The Power of Asking If and How You Can Help Employees with Disabilities

“It needs to be ok to ask for an exception” in life, says Amberley Snyder, an award-winning rodeo rider, inspirational speaker, and social media influencer, who talks about how employers can support employees with disabilities in the workplace. Listen in for a sneak peek into Snyder’s keynote presentation at the 2024 DMEC Annual Conference Aug. 5-8 in Nashville, Tenn. And get ready for helpful insights, specific guidance, and lots of laughter!



DMEC: Welcome to absence management perspectives, a DMEC podcast. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC as we're known by most people, provides focused education, knowledge and networking opportunities for absence and disability management professionals. DMEC has become a leading voice in the industry and represents more than 20,000 professionals from organizations of all sizes across the United States and Canada. This podcast series focuses on industry perspectives and delves into issues that affect DMEC members and the community as a whole. We're thrilled to have you with us and hope you'll visit to get a full picture of what we have to offer, from webinars and publications to conferences, certifications, and much more. Let's get started and meet the people behind the processes.

Heather Grimshaw: Hi, we're glad you're listening. I'm Heather Grimshaw with DMEC and I'm talking with Amberlee Snyder, who has agreed to share her inspirational story with listeners in advance of her keynote presentation during the 2024 DMEC annual conference August 5 through 8th in Nashville. For those who aren't familiar with Amber Lee from the Netflix movie Walk Ride Rodeo, released in 2019, Amberly is a star rodeo writer, a social influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers, and a motivational speaker. In these speaking engagements, Amberlee frequently talks about turning tragedy to triumph after a tragic accident that changed the trajectory of her life. Amberlee will focus her keynote speech on what she calls life's little moments during the 2024 DMEC annual conference, which attracts hundreds of integrated disability and absence management professionals who help accommodate employees with injuries, disabilities, and need leaves of absence. Amberlee, we so appreciate you being with us today to share your amazing story of resilience and success. To kick us off, I'm hoping you will talk a little bit about the special connection, some might say magic, between people and horses. It sounds like you had a unique connection with horses from the time you were a little girl, and I'm hoping that you will talk a little bit about that and the role horses have played in your life.

Amberley Snyder: Yes, I have definitely been in love with horses for as long as I can even remember. My mom says that even when I was tiny and she would change my diapers, that the wipey container had animals around it, and I would point at the horse and tell her, me ride, mom, me ride. So they have. They have definitely been in my heart for a very long time. I started riding lessons when I was three and I was able to start competing in rodeo when I was seven, when my family moved from California to Utah. I told my dad I would only move if he bought me a palomino burl horse when we got here, and thank goodness he did. So I started competing in rodeo, and I think the rest after that, you know, the love of it has never wavered.

Heather Grimshaw: I love that story about the diapers. That is fantastic. Oh, my gosh. So what was the first rodeo you participated in, and what is it about this sport that appeals to you most?

Amberley Snyder: You know, for me, I think it's. It's a competition, the competition part, but then a combination between that and the horses. I'm. I come from a very competitive family, so being able to, you know, strive for winning is a big deal. But then I love the speed that my horses get to bring, you know, the adrenaline. I wouldn't say I'm an adrenaline junkie by any means, because I'm actually quite a chicken, so I wouldn't say that I'm that, but I love being on the back of the horse. I feel like the freedom that comes with that is just irreplaceable.

Heather Grimshaw: Okay. That's hard to believe that you're a chicken and that you put. You participate in rodeos. That's impressive.

Amberley Snyder: I know it doesn't really make sense at all, but, like, I really am scared of quite a few things, actually. But on the back of a horse, I'm not. So it's like I'm brave there, but in other places, I'm, you know, maybe not as brave as I could be.

Heather Grimshaw: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I think that kind of goes back to that magic of horses. They really are magical creatures. Yeah. So for those who aren't familiar with the rodeo environment, what do you believe is essential for success in these amazing arenas?

