Women are making change in all kinds of creative ways! I read recently this encouraging statistic: roughly 15 percent of people with disabilities have started their own businesses – from their homes, through franchises, and in start-ups – and the number is growing!
But it’s not always easy to navigate these entrepreneurial waters. Mai Ling Chan, a speech-language pathologist and business strategist, has a passion for helping people thrive and shine in these new arenas with her innovative XceptionalED company, online courses and her Xceptional Leaders Podcast.
“I discovered by tapping into my entrepreneurial spirit, creating online offerings and podcasts and collaborating with other disability experts, I could make an impact.” Mai Ling Chan
Mai Ling gave me some valuable time to discuss her changemaking ideas, passion to advance the world of the disabled and her unique approach to make businesses focused on those challenged successful…
EYE: In your job as a speech-language pathologist, what have you learned about people who are challenged?
MAI LING: When I was in college, I felt that no matter what the person’s disability was, it was my job was to rectify the disability.
I was showing up with a tool bag with all the resources, tools and strategies that I was learning to rectify the challenges I identified.
After years of working with children and adults in their homes, schools and in emergency situations, I’ve learned that I am just a resource. The goal is not to “fix” the person.
The goal is to help people be independent so they don’t have to ask for help, and be as effective as they can to be communicators, but it is NOT to “fix.”
They need resources and tools to help them shape how they access the world in the capacity they really want.
EYE: You describe yourself as a connector of thought, people and action in the disability world. Through your website, podcasts and businesses you encourage people to start disability-focused businesses. Explain please.
MAI LING: I think I am the first person to use those two words together. When I branded myself as a ‘”disabilities-focused business strategist,” I saw myself as a bridge to people interested in helping those with disabilities.
Also, I use the term “giver” for the people in these communities who are supporting people with disabilities. We take our resources, talents and skills and we give in abundance, whether it be time, resources and maybe even money.
EYE: Can you give us an example of how your business works?
MAI LING: Recently I connected with an accomplished business owner who was interested in offering courses online through a monthly subscription membership platform. He has a disability that restricts his in person appearances, which would limit his income potential.
We worked together to design his offering, membership site and digital marketing. He is now ready to connect internationally with people who know him.
EYE: Primarily, what types of people do you try to help?
MAI LING: I work with parents of children with autism, teachers, therapists or special education teachers, people who support those who have disabilities.
These are the people I call leaders and givers. They might want to expand their impact or initiate change using their skills, experience, etc. by means of a business.
Many times people don’t know how to get started. Knowing what you are passionate about and then how to take action on it is critical.
.EYE: You are now part of a growing field of podcasters talking with and about people with disabilities. What is your goal with the Xceptional Leaders podcast?
MAI LING: I initially started a company XceptionalED, which has online courses specific for helping professionals, leaders, parents and advocates in the disability community. Then the Xceptional Leaders podcast came out of that.
My podcast is about helping people move forward with their ideas or get started. I want to build a bridge for someone who doesn’t have a business background to someone who does have the success and show how he or she did it.
I’ve had an amazing one-year run of 51 podcasts, interviewing people all over the world who are doing amazing things in the face of their disability.
EYE: Has anyone surprised you in any of your podcasts?
MAI LING: Yes. Every week, I am inspired by the person I interview. But I will highlight 17-year-old Cassidy Huff whose episode brought me to tears. She is so wise and has experienced so much, is so mature and embraces her place in the world.
She is a leader, a connector with all that she is doing in service. She had already undergone 43 surgeries by the time I interviewed her. She was one of 150 in the world with a rare genetic disorder.
You can read a blog, but to hear a person’s story in her own voice, first hand, with the emotion is so powerful. You can actually go through the journey with that person.
EYE: As a podcaster, what do you want to bring to your listeners?
MAI LING: When I first started podcasting, I thought it was all about the person who was the guest. They would come on and I would just say “go!” I wouldn’t ask any questions, just let them tell their story.
I didn’t want to ask a dumb question. I didn’t want to look stupid. I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know.
And what I realized, just be you, just ask those questions because there are a lot of people who don’t know and want to know the same thing.
Through that I have learned how to be an absolute service to the people who are taking time to listen to the podcast.
EYE: What does a podcast achieve that “regular” media does not?
MAI LING: I love the intimacy of listening. I think when you have the visual component or an image going past you, it’s just not as engaging as someone speaking right to you.
