July is Disability Pride Month, a time to accept and honor the diversity within the disability community, reflect on issues that people with disabilities are facing, and inspire action to make the world more inclusive and accessible. The first-ever Disability Pride Day was held in Boston, Massachusetts, following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
More than one billion people around the globe experience some form of disability. For me, Disability Pride Month represents coming to a place of self-acceptance where I feel empowered to say I have a disability. It has taken me a long time to say this, let alone write this publicly, and there are many people I work with or interact with that still have no idea. In the past, I was afraid that using the term disability may change how others treat me—as not able or not capable. Maybe it’s because I have felt dismissed when trying to discuss the challenges I face simply because my disability is not visible. After experiencing fainting episodes, I was diagnosed with two conditions that affect my autonomic nervous system (also known as dysautonomia): Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and neurocardiogenic syncope. After sitting upright or standing for too long, my heart rate skyrockets, and my blood pressure plummets. This reaction is irregular and elicits several different debilitating symptoms. Although I may look “fine,” there is not a day that goes by where I don’t have symptoms that interfere with my daily life.
Now I’m learning to embrace the word disability, and I’m proud that more people are getting involved with disability advocacy to create more access. For example, remote work options can be a life-changing accommodation. Personally, navigating a long commute and sitting in an office for long periods can be difficult, so working from home has made it possible for me to pursue my career.
One of Cisco’s employee resource organizations, Connected Disability Action Network (CDAN), strives to create a disability-inclusive culture by empowering Cisconians and others to challenge employment and education inequalities for people with disabilities. We achieve our mission through education, creating employee and community experiences, and generating global impact and awareness of people with disabilities. Because of Cisco’s inclusive work culture, I feel comfortable having open discussions about my disability with my manager. Being able to bring my authentic self to work is an incredible feeling.
My perspective of what it is like to live with a disability is just one of many and does not represent everyone. Please read more from other Cisco employees who have experienced a disability or who have a shared experience with a loved one:
Content and Storytelling Lead, Global Partner Marketing
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t know Disability Pride Month was even a thing until probably a couple of years ago.
I didn’t know I was considered disabled under the ADA until October of 2019, when during my second appointment with a new therapist, she asked me, “Have you considered that you might have ADHD?” I’d already begun to suspect I was autistic, but I wasn’t exactly shocked by her question (my autism suspicions were later confirmed, too, and I also have dyscalculia). Suddenly, many things from my life began to make a lot more sense. At the same time, many things started to make less sense—I found myself reframing the picture in my mind of who I was, especially after decades of masking in a desperate attempt to fit in.
I have a hard time considering myself disabled, even though logically, I realize there are times my neurodivergence is absolutely disabling (executive functioning, I’m looking at you). And that’s part of Disability Pride—having those tough conversations and working through the messy emotions, internalized ableism, and dealing with the fallout of a later-in-life diagnosis.
But as I’ve become more involved in CDAN at Cisco and online neurodivergent communities, and become more comfortable with who I am, I’ve also developed a better understanding of what Disability Pride actually means. For me, it means being authentic, using my voice and my story to help others, and educating people on neurodivergence in general. By the way, if you don’t know what neurodivergence means, the very simple explanation is that some people’s brains work differently than what is ‘typical.’ It means advocating and creating a specific space for those of us who are neurodivergent, which is something I’ve recently become involved with at Cisco. Mostly, though, it means just being me and being okay with that.”
Senior Product Lead, Customer and Telemetry Products
“My dad was the embodiment of authority and discipline in our community. He was physically strong and mentally sound, and people consulted him for advice on many matters. Once, I remember him going down a deep well to rescue a neighbor who slipped and fell into it. Watching him navigate tough situations and support our extended family and community, my friends called him a superman.
My world turned upside down when my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease. It went undiagnosed until it could not be treated. It was challenging for my mom to get the proper care for him in India.
I took a sabbatical from the job that I had at the time and supported my mom, a full-time caregiver. We went on short walks, read him his favorite news journals, and set him up with a routine. It was difficult to watch as his ability to walk, talk, and even see diminished. Caring for my father when he still had time on this planet makes me feel worthy of his upbringing.
Unfortunately, my dad passed away during the COVID pandemic. My heart is filled with inspiration from my time as a backup caregiver. And my journey to create a more inclusive future just started. After joining Cisco, I co-founded Giantwheel Buddies Foundation (GWB). The mission of GWB is to elevate the social inclusion of young adults with special needs. It sponsors skill-based courses and acts as a career launchpad.
Thank you, Cisco, for continuing to support employees with disabilities and caregivers of loved ones with disabilities!”
Climate Impact and Regeneration Lead Director
“In 2012 I experienced a multimodal health collapse, when almost every aspect of my system seemed to go off the rails simultaneously. I lost 40 pounds on a thin frame of 5’9”. The list of my symptoms ran two-thirds of a page, and yet doctors at my HMO said they couldn’t find anything. Thirty-one healthcare providers and seven years of searching turned up some anomalies but no answers. Searching for clues, I joined many patient groups where I encountered hundreds of other patients in the same boat.
As my wife says, I was working from home before it was cool. Cisco was immensely supportive, and I will always be deeply grateful. Most colleagues and folks I interacted with via Webex did not even know I was ill, even though some days it was all I could do to keep going.
Fortunately, the thirty-second doctor said ‘I think I know what’s going on with you, read this book’ about Mast Cell Activation Disorder. Mast cells line every part of our bodies, and when they go haywire, they can interfere with every bodily system from digestion to balance to our immune response.
Almost all the help I finally received wasn’t covered by insurance, and the treatments I am doing now as part of my recovery are not either. Here is where I mention how clear I am about the privilege that has allowed me to gain access to all the resources, people, medical care, and expensive tests. It is an issue of equity and social justice that our medical system is built primarily to triage obvious issues, but not provide care generally to assist everyone to thrive.
The CDC website says that six in ten Americans live with a chronic disease, one in three worldwide. We can all do more to assist with the visibility and assistance needed to all those affected, and their families, the way Cisco has for ours.”
How to create a more inclusive future for people with disabilities
Despite 15 percent of the world’s population living with a disability, people with disabilities experience lower education and employment rates, leading to higher poverty rates. We have a long way to go until we reach disability inclusion, but here are some steps you can take today to understand the issues better and help take action:
- Educate yourself about issues that the disability community is facing. This is especially important when it comes to certain traits ingrained in our culture, such as discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities, which is also known as ableism.
- Consider donating to or volunteering with an organization that supports the advancement of equity and inclusion for people with disabilities.
- Listen to and help uplift the voices of the disability community all year. If you see something that looks like discrimination or prejudice, please speak up.