Amberley Snyder: Oh, man. I think that the beginning of that, that just comes to my mind is time. You know, the amount of time that goes into your horses on a daily basis, I think, is hard to fathom unless you're in it. I mean, it's not like a motorcycle or a car that you can just set aside until competition day. You know, it doesn't work that way. They have to be cared for and treated and exercised and their lungs build up and their air capacity, and they need to go to the vet to make sure everything is sound and happy. I mean, there's so much time that goes into just those 17 seconds in the arena. I think that is probably the biggest part for me that I would tell you above anything else is just being able to have you and your horse on the same page. So that when you enter the arena, you can make that best possible run.

Heather Grimshaw: Wow. And that 17 seconds really helps to give a picture to folks who don't understand how intense that is. 17 seconds, that's. That's. That really helps clarify that.

Amberley Snyder: Yeah, I mean, that's it. That is. That is. The amount of time you should be making a run is 17 seconds. So if you're behind and you haven't been there, you know, you're 17.5 or 17.8, you might not be making money. You've got to be a 17.1 to 17.4. You know, you have to be in that range. And that's how close that it is.

Heather Grimshaw: I think, again, you know, for those who. Who don't fully understand it. So thank you for that. So, as I mentioned earlier, triumph over tragedy is a powerful phrase that I read on your website and for listeners, I will include the link to the website in the notes section, and it's mentioned in the description of your keynote presentation for the annual conference. Will you share your process for achieving this in your life?

Amberley Snyder: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like that triumph over tragedy is something that we all can relate to. You know, I think everybody has a moment of tragedy in their life, and I wish that I could say that that wasn't the case, but I believe that it is. And it can be a tragedy that you might see on the outside, you know, similar to minor. It might be something that you face on the inside, but everyone's gonna have those moments in your life that, you know, just didn't go the way that you planned. And I think it's the triumph that you get to feel when you overcome that. And that part is so important. I tell people all the time that you should never belittle or, or not appreciate your accomplishments or your celebrations of small triumphs, because that's truly how you get to the big ones. And. And I know when I get to share my story of the ups and downs that I've gone through with this and the. The victories I've had and the failures I've had, you know, it's just. It's all a part of the process. And I have learned that you have to enjoy the process as you go, or you might be miserable through the whole thing until you accomplish something big. And you don't want to be like that. You know, you want to find something every single day to be happy with. And that is. That, to me, is even is bigger than the big triumph, because that is what carries you to the next one, you know, that's what builds your character. That's who you are, is those little triumphs through all the daily struggles.

Heather Grimshaw: So, well said, I think. And it is easy to think, oh, that's not that big of a deal. I'm not going to really celebrate that. So I think, especially having someone like you, who has been so successful, really champion those smaller victories, is. Is great, and it is very inspirational. Well, and I. Yeah, I do think you're right that everyone has tragedy, and it's a question of really acknowledging that and the ability to work through it, which can be very difficult. So thank you for sharing that. So the concept that disabilities can become a reality for anyone at any time is something that will resonate with DMEC audience members at the conference. What are some of the ways you'd encourage employers to think differently about how they support employees with disabilities to help ensure the best outcome for everyone?

Amberley Snyder: You know, the very first thing that comes to my mind is ask. It's one of the things that I'll even talk about when I get to come and speak is it's okay to ask for help, and it's okay to ask to help. I think that our world tries to tell us that asking for help makes you weak or incapable or, gosh, even in my case, handicapped. But truly, if it's going to help you accomplish something, it's going to get you further. It's going to have you, you know, help you get to those. Those victories. Um, whether for you personally or in a business or amongst your peers or your family, you know, that that's worth asking for help. And it doesn't make you weak to do that. You know, it just makes you human, and it allows somebody to feel that victory with you. So that's what really comes to my mind, is just ask. And then on the other side, you know, it's okay to ask someone, can I help you? And if they say no, then that's okay. Don't be offended, and don't be upset. They've got it no different than an able bodied person versus somebody who's facing a disability. It's just, if they've got it, they'll tell you. But can't you be appreciative that somebody wanted to help and make your life a little bit easier? And I think if there's just more communication on, it's okay to ask, and there's nothing wrong with being overwhelmed, and somebody might need to help you get through it. That's okay. And I think recognizing that that's okay is such a big part of success in this world.

