Elizabeth Villalta Has A Hidden Disability. Working At Intel, She Feels Less Invisible.

Most people picture a wheelchair or a cane when thinking about someone with a disability, but more than 70 percent of people who struggle with disabilities deal with disabilities you can’t see. I’m part of that 70 percent. On the one hand, some things are easier because people can’t see my condition; it gives me the option to decide who and when I let know. Other things are harder. For me, the hardest thing is not the pain or physical difficulties, but the fear that’s always present in the back of my mind of people not trusting me. And this is not a fear that developed on its own. It comes from experience.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with my share of distrust, whether it was doctors who didn’t believe me as I fought to get a diagnosis, or people not letting me park in an accessible spot because I look “normal.” I was even fired from a job for “lying” about my condition. For the past 12 years, I’ve been living with Multiple Sclerosis, which is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that includes symptoms such as numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, blurry vision, fatigue, dizziness, heat intolerance, and several others.

All my past experiences meant that by the time I started at Intel, I was understandably scared. I tried to postpone that conversation with my new manager as much as possible, but eventually I had to muster the courage to tell her about it. After I gave my manager a short explanation of my condition and day-to-day experience, she only asked me one question: “What do you need?” It took some time for me to come up with an answer, since it was the first time anyone had asked me that question. Eventually, I shared with her a couple of things that would help me be my best at work.

Intel was the first place I felt safe to openly discuss my condition, and that fear I had kept in the back of my mind for so long started to grow a little quieter. This doesn’t mean everything is perfect. There’s always something to learn, and we still have a long way to go. Even at such an inclusive company, I’ve dealt with distrust from coworkers or missed the opportunity to take part in a lot of activities that weren’t accessible enough.

The difference I see—and what makes me so hopeful—is the willingness to improve. Groups like Intel Disability and Accessibility Network (IDAN) encourage those with disabilities to create awareness and work together at programs that impact everyone, whether you have a disability or not. We often say disability is not in the person but in the environment. And Intel has created an environment with physically accessible locations and continually lays the groundwork for a greater sense of understanding and empathy. This is why inclusion will always be my favorite Intel value.

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