For employees with diverse abilities, the workplace may come with a unique set of challenges. To recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we talked with members of our community from across the globe who live, work, and thrive with a range of diverse abilities including autism, bipolar disorder, deafness, blindness, and autoimmune diseases.
We spoke with eight of our employees from the U.S., Malaysia, and Costa Rica to discuss challenges that they overcome daily, advice for others in the workplace, and the power of mentorship, support, and open dialogue.
On common misconceptions:
Adam: When I first joined Intel, people assumed I had some residual hearing and assumed I could lip read—they didn’t realize that I relied 100% on sign language and interpreters. But once people understood that, it was quickly resolved and it’s been a great working environment for me since then.
Chaundra: With an invisible disability, people think they can help you fix it so they’ll offer lots and lots and lots of suggestions. When it’s an autoimmune disease, you can’t get rid of it. There’s not a lot you can do except learn to live with it.
Karla: With autism, the preponderance of science that exists for diagnosed disorders are based on children’s symptoms. So those carry through in perceptions to the adult world. Autistic kids often times are very slow to develop—and then you compound that with the movie “Rain Man”—and everyone presumes that the person is like the “Rain Man” character.
Jen: Sometimes I can’t feel my hands so I revert back to paper and pen because I can control my hand better and write. I know a lot of people who would look at me like I was old school and laugh. I always show up with paper and pen because I never know when I won’t feel my hands. So that can be a challenge for people—to be unable to really use their laptop.
Prateek: I am dependent on screen reading software. A lot of software is inaccessible to assistive technology, which can means I have to rely on other ways to do my job or take training courses online.
Brian: With mental health, the stigma is starting to lift a little but most people still don’t understand that it’s a medical condition–and basically a chemical imbalance. And they don’t understand that things can be brought back to balance with the proper care.
On advice for people working with individuals with diverse abilities:
Karla: I would like [people] to be unafraid to ask questions—be very open.
Prateek: Instead of assuming I need help—and doing things like grabbing my arm—I’d advise people to ask, “Hey, would you like some help?” And if I say no, accept that.
Andre: Sometimes I need help to eat, or write an email. If someone works with people with diverse abilities, I would recommend that they ask them about their needs.
Chaundra: The advice we give as HR partners is the same advice I would give as someone with a disability: let them guide your conversations, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. What can I do to help? What is it that you need? Are you comfortable sharing? And if not, how do you want to share? How would you like me to share? Those are all easy questions and they put the power back with the person who has the disability.
On talking about diverse abilities at work, support, and mentorship:
Alfred: When I first joined Intel, I would just do my work and clock out. Then a plant manager approached me and spent time understanding my condition. He encouraged me to reach out and participate more in plant activities and that’s when I got to know people. My job and life got more interesting and my support system grew a lot. So I’d encourage people to share their story with people.
Karla: I mentor a lot of employees at Intel and one thing I tell employees with disabilities is that Intel is, by and large, a very friendly environment for being diverse.
Jen: I feel like I can help people. I feel privileged in a way to have the knowledge that I have to be able to share with the people around me.
Brian: People can be afraid to share because they don’t know what the reaction is going to be. Share. People are a lot more understanding [than you might think] and want to help.
Chaundra: There’s a lot of great resources. You have to not only know about them, but be willing to open yourself up to say, “I do need that help.”
On their parting advice to colleagues:
The power to better understand your coworkers is in your hands—while experiences vary, everyone on the panel encouraged others to “Just ask.”