- July is Disability Pride Month
- In honor of Disability Pride Month, we sat down with Advanced Support Engineer Charity Spiers and DEI Program Coordinator Tasia Bromell to learn more about our HUGS Employee Resource Group and to hear about their experiences navigating life and work with a disability
July is Disability Pride Month commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which became federal law on July 26, 1990. That same year, the first-ever Disability Pride parade was held in Boston, Massachusetts to celebrate the law’s passage. Disability Pride Month is a time to celebrate the unique experiences, strengths, and achievements of people with disabilities while raising a greater understanding of some of the challenges they face. We recently spoke with Advanced Support Engineer Charity Spiers and DEI Program Coordinator Tasia Bromell to better understand how the Help and Understanding Group Support (HUGS) ERG fosters inclusivity and empowerment for the disabled and neurodivergent communities.
HUGS Employee Resource Group
At RingCentral, the HUGS Employee Resource Group serves as a platform for our disabled and neurodivergent employees, as well as their caregivers and allies, to come together, share experiences, and support one another. This year HUGS is hosting speaker sessions, professional development workshops, and a short story contest, all aimed at empowering and amplifying the voices of our neurodivergent and disabled community members.
A unique lens.
DEI Program Coordinator Tasia Bromell shared that she was born with a tethered spinal cord, a form of spina bifida. What that means is at birth, part of her spine was in a knot and another part was missing. As a result, she underwent multiple surgeries before the age of two. Surgeons untethered her spinal cord and implanted a metal rod in her back. Today, she walks with forearm crutches and has also endured a lot of other physical challenges. Despite that, Tasia says she would not have it any other way. “Being born with my disability gave me an entire lens to view life as somebody who is disabled. That has given me a distinct perspective and made me a little bit more open and accepting of all other people.”
Many people with physical disabilities don’t have a choice about hiding them she explains, “I work from home so not a lot of people here know, but if they see me in person, it’s something that I cannot hide, and so I want people to be accepting of me, despite what they see on the outside.”
For others living with disabilities, it’s the inability of others to recognize their unique challenges that makes their lives more difficult. Advanced Support Engineer Charity Spiers has multiple diagnoses including ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and acute fibromyalgia. “Fibromyalgia is probably one of the most misunderstood diagnoses, but in summary, it essentially means that my nervous system cannot regulate pain. It is a very interesting and unique kind of disability to have, in part, because it is an invisible disability.”
More than what you see.
For many people who are neurodivergent and/or living with other types of invisible disabilities, their daily challenge is making their disability known to those around them. One of the unique problems Spiers has faced in the workplace is others not being aware that accommodations are needed. Because Spiers doesn’t have mobility aids or other easily recognizable indications of a disability, it is assumed no accommodations are necessary. “Even though I do not have any mobility aids, this is very real. It does impact me.”
Spiers shared that one way others can make the workplace a more empowering environment is by not making assumptions about a person’s abilities based on their appearance. “At first glance, you would not be able to see that I am disabled.” However, due to the acute pain caused by their fibromyalgia, Spiers says there are days when basic tasks in life—washing dishes, driving to the grocery store, and even getting dressed in the morning—are sometimes out of reach. At times, Spiers has been met with skepticism and unsolicited advice but, “I would like my voice to be treated with respect since I am the ultimate authority when it comes to myself.”
No pity, please.
Tasia agrees that it’s best not to make assumptions based on appearance. She recalled colleagues have sometimes come running from across the room to open a door since they can see her mobility aids, but that feels like pity. On the other hand, if they were right beside her and did the same thing, it might be viewed as politeness, something that they would also do for another colleague who did not have a disability. This is a nuanced distinction but demonstrates how a single action can affect how someone feels they are being perceived. “Treat me the same way you would treat someone else and provide me the accommodations I need if I express that. Don’t pity me for something I’ve lived my entire life. It is normal for me. There’s no way I can perceive my life to be any different because I do not know anything else.”
Pride is powerful.
Spiers and Bromell are excited to celebrate their identities and Disability Pride Month. Spiers explains further, “Disability Pride is powerful because we are powerful. I have had to become a very effective problem solver. Put a puzzle in front of me and I will not let it go. I need to solve it. I have also had to learn to be on my toes and be able to be flexible because I can not always predict what my body’s going to do and that is a superpower.” Charity also says they have become extremely flexible, talented at problem-solving, and excellent at finding resources and reaching out to other people. This is a great source of pride because that means they bring a whole different set of tools to the table, adding value wherever they work.
Dialogue builds understanding.
We asked both Tasia and Charity what could be done to make the workplace more inclusive and empowering for those with disabilities. They agreed it starts with open dialogue and a recognition of the systemic barriers affecting people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was one of the first federal civil rights laws to address systemic issues including work discrimination, equal access, accommodations, transportation, public services, and telecommunications. It’s a great foundation that companies can build upon by adding employee resource groups and fostering a continued dialogue with their neurodivergent and disabled employees.
“An environment in which employees are empowered and comfortable and have the ability to perform their jobs in the way that fits them and their needs is a company that is going to succeed. Empowered employees empower the company, empowering our customers.” -Charity Spiers, Advanced Support Engineer
Originally published Jul 13, 2023