Disability Inclusion: How Remote Work Saved My Career
Did you know that for 96 percent of people with severe disabilities, their disability isn’t readily apparent? And nearly one in four adults lives with a cognitive, physical, or emotional disability.
The unfortunate reality is that many of these individuals are barred from the workplace because there aren’t systems set up to support them adequately. It doesn’t have to be this way.
My story with disability in the workplace
My name is Elizabeth, and while I currently love my role as a People and Culture Specialist at Customer.io, it wasn’t always this way.
I live with a chronic illness that, three years ago, dramatically changed how I navigated all aspects of my life and work. I was compelled to move from a traditional office job as it was not supportive of my chronic migraines that manifested in a plethora of symptoms, including blurred vision, cognitive distortion, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, light and noise sensitivity, and pain among others.
These migraines were only made worse by having to work under harsh, bright lighting, office chatter, and the scent of microwaved lunches. On top of the physical barriers I faced at work, I felt isolated from my team members because I couldn’t thrive in the same environment as them. My in-office job left me feeling unvalued and underutilized. I struggled to balance my love for my work and the realities of what my illness demanded. I needed to work for a company that would allow me to utilize my skillset in a disability-friendly and accessible environment.
Pre-pandemic, the thought of remote work was foreign to me. In fact, I didn’t even know remote jobs existed in my line of work! After I began to search for a remote position that would allow me the flexibility to take care of my needs while still being productive, I narrowed it down to companies that had language around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (D.E.I.) and benefits that seemed to support people from all different backgrounds.
That’s when I found Customer.io. The role was perfect for me (and 100% remote). I could finally breathe a huge sigh of relief when I saw how well I’d be taken care of at the company. With incredible health and mental health benefits, flexible scheduling, unlimited time off, and a budget to set up my office precisely as needed, I knew things would be different for me here. On top of this, I was introduced to an internal group of folks dedicated to having conversations about how to be better allies in the workplace – and this is where I felt empowered to say the “d” word (disability) in a workplace setting for the first time.
Why is disability inclusion in the workplace important?
Having good disability inclusion policies isn’t just the right thing to do for those with disabilities it’s good for everyone at your company. More and more employees, both those with and without disabilities, care about workplace culture. In fact, 65 percent of employees say that if they are going to work for a company, they want to ensure “there is total diversity and inclusion in all its senses.”
When employees believe leaders care about an inclusive workplace, they are more likely to show respect and loyalty to their organization. This leads to employers retaining great talent! Inclusive policies and practices support everyone and create a workplace where people want to do their best work and feel empowered.
What does disability inclusion look like in the workplace?
No one enjoys being just tolerated at work. Disability inclusion means creating a workplace that makes people feel welcome, seen, and valued for who they are and what they bring to the table – including their differences.
Here at Customer.io, this looks like providing space to encourage conversations on complex topics. We hold monthly culture events, offer online resources, and host educational workshops on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Acceptance (D.E.I.B.A.) initiatives. We encourage employees to determine their own flexible working hours, work entirely remotely, and have unlimited Paid Time Off. We boost camaraderie through team-building events that are held in accessible formats (such as playing Catan with VR headsets or doing a headset-free bring-your-own craft social hour!).
We also encourage employees to take off a day or two to handle personal matters with no questions asked. The best part is that we do all of this while still holding each other accountable for doing great work because we know each person here is capable of that.
D.E.I. at Customer.io
While we are proud of our work on the D.E.I.B.A. front, we still have work to do. We will continue to develop policies that support people of different races, nationalities, orientations, gender identities, age groups, and beyond.
Doing so brings more diversity of talent and thought to the table – not to mention the impacts on processes, products, and culture! I feel grateful to be part of a group that cares about doing better in these areas and supports me as an individual while I learn how to best manage my day-to-day in order to thrive – both for myself and the folks I get to support.
Off to work I go…down the hall
Not everyone with a disability wants or needs to work remotely. So, please do not assume that someone with a disability cannot work in your office or doesn’t want to. I simply speak from my own personal experience.
Remote work has empowered me to complete my tasks and commitments from any setting I need, without needing to be visibly in my seat for people to think I’m working. And it makes me feel like a valued and trusted partner at my company. I am fully engaged, and when I log on to work for the day, I get to think about just that – work. Not about getting caught working alone in a dark conference room because the office space was too overwhelming.
I now work from home in a cozy office lined with blackout curtains. Most days, I work with my cat snuggled at my feet and my diffuser on. I now feel confident that I can easily pivot if I don’t feel well later.
Today, as I start work, I do a self-scan to see how I feel. Am I experiencing pain today? Yes. Can I still work? Absolutely. Do I want to work today? You better believe it.