this episode of WomenHeard Changemakers, host Georgia Galanoudis interviews Mindy Henderson, Editor-in-Chief of Quest Media, a lifestyle platform for the Muscular Dystrophy Association that supports more than a million Americans with tools and resources to help them live their most independent lives.
After a 20-year career in tech, Henderson shifted into motivational speaking, writing a book, and advocating for DEI and inclusion in the workforce. On our podcast, she talks about celebrating resiliency and the importance of accommodations. Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion.
At 15 months old, Henderson was diagnosed with a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Doctors told her parents that she could lose all her cognitive functions as well as her ability to stand and walk. She didn’t let that diagnosis stop her. “That was my start to life and we all have our journeys, but I feel very fortunate and I’m aware that I had some experiences that not everybody gets,” Henderson says.
It helped that her parents treated Henderson and her sister equally growing up, she says. “They didn’t let me make excuses, [and] had expectations of me to do well in school and have friends—which was vitally important in my path of teaching me really early not to shy away from doing hard things just because they are difficult,” she says.
She became an ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association when she was only four years old, giving speeches to raise awareness. “I believe that those early beginnings are what guided me to have the career I have now and doing that is what taught me how to turn lemons into lemonade,” Henderson says, adding that we all have the capability to turn something that can be seen as negative into something positive.
Empowering Each Other
“The disabled community in the United States is arguably the largest minority, and one in four people live with a disability in our country,” Henderson says.
There’s been a huge demand from the disabled community, she notes, for more information about employment, accessible travel, adaptable clothing, and representation in media. That’s why she’s proud to be part of Quest Media, a community that creates awareness and has a positive impact on many individuals’ everyday lives.
“If you can lead with empathy and compassion, you can establish even more sustainable models for business progress and personal success,” Galanoudis adds.
Awareness Creates Progress
There still aren’t enough positive examples of people with disabilities in the media, Henderson says. But “when it comes to fashion, we are seeing more recognizable brands that are getting involved in this part of the industry and wanting to broaden their offerings to include this consumer base.”
Still, more inclusion is critical particularly in television, movies, and advertising, she adds. “There are a lot of streaming platforms that are putting more intention behind their disability inclusion in the programs and the movies that they are creating, but there is still more progress needed in the entertainment industry,” Henderson says.
Accommodations are Success Enablers
Henderson had a 20-year career working in tech at three huge companies—where she was the only person in a wheelchair. “I didn’t have anyone else who looked like me, or who shared some of the same challenges that I had going to work everyday,” she says, “and even though there are invisible disabilities as well, I was the only person asking for accommodations at the workplace.”
There are many misconceptions about providing accommodations for the employees at a workplace. Rather than worrying about the cost, Henderson says companies should instead view accommodations as “success enablers” as they set employees up to perform at their best.
After eventually being laid off from a tech job, Henderson found what she sees as her true passion. She became a motivational speaker, author, and podcast host who works to improve the world by promoting inclusion, embracing difficulties, and overcoming challenges by seeing possibilities.
“The biggest lesson is the importance of showing up as who you are everyday,” she says, “because back when I was working in high tech—and even to an extent growing up—I tried very much to downplay my disability and be this chameleon that was just as good as everybody else.” But it was when she embraced authenticity that she found her true calling.
Many thanks to Mindy Henderson for joining us! You can listen to the full interview and all of the episodes of NYWICI’s WomenHeard podcast here.