Eboni Freeman describes herself as “a future tech consulting titan who happens to be a Black female with a disability - a triple minority and a triple threat.” As a rising senior at Emory College in Atlanta, Eboni knew Google was the right place for a summer internship due to its positive professional culture. When she disclosed she had a chronic illness in a different company interview, it was suggested that the accommodations Eboni might need would be taxing on the company. Eboni knew that this was not an acceptable response; “I’m not a challenge. I am an exciting, value-adding person on your team. And the fact that I already felt like my disability was going to be seen as a liability was really not exciting.”
In school, Eboni participated in Lime Connect’s national fellowship program, which provided her the skills to ask for the accommodations she needs as well as the confidence to seek employers who would invest in her talents and potential. Eboni admits that during the hiring process, conversations about disability with employers can be difficult. On top of that, having an invisible illness adds to the complexity. The invisibility of Eboni’s illness “is a privilege and a weight to carry.” While people with invisible illness sometimes “pass” as being able bodied and have the option of not always having to disclose, they are often asked to prove that they have a disability. Before her current position at Google, Eboni enjoyed her last internship at a finance service center but occasionally her “Lupus fog” (moments of cognitive impairments that can come with the chronic inflammatory disease) would momentarily get in the way. Eboni struggled to think about the best way to tell her manager without threatening perceptions about her productivity.
Eboni thinks these communication issues could be avoided if these conversations were had at the start of the hiring process instead of becoming an HR problem down the line: “I’d love it if we didn’t even start talking about disability, we just talked about accommodations. Because every single person has different tools that would make them one hundred percent more spectacular at their job. And those tools, resources and open communication can make it better for everyone to work well together and individually.” If companies were up front in initiating causal talk around accommodations, Eboni believes it would signal that they offer a supportive environment for people with disabilities to succeed.
As a “Noogler,” (a new employee), or “Googler” at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA serving as an associate account strategist intern in the global customer experience team, Eboni uses a standing desk along with many other employees. Her desk, along with the company’s instated every half-hour breaks and exercise balls, are not considered accommodations but are instead integrated into the workplace infrastructure itself. Eboni also cites the Google shuttles that she uses to catch an early 7 am ride from Cupertino to Google’s headquarters and around campus as another productivity perk for people of all abilities. But, Eboni says, a generally accommodating workplace culture is not one size fits all: “True disability inclusion means not just providing the custom version of the same solution to each person that requests. True disability inclusion is a conversation, research and analysis of what someone actually needs not just what other people think should work.”
When Eboni began her three-month internship at the beginning of the summer, she discovered Google’s internal disability alliance resource group and joined right away. The group offers a list serve where folks can share perspectives and resources. Eboni also sometimes runs into other Lime Connect fellows around campus and is always happy to see other people with disabilities from her cohort building their careers along-side each other. As a Black, disabled woman, Eboni knows that her identity as a triple minority is not considered to be the typical techie profile, but she tries “to keep it in my mind that not only am I a triple minority, I am also a triple threat because that means I get to bring in three unique perspectives that often aren’t discussed or considered in tech.”
Eboni majored in strategy and management consulting and sees the lack of disabled workers in tech as a business issue. She thinks the tech industry needs to realize that disability is not something separate from them. If approximately 1 in 5 Americans have some form of chronic disability, Eboni said, then this “affects employees, their customers, their stakeholders, and people all over the supply team network.” Hiring more people with disabilities isn’t just an equitable practice, it gives a business access to more perspectives and creates a more accessible product which provides a competitive advantage and affects your bottom line. Eboni cited a recent McKinsey study that backs up her thinking. The 2015 study showed that ethnically and gender diverse companies are more likely to out-perform non-diverse companies above the national medium.
Even though disability is yet to be accounted for in major business diversity studies, Eboni, as a true tech consulting titan would say; “if you are addressing something in the market that other people aren’t, you are going to win a little faster.”
Interested in more on disability in tech? On Tuesday, August 22nd, from 2-3:30 pm PST the Students for Access will be hosting a free webinar “Beyond Diversity 101: Learning from the Perspectives of People with Disabilities in Tech.” To join us, please RSVP. Captioning will be provided.
Read more from our Disability in Tech series here:
- “Beyond Disability 101: Ian Smith’s Hopes for Tech”
- An Accidental Advocate: Tiffany Yu and Diversability
- Closing the Doors of Opportunity: A First-Hand Account of Ableism in Tech
- The Meta Maker of the 21st Century: Joshua Miele’s Path to Accessible Design