Hannah Olson: Connecting Chronically Ill and Disabled Professionals to Inclusive Job Opportunities
Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a new guest who is working on UN SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth. Hannah Olson, the founder and CEO of Chronically Capable, is committed to making a difference in the world. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Hannah! Let’s jump right in. What challenge are you addressing through Chronically Capable?
Hannah: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! Did you know that over 1.3 billion people across the world live with some form of disability? Not to mention that 60% of the U.S. population lives with a chronic illness. Yet, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses continue to be underrepresented in the corporate world. At Chronically Capable, we connect chronically ill and disabled professionals to inclusive job opportunities. We are redefining career structures by providing our community with job opportunities that are in balance with their health needs.
Spiffy: Wow, this sounds amazing! Can you tell me more about what motivated you to do this?
Hannah: At 22 years old, I had to leave my dream job due to the aggressive treatment for Lyme disease that required me to be on an IV for up to eight hours per day. I was forced to choose between my health and the work that I was truly passionate about. From that point on, I became determined to create employment opportunities for those living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. My hopes are that through Chronically Capable’s ambitions, nobody will ever have to decide between their health and their career ever again.
Being treated for Lyme disease and being inspired to create Chronically Capable. (Image courtesy of Hannah Olson)
Spiffy: That would be an amazing feat! Can you tell me how you’re working hard to make the world a more equitable place?
Hannah: Well, Spiffy, even before COVID-19, the unemployment rate for chronically ill and disabled Americans was more than double that of non-disabled Americans. We are working to close that gap each day, and in the last six months, have placed over 400 job seekers into job opportunities fit for their needs. We are not just placing people into jobs, we’re flipping the stigma around illness and disability and showing the world just how CAPABLE our community is of contributing to the workforce. Hence the name: Chronically Capable :)
Spiffy: Now I see! Can you tell me about any recent milestones you’re particularly proud of? What kind of impact have you seen?
Hannah: This year, I was awarded 'Top 100 Powerful Women' by Entrepreneur Magazine and the 'Engine for Social Good' in Austin, TX. These two awards weren't for me — but for the MILLIONS of chronically ill and disabled people out there who deserve to be supported and recognized. Hats off to MY COMMUNITY!! :) We also are hosting the first-ever job fair for chronically ill professionals on June 9, 2021. We have over 1,000 job seekers attending and we are thrilled to see employers stepping up and actively seeking out chronically ill and disabled candidates.
Spiffy: You’ve experienced setbacks, but what about failure? What have you done in the face of failure?
Hannah: When I had to leave my job in 2017 to take care of my health, I thought there was no place for people like me in the workplace. Rather than accepting this fate — I started a business to help people like me living with illness and disability. I could have easily given up at that point, but now, every day when people find jobs through our platform, I remember the struggle and inspiration that fueled this business idea. I am grateful for believing in myself — and my community — and proving that we are CAPABLE of being positive forces in the workplace.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything you’ve learned from someone recently that has inspired you?
Hannah: Someone recently told me to use my age as a weapon. For context: I'm 25 years old and often the youngest person to walk into a boardroom. I'm also a woman and live with a chronic illness/invisible disability. The odds are stacked against me. A friend recently told me to flip this narrative and show people how much I've accomplished at such a young age and how much time I still have left in the workplace. Heck, I hope I can work for another 75 years!
Spiffy: If that’s the case, I imagine you will make the world an incredible place! Thanks so much for talking to me today, and for being my 200th interview! It’s been an honor!
Hannah Olson is the founder and CEO of Chronically Capable, a digital talent marketplace that connects jobseekers with chronic illness and disabilities to flexible job opportunities. Hannah’s own experience navigating her career while undergoing intensive treatment for Lyme disease sparked the idea for her company, which was founded in May 2019. (Nominated by Gaingels. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 9, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.