Nonprofit Leader Offers Tips for Employing People with Disabilities - s11 ep49

Dom Kelly of the New Disabled South Not Only Advocates for but Also Employs Disabled People

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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?

Dom: I think my superpower is empathy.

Dom Kelly is the CEO and founder of New Disabled South, a nonprofit organization that supports disabled people and fights for their rights. Disabled by cerebral palsy, Dom leads from a position of personal experience, empowering him to be effective.

While the organization doesn’t have a policy to only hire people with disabilities, by making the workplace attractive to them, he’s built a team comprising people with that lived experience and perspective.

Dom shared some of the tactics used to create an appealing workplace. They include unlimited PTO. “We have it unlimited for a reason. If people need to take care of themselves, they take care of themselves.”

“We have a very progressive parental leave policy,” he says. New Disabled South offers “a year of parental leave– that's six months fully paid, full time off, and six months part-time hours fully paid.”

In addition, the organization offers a robust insurance package that includes life, vision, dental, and health. “Also, we're a remote organization; we support our employees, making sure they have a comfortable place to work,” Dom says.

A final aspect of the hiring practice is a four-day, 32-hour work week that allows people time to rest and enjoy life as well as work.

This broad, employee-friendly policy grew out of Dom’s superpower: empathy.

AI Episode Summary

1. Dom Kelly is the founder, CEO, and president of New Disabled South, a nonprofit with an affiliated 501(c)(4), that focuses on advocacy and support for disabled individuals in the South.

2. New Disabled South is unique in focusing on disability issues from a regional perspective in the South, addressing common challenges that disabled individuals face in the area.

3. Some of the challenges specific to the South include barriers to voting access, non-expanded Medicaid, long waiting times for home care waivers, higher poverty rates, inaccessible transportation, and housing crises.

4. Dom mentions that leaders lacking empathy can negatively impact both their leadership and their organization.

5. New Disabled South's employment practices are designed to create an inclusive and supportive environment and include benefits like a four-day workweek and fully paid unlimited time off, among others.

6. The organization’s workplace policies prioritize empathy and support for employees' overall well-being and life experiences.

7. Dom believes that his superpower is empathy, which has been shaped by personal experiences, such as the loss of his brother when they were children.

8. He shares a story where displaying empathy during a difficult time at his job led to him doubling down on his commitment to help refugees, which reaffirmed his values and eventually brought him on the path to his current work.

9. Dom advises that developing empathy starts with genuinely listening to others without interjecting, allowing for perspectives and experiences to be shared openly.

10. Dom can be reached and supported through New Disabled South’s website (newdisabledsouth.org), with direct donation links available, and he is also on LinkedIn and social media under the handle (at)the_tattooedjew.

If you think employers can do better at including disabled people in hiring, please share.


How to Develop Empathy As a Superpower

Dom began to appreciate empathy when his fraternal triplet brother passed away when they were six. It helped him to better understand the human connections between people.

“I have seen a lack of empathy take down leaders and organizations,” Dom says. “It is something I just go back to often and remind myself to use my empathy as a strength.”

Dom shared a story of a time when feeling and manifesting empathy was a challenge but also particularly important, and he could lean on this strength to help a friend.

I was in a job that I was feeling frustrated with. It wasn't a good fit. The boss that I had didn't have a whole lot of empathy. He said some things to me–my wife and I were doing some work at the border at the time to help refugees, doing some organizing. 

At the time, he said something like, “I wish you cared as much about my business as you do about refugees at the border.” It was frustrating because I felt I was working hard. At the same time, it highlighted some misalignment for me.

So, I share that because I was feeling frustrated, I was feeling afraid I was going to lose my job, or I was going to quit my job.

At the time, we had a couple of friends who came to live with us as refugees from Honduras. When I got home that day, one of them had found out he had got a bad diagnosis and shared it with us. I got to put my stuff aside, be there for him and his partner, and be supportive and listen. It affirmed my commitment to that work. 

What wound up happening was I lost that job, and it wound up being the best thing that ever happened to me because I wouldn't be down this path that I'm on now. But my ability to put that aside and be there for someone who needed it put it into focus and put things into perspective and made me realign with my values and what was important to me. I showed up in that moment for someone who needed me.

Dom offers a few tips for developing your empathy.

“Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth,” he says. “Empathy is just sitting and listening to another person, not having to speak, not having to interject unless it's needed or asked for.”

By following Dom’s example and advice, you can strengthen your empathy. With practice, you could make it a superpower that enables you to do more good in the world.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!

Guest Profile

Dom Kelly (he/him):

Co-Founder, President and CEO, New Disabled South

About New Disabled South: New Disabled South is the first and only regional disability organization in the United States, fighting for liberation, justice, and rights for all disabled people in the South. We are a political home for all disabled people in 14 states across the US South. We are winning policy and narrative change for disabled people through organizing, advocacy, education, and research. New Disabled South exists to win rights, justice, liberation, and material improvements by and for disabled people across the US South. We are working to ensure there is a cost to ableism. We do this by exposing and holding accountable ableist actors in government, business, media, politics, and everywhere – to ensure we achieve transformative change for disabled people in our lifetimes. We also strive to be the go-to resource hub to understand disabled people in the US South – shedding light on where disability justice and rights stand and where they could and should be. Our mission is to improve the lives of disabled people and cultivate strong disability rights and disability justice frameworks in the South, working toward a vision of a South where all disabled people experience liberation and justice in our lifetimes.

Website: newdisabledsouth.org

X/Twitter Handle: @DisabledSouth

Company Facebook Page: fb.com/NewDisabledSouth/

Instagram Handle: @newdisabledsouth

Biographical Information: Dom Kelly is the Co-Founder, President & CEO of New Disabled South, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and New Disabled South Rising, its 501(c)(4) arm. He previously served as both the Georgia Fundraising Director and the Senior Advisor for Disability for Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor of Georgia. Prior to that, he was Senior Fundraising Manager and a Strategic Advisor for Disability at Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, where he also created and led the organization’s Disability Council, composed of prominent disability advocates and policy experts from across the country.

Dom is one of a set of triplets born with Cerebral Palsy and has been a disability advocate since he was four years old. Starting when he was a young teenager, Dom and his brothers played around the world with their rock band, touring and collaborating with artists like Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Bangles and more and releasing six records over 15+ years. He is retired from music, but with a decade of additional experience in digital and editorial strategy, nonprofit development, and community building, he has devoted his life to disability justice advocacy, progressive policy, and nonprofit leadership.

He received a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, where he also received the Excellence in Social Impact award. Additionally, he holds a bachelor’s degree in music production, a master’s degree in journalism, an executive certificate in social impact strategy, and a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary disability studies. Dom was chosen as a 2024 Rockwood National Leading From the Inside Out Yearlong Fellow and as one of ten winners of The J.M. Kaplan Fund’s 2023 Innovation Prize. He was a 2021 New Leaders Council fellow, serves as Chair for the board of The Kelsey, as Treasurer for the board of Disability Victory, as an advisory board member of ADA Watch, and as a member of the NationSwell Council. Dom also occasionally works as a consultant under The Tattooed Jew LLC, helping both political campaigns and nonprofit organizations with strategy. Dom currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Catie, their daughter, Mahalia, and their dog, Vivi.

X/Twitter Handle: @the_tattooedjew

Personal Facebook Profile: fb.com/dominic.kelly1

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/dominic-edward-kelly/

Instagram Handle: @the_tattooedjew

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