Heather Grimshaw: I think that permission is really important. There are a lot of people who are afraid to ask that it would be offensive or misconstrued. So I think hearing that will be really important. One of the things you talk about, or one of the things I'm hoping that you will talk a little bit more about is the reference to life's little moments. This is a reference in the keynote session description. So I'm wondering, what types of overtures can employers make with employees to help them feel supported as well as recognized in their journeys?

Amberley Snyder: Gosh, I think the biggest part that goes along with that is, is, is listening to that little voice inside of you… Man, the only way I can explain it is sometimes I'm around somebody and they do something, and I'm like, gosh, like, that's awesome. And I'm proud of them. And I don't always say it out loud, you know, sometimes I struggle with, like, I don't know, maybe it's not the right time or maybe that would be weird or, you know, whatever that is. And I'm like, no, you should say that, you know, when you recognize something and you see something in a person or something they've accomplished, say it, you know, don't be afraid to recognize that in somebody. And I think that if you're willing to recognize those small everyday moments or accomplishments or things that people are doing, I think it would just make the whole environment and growth bigger. You know, it would make it healthier, it would make it brighter. It would make it a place that people feel like overcoming and moving forward is just a part of, you know, the daily atmosphere.

Heather Grimshaw: That's a great point. And I love the reference to healthier and brighter environments because I do think that those being willing to be brave and, and maybe say something that you think, oh, is this weird? Because we all have those moments where we have thoughts and don't share them. I think is wonderful because these are all people who are looking for ways to make employment environments brighter and healthier and more inclusive. So that's really helpful. So in terms of your be in.

Amberley Snyder: A place like that. Right. Everyone wants to be in a happier and brighter place.

Heather Grimshaw: Absolutely. Yes. And I think that especially depending on who you are and what situation you're in, that looks different for a lot of people. And so to be, as you said earlier, to be willing to ask and listen and celebrate those small moments, I would think would be a very effective way to get to that healthier place.

Amberley Snyder: Yeah.

Heather Grimshaw: So what are three of the key takeaways you hope attendees will take with them after your keynote presentation.

Amberley Snyder: I would hope that, one, they recognize that it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to be in a position that you feel like, gosh, this is really overwhelming me right now, but. And it might be a, you know, a bad day, but it's not a bad life. That is always. The first thing that I hope that people take is that it's. It's okay to not be okay right now. The second thing that I hope that people take is, you are stronger than you know. There are going to be challenges that every single one of us is going to face, and it's going to be the toughest thing we've ever had. But you are strong enough to overcome that. And the third thing that I hope people take is, I hope that they recognize the importance of that celebration, you know, celebrating the small moments that help us get from day to day, and that it's not silly to celebrate those. And, yeah, if I had to pick three things, I hope that that's what they take.

Heather Grimshaw: Those are great things. And I always say, I think there should be more silly in the world. So I think that recognizing, as you said earlier, that bravery to say, say some of the things out loud that you're thinking, and you realize quickly that they're not silly and that they are helpful, and then maybe make room for actual silliness.

Amberley Snyder: Yep, exactly.

Heather Grimshaw: So there are a lot of legal guardrails for how employers support employees with disabilities. What are some of the ways that employers can show empathy when working with employees who have disabilities to help them thrive in the workplace?

Amberley Snyder: You know, for me, I feel like that, once again, is just communicating, you know, asking. Asking someone, is there something I can help you with? Because recognizing that something is hard is a part of it. You know, I think recognizing that there is struggles that go along with disabilities altogether, I mean, I think that's a part of that. And just having a minute of grace that goes along with that. You know, I mean, everyone has an expectation, and I'm great with that. I think we all should have expectations of what we should accomplish or be responsible for. But sometimes some grace is needed, and just that little bit of grace can give somebody a breathing room, you know, some breathing room to feel like that they're not feeling. I mean, nobody wants to fail. Nobody likes failing. Nobody wakes up and goes, man, I hope I fail at this today, because I think that'd be fun. Nobody says that. You know, everyone wants to succeed. And I think that if you can create an environment of success and if that requires some grace to do that, then that can set everyone up in a better position to do so.

