Why Disabilities Aren’t Barriers to Success at Facebook

A blog from our friends at Facebook.

“In August 2019, I woke up with a high pitched ringing in my ears that wouldn’t go away,” remembers Derek L., a software engineering manager at Facebook. “I went to a doctor, took a hearing test, and was told I had high frequency hearing loss.” After being fitted with hearing aids, Derek knew he had to adjust to a new way of living and working.

Unlike Derek, Kiran M.’s disability influenced his life far before he came to Facebook. “I’m in a wheelchair, and I always assumed working outside of India would be a challenge for me,” he explained. Despite this hesitancy, he decided to interview for a role with Facebook in London. After a phone screen, his Facebook recruiter asked him to travel to London for an in-person interview. Concerns about the travel—and about living in London and working at the Facebook offices—lingered at the top of his mind. 

For people who are neurodivergent or have long-term health conditions, mental health conditions, or physical disabilities, considering what job they have can hinge upon whether the company they work for provides the unique support and resources they need to succeed. Derek and Kiran, Software Engineer, both say they’ve found a truly supportive community at Facebook with the Differently Abled@ Facebook Resource Group, which provides a safe space for people with any kind of disability to connect, share resources and support, and make Facebook a better place to work for everyone. 

"Kiran sitting in his wheelchair outside on a river boardwalk."

Kiran enjoying Canary Wharf in London during a walk with a friend.

Creating inclusive communities starts with the first phone call

“Not many people can say that interviewing at a company was a life-changing experience, but that’s exactly how I describe my experience with Facebook,” shares Kiran. After being asked to travel to London, Kiran voiced his concerns to Chris P., the recruiter he worked with early on in the process. “He suggested alternative options — I was completely surprised by the response,” Kiran mused. “He asked if I would like to bring someone with me, and then booked plane tickets for both of us. My comfort was his biggest priority, and he went out of his way to ensure the process was as smooth as possible.” 

At Facebook for two years, Kiran says it still amazes him how much Facebook prioritizes taking care of people. “While the London office was wheelchair accessible, when I first joined, I had trouble pushing doors and accessing various areas with ease. But the team at Facebook took great care to make sure all of my accessibility needs were met.”

"Pearl smiling in front of a grey backdrop."

Pearl helped start the DifferentlyAbled@ Facebook Resource Group in London.

Making space for people to thrive

Pearl O., QA Engineering Lead, has spent her career working in technology roles but she never got personal at work until she joined Facebook. “I’d go to work, do the job, and go home,” she reflects. “That also meant I never had the chance to meet up with people like me.” Once at Facebook, she joined the Women@ and Black@ Facebook Resource Groups. By being part of those communities, Pearl was finally able to reconcile the challenges she went through in previous roles, particularly those affecting Black women in tech. 

“In my entire career, I’d never seen anything like Facebook’s resource groups, where people come together to build community with others who share common interests or passions,” Pearl fondly recalls. “I very quickly learned that the challenges I saw at other companies were being addressed head-on at Facebook and I also realized that I had the power to effect change. So I helped start the Differently Abled@ group in London.”

Derek says one of the things that surprises him the most about Facebook is how much commitment and space the company gives people to participate and make a difference in resource groups. “I was amazed to find there was an entire group of people who were working on ways to improve the lives of differently abled people in and out of the workplace, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he says. “There was a call for new board members to help develop new workstreams, and I was thrilled to participate.”

“Our goal is to provide support for anyone who identifies us as disabled and seeks us out. We also help others understand that being disabled is not as simple as people think it is—it’s very nuanced,” Pearl added. “There are many different disabilities and the experiences are very different for each person. For example, I have rheumatoid arthritis—an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and other issues throughout the body—and I know I could become disabled as a result.” 

For Kiran, discovering Differently Abled@ helped him figure out how to navigate London. “Someone from the group reached out asking if I needed help. Having a community of people who shared similar challenges made me feel like I had a place here. I realized in that moment that I didn’t have to do this alone.”

"Derek smiling indoors at a restaurant."

Derek at brunch at Bill’s, a restaurant in Cambridge, England.

Raising awareness and educating allies 

“When we started Differently Abled@, there were people who hadn’t self-identified as having a disability, so we’ve tried to help them feel comfortable to come forward,” Pearl shares. “Some people think that if they don’t have a physical disability, but rather have a mental or long-term health condition, they just need to power through—there’s a fear associated with coming forward. We want people to understand that Facebook is not the type of place where you need to hide.”

The group’s focus is on education and continuing to raise awareness. This can be as simple as putting together resources like a comprehensive list of different disabilities or long-term health conditions, or putting together a new sensory pillar. “This year, we’re focusing on baseline education and normalizing sensory impairments that many people have,”

Derek explains. “This includes developing resources that show various impairments and ways people can support others.”Derek is also the Diversity and Inclusion Representative for Ads and Business Products in London, and his work includes helping improve the level of understanding of what it means to be an ally and how we can be more inclusive. In his words: “It’s easy for companies to talk about being diverse and inclusive, but at Facebook, we literally make space for people to take action. As leaders, it’s our job to encourage it.”

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