My disability was my secret for over 25 years as I climbed the corporate tech ladder. Looking back, it is something I wish I had not hidden for so long!
I was 19 when I started losing my hearing. I was studying to become an aerospace engineer with dreams of becoming an astronaut. Like many people with hearing loss, I was in denial. My roommates told me the TV was too loud, to turn down my music, and get my hearing checked. Instead, I isolated myself, spending time in my room with the door locked so no one would bother me.
I realized the severity of my deafness when I awoke suddenly to a fireman shaking me in the middle of the night. I had already lost hearing in one ear and hadn’t heard the alarms blaring throughout the building. This was a rude awakening – I had a hereditary disorder causing progressive deafness. Not only was I deaf in one ear, I would gradually lose hearing in my other ear.
This news was devastating. I worried if I would be able to graduate, lead a normal life, or even get a job. I was determined to persevere. I hid my hearing aids. I became so proficient at reading lips I was voted “best eye contact” in my engineering graduating class. To this day, my focused engagement and “eye contact” have become a major asset, helping me to build relationships.
Letting my team know about my disability – and the ways they have supported me – has been life changing Amy Warner VP and GM, IT Digital Business Solutions & Corp Dir. of Accessibility, Intel
Overcoming challenges in the workplace
Over 70% of disabilities are invisible. I was no exception. As the days and years progressed my hearing became worse. However, the extent of my hearing loss was hidden and often very confusing for people. Sometimes my lack of response could be interpreted as rude, or not engaged, or – one of my biggest fears – not capable.
Cube life was becoming increasingly difficult. For days with multiple calls, I would sit alone in a closed phone booth, exhausted from straining to hear conversations. I struggled in large open forums and town halls. I started to believe I may need to leave the workforce. I wasn’t sure I could continue to be successful as a leader at Intel.
Sharing my story
Throughout my career, I was determined to not let my disability define me, but it was always something I felt I had to hide. I worried people would think I am less capable Or it would limit my career advancement.
In 2018, I was asked to publicly share my story. I hesitated. Why would I want to tell more than 100,000 Intel employees (and then, the world) about my hearing loss? Then everyone would know my secret – I have a disability.
I finally decided to share, hoping it could impact others. What surprised me, was the overwhelming inspiration and empowerment I received in return. Once the news hit, my company, managers, and colleagues rallied behind me. They allowed me to work where and how I work best. Co-workers started reaching out to me for advice, some who struggled with hidden disabilities. Letting my team know about my disability – and the ways they have supported me – has been life changing, enabling me to more empowered, transparent, authentic, and fearless to be my best self.
Leading out loud with my disability
I am early in my journey of living and leading out loud with my disability. It took me a long time to figure out that my disability is a strength. Each day I became more innovative, more resilient, and more fearless, adapting daily to my environment.
I believe it is important to recognize the power and influence we as leaders can have, at work, in life and in the industry. I went from being hesitant to ask for accommodations to leading the way in driving accessibility pilots for new technologies and solutions to help shape a modern workplace where everyone can be productive and contribute.
As a leader, if I am hesitant to share my disability, what are others in the organization feeling? By sharing our stories, being fearless and being vulnerable, we can help lead the way in creating a psychologically safe culture where others are allowed to be their authentic selves. Ultimately, we can help change the conversation and break down social stigmas in our workplaces and in society.
I am proud to work for a company that encourages every Intel employee to be bold and fearlessly focused on going beyond what they thought possible. Intel believes in order to shape the future of technology, we must be representative of that future. As the new corporate director of accessibility, I am excited to lead our initiative to drive a sustained culture of accessibility, embracing technology to eliminate barriers, foster innovation and empower all people to reach their full potential.