Heather Grimshaw: That's a great point, that, that minute of grace. I appreciate that very much. And I think one of the last questions that I have for you is about your foundation. So I've been doing a little bit of reading about the Amberlee Snyder Freedom foundation, and I was intrigued by the reference to providing opportunities for youth and young adults to, and I'm using air quotes here because this is from your website. Utilize their strengths and continue to improve regardless of their personal challenges and situations. Would you be willing to share some specific examples of activities that have been funded or the types of activities that you plan to fund through this foundation?

Amberley Snyder: So it is still in the fundraising stages. So I haven't been able to award any funds yet. I want to open that up when I feel like I'm going to be able to make a big difference. But what I hope, what my plan is, is that it's a little pieces of freedom. So that could be hand controls in a vehicle, that could be a ramp in someone's house. You know, that could be. They now have these super cool, like, little cars now that they're the same ones that other kids can drive, but they have it so that they're like hand controls for little kids in these little vehicles, so that they can still do the things that other kids can do. You know, losing. Losing my freedom in an instant of so many independence, independent things in my life was devastating. And I know that that has to apply to everyone of all situations, young and old. And so I just. I want to provide that happiness back, because freedom really is happiness and independence really is happiness. And so, you know, it could be anything inside the house or outside the house, but something that can bring joy and light into someone's life. So that's the goal.

Heather Grimshaw: The concept of freedom and providing that freedom, as well as injecting joy and infusing joy whenever possible, is something that employers would want to be able to support or provide for employees with disabilities. Are there suggestions that you would share with folks who are in this integrated disability and absence management role about how to go about doing that?

Amberley Snyder: That is a great question, but I think it just, it comes down to asking, you know, if you came up to me and you said, what can I do to make this environment comfortable for you? I can tell you, you know, I need this. I need to make sure I can get to where I need to get to, I need to make sure I have accessible bathrooms. I need to make sure and safe and clean too. You know what is the most annoying thing is when toilet seats are not screwed down. Like, you know, when they, and they're moving all over, you know what I mean? Right. Those will try to buck you off. Like, and when you, when you can't stand up, it's a little sketchy. I mean, you can choose to keep this in or not, but that, and I know that that's, it's almost like an embarrassing thing to mention to somebody like, hey, your toilet seats a little wiggly, but it really needs to be okay to say, like, that should be fixed. You know, doors that can be too heavy. So if there was a situation of like, okay, this is an environment that I'm in every day. Can I get through every door and every doorway, you know, and that just needs to be discussed because some people might have the ability to do that and others might not. But I think even discussions on, okay, like, what would help you nutritionally be okay in this environment, that's something I've had to think about with a few of the places that I've been that, you know, jobs I've been around or locations I've been or even when I was going to school to be a school counselor. You know, my body doesn't work the same way as an able bodied person, and so I have to communicate with people. I might need to drink this amount of water, which then is going to, I'm going to have to use the restroom more, or I have to be able to have a snack at XYZ to keep, you know, my body in a place that's successful. I might need to put my feet up so that the blood can get back to them. I know that I'm sitting and people, I think, recognize they can only relate to walking all day, to sitting all day, totally not the same. You know, my blood is pooling in my feet, so I might need an environment that I can put my feet up. And I'm not speaking for anybody and everybody, but if those things are not okay to be discussed, then they're not. You know, I've, I've learned that the only advocate for me is me. And I think when I see this the most is when I fly. People expect me to do certain things or want me to do certain things. And if I'm not comfortable, I can say no. I actually am capable of saying no. Like, I need this. This is actually what I need. And I used to feel uncomfortable to have those conversations because I felt embarrassed that I needed an exception or I needed help. And I truly believe it needs to be okay to need an exception. You know, that's legit. I should say that's legit because I also do feel like our world could be tougher at times, so I feel like we could be tougher sometimes. But I think that when it is, it is something that would make you be more successful and more comfortable. Say it and it's okay to say it and if it can be provided then it should be.

Heather Grimshaw: Those are such great examples and I think the specificity is the most valuable and I love your encouragement for people to ask for what they need and to be brave enough to say this is what I need even if they are uncomfortable in the beginning. So I so appreciate you taking the time to share some of your experience and I'm really looking forward to the keynote.

Amberley Snyder: Me too.