“We feel that it’s in your best interest if we let you go at this time. Because our company is so small, making medical accommodations would cripple us and we want you to put your health first, always.” These were the words said to me straight from the CEO of the company I had been working for for less than a month. I was “let go” in an impromptu meeting after requesting an alternate work schedule due to my fatal, heritable connective tissue disorder that has left me permanently disabled. I was initially hired to work 30 hours a week and suddenly, the requirement was 50 hours a week. I attempted to compromise by asking to work a normal 40 hour week but to no avail. This was now the third time that I’d been terminated from a job due to my terminal illness. I have always prided myself as a hard worker, determined to defy assumptions and boundaries placed on me by those around me. While I have received recognition for my results-driven work and the ability to connect with my team members around me, I have been passed up for promotions, forgotten during happy hour invites and countless other events and experiences. I wondered, in those moments if I’d ever land at a company that could see past my illness, past the fact that I am dying and allow me to thrive in an environment that is flexible and accepts me for me. Five months later, I found myself accepting a job offer from Calendly after I was open and honest about my health issues throughout the interview process. I am sharing my story as we recognize this month as Disability Pride Month.
According to the American Bar Association, “Disability Pride Month celebrates disabled persons embracing their disabilities as integral parts of who they are, reclaiming visibility in public and interacting fully with their disabilities out in the open, and rejecting shame and internalized ableism.” This month is incredibly important for those of us with disabilities to acknowledge, and loudly, for many reasons. To put it very lightly, being a disabled person is difficult. In addition to trying to have a professional career, we must balance the financial stress of medical treatment, managing our personal lives and relationships all while navigating physical spaces and a corporate world that isn’t designed for us. People like me often find ourselves in the position of having to choose between not working while applying and waiting to be approved for disability benefits (which can take years and several denials and appeals before success, if you are approved at all) or, finding jobs that will accommodate our medical needs. Not everyone is blessed with a People department and management that wants to see them succeed. I feel incredibly fortunate to have that here at Calendly.
In my first career as a Firefighter and EMS professional, I had to be physically active to be capable of things like CPR, lifting people heavier than myself and working 12 to 24 hour shifts on my feet. As my primary condition vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (vEDS), with comorbidities gastroparesis and dysautonomia, progressed over time, I became less physically capable but I still wanted to be able to work and live independently. When 2020 came and we all found ourselves locked in our homes due to COVID, my doctors ordered me to leave my job for the sake of my own health. I had to get creative. Because the pandemic opened the door for remote work, I decided to reinvent myself and start a new career. I took online courses in tech and landed my first remote job in late 2020. I would inevitably have to hop to a new opportunity when my health became an issue. Finally, I landed somewhere who believes in Starting With Human, as a core value: Calendly. My colleagues at Calendly didn’t know I was “a sick person” for quite some time. My direct manager and other members of leadership involved in my accommodations process were made aware of my condition, and I otherwise kept it to myself. Slowly, I became an advocate for others like me in the workplace. I helped to launch a belonging group focused on accessibility and, as a result, opened up about my health conditions. I was terrified to do this - it had only led to heartbreak and lost opportunities in the past. To my surprise, each person that found out I am working full time while in palliative care, each person that realized I have a condition that will kill me by the time I am in my late 40s, each colleague that saw part of my story somewhere else in our virtual workplace was supportive. I found myself able to be me, without any need to hide my wheelchair or oxygen in meetings or photos and without feeling as though I had to make up reasons for missing meetings for the first time in my professional life. The ability to bring my whole self to work at Calendly has led to me being more productive in my job. I am a top performer in my role and I do my best to maintain close working relationships with everyone on my team. I feel valued for who I am and what I bring to the table, including the pieces of me shaped by my disability and illnesses, rather than in spite of those pieces of me. I feel accepted as is. That is incredible and, unfortunately, rare. As I recover from surgery and work every other shift from an infusion room currently responsible for my nutrition in a hospital, without feeling any need to hide or excuse that fact at work, I reflect with gratitude on my professional past and how grateful I am to be working for a company like Calendly.
Sharing my story openly is intimidating, but I hope to inspire others to be open about their disabilities and chronic illnesses, especially when it comes to work. Additionally, I hope that others look at Calendly and that they hire people like me, and are able to come to the realization that people are more than their physical abilities. We are complex, smart, hard working people just like our able bodied colleagues. Disability Pride isn’t just about being proud of ourselves regardless of our disabilities. Disability Pride is about finding ways to thrive in a world that, oftentimes, tells us we aren’t enough and for those around us to support as allies in creating an accessible world (and workplace!) for all.