Why Paralympian Jessica Smith Says She Wants People To See Her Disability


Jessica Smith was born without most of her left arm, and has gone through the majority of her life being told ‘no.’ Without seeing people with disabilities represented in the media she consumed as a child and teen, Smith had begun to believe those who said she’d be forever limited in what she could accomplish. But today, at age 38, Smith stands as a retired Paralympic swimmer, acclaimed public speaker, children’s book author and the cofounder of an inclusive-minded talent agency called Touch Dubai.

“Inclusivity isn’t achieved unless you have disability at the table,” Smith tells Forbes Entertainment Director Charlotte Burney during the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi last March. “How can we simply validate somebody for who they are?”

Smith’s agency, Touch Dubai, is an inclusive talent management and disability consultancy agency. Their goal is to see an inclusive global economy where people with disabilities participate fully and meaningfully in society, rather than just tick a box. In her view, too many of today’s brands are doing the latter—and she won’t work with companies that only engage with DEI on superficial and performative levels. At Touch, they want to change culture, not just share stories.

But now, it is Smith’s turn to tell the world no. “Authenticity is about saying no. Just because there is a price tag that meets mine or my client’s expectations does not mean it will create a cultural shift,” she says when asked about authenticity as it pertains to brand deals for her clients.

With that, she believes significant change has happened and will continue to evolve as it pertains to the inclusivity landscape. Brands are becoming more authentic, and consumers are hungry for authentic brands and talent to represent them.

What is important to Smith now? The legacy she will leave her children. As she explained to Forbes, being able to translate complex messages around diversity and inclusion to younger generations is what inspired her to start writing children’s books. Click the video player above to hear Smith share her journey and her thoughts on why people with disabilities need to be in every conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion.

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