Tiffany Yu Diversability
Tiffany Yu, founder of Diversability. (Credit: Courtesy of Diversability)

When Tiffany Yu was 9 years old, she was disabled in a car accident that also took the life of her father. Looking back, Yu can see how her “own internalized ableism” made it impossible to come to terms with the realities of that traumatic event. Even a decade after the accident, she still “wasn’t showing up as myself, and I was harboring a lot of shame around my disability,” she says. In 2009, Yu decided to host an event for other disabled people in her area, to foster a sense of community among a group that is often isolated from our society. The event was a huge success, and led to the founding of Diversability, a community which hosts events around the U.S. and online to elevate disability pride, later that same year. Her company provides support and fosters a sense of inclusion, Yu says. As of 2023, Diversability has hosted over 100 events for a community that is over 80,000 members strong. 

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

We are unique in that we are entirely run and led by disabled people. We prioritize intersectionality in terms of the speakers we highlight and the people we’ve recruited for our team. We have also realized that free labor doesn’t work, and do what we can to compensate everyone who does work with us.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

We are entirely run and led by disabled people. I, the CEO, am an Asian disabled woman, and we have a team of eight disabled folks that we employ. I am proud to be living by our values ,and showing the world, by example, that disability employment works. 

We also serve as references for those who work for us, and write letters of recommendation for our team alumni. Those individuals have gone on to get their dream jobs and internships, launch their own brands, win scholarships and go to grad school.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Scaling up. We have been creative in terms of generating income, from launching a membership program, hosting ticketed events, forging partnerships and selling branded merchandise. We also recently launched a nonprofit arm to further support our mission. The money we generate gets reinvested back into the disability community by paying our team, speakers, and contributors.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2019. For a few years before my diagnosis, I was in a dark place, and not very pleasant to be around. It impacted my relationships with potential partners – I have since apologized – and in 2019, I was able to get the treatment that I needed. Now, I am more aware of my triggers, and of tending to my mental health.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

I started Diversability as a side hustle while I was still working in my full-time job. I’m grateful that I did it that way, because it gave me space to experiment before going all in.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I am reminded of a quote from author and therapist Francis Weller: “The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give.” This quote reminds me that, if I am in a dark time, I also have the capacity to be in times of light. Life exists by stretching the band large.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days? 

“Brave” by Sara Bareilles.

Who is your most important role model?

My mom. She was a refugee from the Vietnam War, and after my dad passed away, she had to raise four young kids on her own – ages 9 to 14. She taught herself how to invest in the stock market and real estate, and was able to support herself and all of us through that. My parents didn’t have much growing up, and my mom was able to interrupt that intergenerational pattern. I am privileged because of her. ◼

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