EYE: Do you have any advice for beginning podcasters?
MAI LING: Get your microphone and start recording. You’re only as good as your last episode. Listen to your own published shows and critique them like you were paying $1,000 per episode.
Get over yourself. You are going to mistakes and that’s okay – as long as you continue to learn from them and get better every show. Your listeners are counting on you!
EYE: You are trained as a speech-language pathologist. Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
MAI LING: I have entrepreneurial, creative parents, who raised great kids and worked so hard. I learned the fearlessness of trying from them. I learned you have to try.
You’re going to fail if you don’t try. So, I went into a world they did not have and learned computer programming and how to build a website, social networking etc.
EYE: What made you want a career to help people with speech issues?
MAI LING: I graduated from college with a Communications degree and had a really good job in the hotel business. Ten years later, and after I decided to stay home with my children who were 5 and 2, I was speaking with my aunt.
She is Colombian and a special education teacher in New York City and said to me, “You need to be a speech pathologist. They need them and you are such a great speaker. You talk so well.”
So I looked into it and surprise, what did I need for that specialty? A degree in Communications. It took a Masters degree, two years, and eight months of clinical practice after that.
I ended up loving the medical side of it. I worked with trauma patients and stroke victims who needed cognitive rehabilitation among other issues. Thirteen years of being a speech-language pathologist is not exactly what I started out doing. And, it’s a beautiful thing.
EYE: So why leave a predictable job with speech-language pathology opportunities to start this business of guiding people who work with people challenged with disabilities of all kinds?
MAI LING: I actually haven’t left my job. I still provide services as a consultant to local school districts in Arizona. What I realized early in my career was that I could have a much bigger impact in the disability community and ultimately to individuals.
I discovered by tapping into my entrepreneurial spirit, creating online offerings and podcasts and collaborating with other disability experts, I could make an impact.
EYE: You have also found time to write an e-book. W hat do you want people to learn from it?
MAI LING: I’ve been working with an online coach for online business and consulting. She wanted me to pull out my “why.”
From that we thought the e-book would be very helpful to people to understand what inspired this podcast.
In 28 pages, I wanted people to get three things from all the successful people I’ve interviewed: a common thread in their stories; what has helped them get that trajectory; and where they have traction, including monetary income coming in.
My focus is on people to take whatever their expertise is, i.e. parent of a child with a disability who has that experience of dealing with that situation, and bring it to a larger platform and launch that idea.
Let’s get that big idea started!
EYE: I’m intrigued with your website’s first line about discovering your Zone of Brilliance. What is that?
MAI LING: The Zone of Brilliance is taking all the passions, the creativity and steps to move the leader’s idea forward. That’s the brilliance and it happens with heart-centered purpose.
That purpose radiates out of these leaders who work with people with disabilities. Every time I talk to them, they are just so passionate, which makes them different from just another person starting a business or an entrepreneur.
We are driven by this storm inside of us, the love, the passion, the commitment, what we feel and what our experience has been with the disability community. That’s what gets us up every day. That’s the Zone of Brilliance.
EYE: Who has inspired you?
MAI LING: My Dad is 100% Chinese from Hong Kong. He is an American citizen, who, after serving for the U.S. in the Viet Nam war, earned his citizenship. He is such a hardworking man. My mom is Colombian in culture but born here. So I have a very diverse background.
But when I tell you that these two hardworking cultures have imprinted their mark on me, it is everything I am. These parents did not have the college educations and the opportunities that they have given me and my brother. They established themselves.
There is something my father used to say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” That’s the truth. It’s not going to be easy, right? I try to keep in mind that it is so much easier when you know where you are going when you have that heart-centered purpose.
EYE: How do you reflect on your journey so far?
MAI LING: Unlike the typical entrepreneur, I find myself fulfilled and encouraged by the individual progress and feedback I get from the people that my endeavors have reached.
Their genuine achievement is priceless in comparison to any dollar amount I could strive for. My work, then, is purposeful and helpful. You know what? My heart beats for a reason!
EYE: Thank you, Mai Ling, for your time. Continued success to you in your game- changing idea to help establish businesses for those who work in the disability arena. Congratulations on adding a new host, Martyn Sibley, to your podcast. Good luck expanding your impact!
Photos: Courtesy Mai Ling Chan