CEO blog: Interview with accessibility advocate Ayesha Zubair

In this blog and part of my Q&A series, I’m interviewing Ayesha Zubair. Ayesha has been part of Holland Bloorview since 2001 – as a client, employee and now as a volunteer. She is currently an Enterprise Recruitment Research Specialist at RBC, where she leads business segment projects and HR recruitment initiatives. She is also part of the hospital’s Youth Advisory Council and recently participated in the National Youth Forum to help inform the development of Canada-wide accessibility legislation.

Ayesha Zubair

Ayesha completed her Bachelors of Human Resource Management (BHRM) at York University in 2013. She currently serves on the Accessibility Advisory Committee and Customer Experience Advisory Committee for Metrolinx and acts as a Board member for the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT).

  1. What are you reading lately? What’s on your nightstand (or kindle!)?

I could go on and on about books! Reading is my absolute favourite thing to do. I’m finishing up “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari – it is a fascinating perspective on our world and our society.

  1. Do you use any social media? Why or why not?

Absolutely! I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn…you name it!

I used to be a youth facilitator for the ‘Computer for Kids’ project at Holland Bloorview and worked with clients and families on the inpatient units. My job was to help clients get set-up with computer access but also to work with clients to coach on the safe use of social media. I can’t help but see the power of social media in alleviating isolation especially for youth who are hospitalized. Generally speaking, social media plays a critical role in accessibility. It’s especially important for people with communication disabilities.

  1. Who have been your biggest influences?

Honestly, my family has been so great – I know everyone says that but I really couldn’t do it without them. Since my diagnosis at age 12, they never let me miss a beat. We had just immigrated to Canada and we didn’t know anything about disability – we never had to think about it. I guess what I appreciate the most about them is they didn’t treat me differently or let anyone treat me differently even though everything in our society and culture tells them otherwise.

Another great influencer was Dolly – a youth facilitator at Holland Bloorview. I didn’t always know Dolly in the early days of being at the hospital but she’s been an incredible mentor. She helped me figure out what my strengths were by providing me with opportunities to…try. That’s been the greatest gift anyone could have given me. It helped me figure it out and gain confidence along the way.

  1. What do you think your best quality is?

That’s such a tough question! Hindsight is 20/20 but I’d like to think that I am resilient. I stumble sometimes but I always manage to get back up somehow.

  1. What’s your main fault?

Quite frankly, I have many. I used to second guess myself a lot and I used to use filler words like ‘just’ and ‘I think’ but I received incredible coaching from my manager to help me communicate my ideas clearly and concisely.

Right now, I’m working on relentlessly prioritizing for impact. I have a million ideas a minute and I can’t be any other way. That’s who I am, I am curious and I like the big picture. That’s all good but what I need to be able to do is to relentlessly prioritize my ‘million ideas’ and act on the most impactful ones as priorities change. I used to think that prioritization was an occasional task – what I’m fast realizing now is that it needs to be constant, especially in our constantly changing world. I’m working on it and getting better but it’s a work-in-progress.

  1. What is your most treasured possession?

Oddly, my name. In my culture, names are ‘given’ and their meanings are carefully considered as they’re thought to have an impact on the child they’re given to. My name means “a prosperous life” in Arabic. To me, it is a present from my grandfather.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

To me, an ‘achievement’ is anything that I’m proud of; something that helps me hold my head up just a little bit higher. For me, my involvement with Holland Bloorview, in its various ways, is a personal source of pride and achievement. To me, we are disruptors. We continually change the way people see disability – how could I not be proud to be a part of that?

  1. Looking back, do you have one memory that stands out of your time as a client at Holland Bloorview? Is there one thing you know now you wish you’d known then?

I do wish that I had the opportunity to meet with a mentor earlier so I could have had a role model and known that I was also allowed to aim as high as I wanted, even with a disability. There are a lot of messages out there that tell you otherwise.

The one thing I’ve learned is that especially as a person with a disability, you are the teacher – for your family, your friends and your colleagues. Everyone looks to you to help them understand what you might, or might not, need and that’s not a bad thing.

  1. How did you end up working where you do? Can you tell me a bit about your job?

I work at RBC as an Enterprise Recruitment Research Specialist. I lead business segment projects and HR recruitment initiatives. My focus is on providing market intelligence and enabling data driven decision making across the organization.

I started my career in 2012 through an internship but I got my current position through happenstance! I had organized an event where I met an RBC recruiter who asked me to just come in to meet with my now-manager for a casual conversation and before I knew it, I was hired! Since then, I’ve received my second promotion and I’m looking forward to my new adventure as a Recruitment Research Specialist!

  1. I understand you have been active on the National Youth Forum. Can you tell us what that is and what you’ve been doing?

Yes, the National Youth Forum was an opportunity for youth across Canada to come together and advise on the most pressing issues about accessibility in Canada.

As a Youth Representative, I was invited to go to Ottawa in November 2016 along with other National Youth Representatives and we spoke about working together to bridge gaps in regional disparities. There were delegates who just wanted reliable internet! That really made me aware of my privilege as an inhabitant of Canada’s largest city because I know that technology is so critical for inclusion of people with disabilities.

  1. The federal government is exploring new accessibility legislation. Can you tell us what you think would be most important for this legislation to achieve? How are you making your views known?

For me, it comes down to three main issues:

  • Addressing policy barriers: A lot of our policies don’t really “talk to each other” and unintentionally end up creating barriers that are sometimes insurmountable.
  • Employment: I’ve seen the barriers people with disabilities can face when it comes to employment (and not just what I’ve faced but what others do too) and I will do everything I can to breakdown some of those barriers.
  • Effective measurement and implementation: It’s great that we’re doing this but is it realistic? Measurable? Will it serve us well in the years to come? Is it bold enough?

I’ve written a blog post and I continue to keep the discussion moving forward by keeping this top of mind in all my conversations, across all the organizations I am a part of.



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