What it’s like having a hidden disability in Silicon Valley

I’ve all the time associated to Wile E. Coyote. Afternoons in entrance of the TV after faculty served as a form of recreation tape of my time spent hiding behind lecture rooms, dreading the little disasters that appeared to cover round each nook. Whatever the hours I spent planning and organizing, grinding by means of my homework, and studying instructions that I may by no means retain, I all the time knew that irrespective of how onerous I attempted, or fastidiously I deliberate, there would all the time be a practice in the tunnel or a cliff across the subsequent curve. That little blue bastard was going to get away once more.

As somebody with a hidden disability, I’ve all the time fallen off that cliff, which is why I like that mangy outdated coyote. He all the time obtained up. He is aware of the ache of having a purpose on the tip of his claws solely to have it yanked away on the final minute on a technicality, by somebody who made all of it simply look so damned simple, so “regular.” It’s exhausting. 

Though I’m grown now, I nonetheless determine with Wile E. Coyote. 


I’ve a studying disability, that means that I study otherwise from different folks. I stay and work in Silicon Valley, the pure habitat of highway runners. I’ve spent my skilled life as a type of employee bees who creates the widgets and doodads that make life a little simpler. For the sake of this story—and my employability—let’s simply name my firm Acme Co.

Acme Co. can really feel like a lonely place if you’re surrounded by highway runners. It’s a must to work 4 instances tougher to realize the identical output in a office that strikes at these speeds. For a very long time, nobody was conscious of the hassle I put into organizing and planning my life so I may move as “regular.”

I’m going to share two examples that illustrate what it’s like navigating the workforce with this form of hidden disability. The primary one exhibits what it may be like when individuals are unaware of your disability—as most of my coworkers have been all through my profession—and the second exhibits what can occur if you do make the choice to reveal. It doesn’t all the time go effectively. (I’ve modified a few figuring out particulars due to privateness considerations, however in any other case issues occurred as I describe.)

Instance 1: Partial disclosure

A number of years in the past, I had a job the place I did manufacturing work. At some point, I used to be sitting in a assembly, discussing a new venture. Nobody in the room knew that I used to be hiding the truth that I study otherwise, although I had beforehand advised my supervisor (who was in the assembly) that I used to be a visible learner who discovered otherwise than others. 

For a very long time, nobody was conscious of the hassle I put into organizing and planning my life so I may move as “regular.”

There have been eight folks in this assembly speaking about dates, figures, corrections, and every thing in fast succession and all on the similar time. It was a twister of knowledge, and I used to be scribbling down notes as quick as I may decipher what was being stated.


I requested a few instances if I may recap what they had been saying. I interrupted once more with a request to provide a recap for readability. They continued to speak over me. At my closing request, I spoke up a little extra aggressively and requested if I may simply recap a few dates. They nonetheless didn’t pay attention and continued with their conversations. The assembly lastly ended, and I requested one of many venture managers if they might keep behind to match notes. I used to be involved that I had put the fallacious variety of weeks down for the venture deadline. The venture supervisor stayed behind and verified that my timeline was off by two weeks.  

Heading out of the room, I noticed my supervisor speaking to a different coworker. Not making an effort to cover what he was saying, I heard him gently remind her that we might by no means be on the venture collectively. He stated that I ought to keep in my very own lane—that means that I shouldn’t have spoken up like that in the assembly, and that he didn’t see me taking over a substantial position on this venture. I felt discouraged. My very own lane! He thought he knew what I used to be in a position to deal with. 

That wasn’t the one time that I skilled a feeling of being pigeonholed, like they didn’t belief me to do something, and didn’t wish to take the time to nurture my talents or share info in a extra accessible approach so I may contribute. After a number of extra months of putting up with the sort of remedy, I knew it was time to search out a new job if I wished to continue to grow professionally. 

Instance 2: Full disclosure

A part of the explanation I didn’t totally disclose in this job was due to the expertise I’d had at earlier jobs once I did inform a supervisor about my studying disability. A number of years earlier than, I had a job working as a visible designer. Each month, I used to be tasked with designing a brochure that went out to our shoppers. I had a system the place I’d proofread the doc and ensure every thing was entered appropriately, and since the precedence of those brochures was so excessive, the supervisor and I had give you a plan to have him and two different coworkers additionally proofread the whole doc. 

After receiving his blessing, the ultimate proof was despatched off to the printer’s. As soon as the brochure got here again from the printer’s, my supervisor picked up a brochure and held it to my face. “What’s fallacious with this?” he requested, with a stern expression, the brochure wavering in entrance of my eyes.      

I took the brochure from his hand and gave it a fast look over. I may really feel the stress caving in. I assumed, “oh god, did I miss one thing?”

My supervisor scolded, “effectively? We have now over 10 bins of them!” I knew that I and a staff of individuals (together with my supervisor) had checked the doc for errors.

“I don’t see something; I don’t!” I stated, taking a good nearer look. After a few moments of confusion, I appeared up at him.

“Guess what?” he requested.


“There may be nothing . . . I simply wished to see how you’d react,” he sneered earlier than strolling away, smiling.


“I’m comfortable to make your day a higher day,” I stated, envisioning giving him a Muay Thai kick to the top.   

It particularly stung that he would act this fashion after I had disclosed my disability to him, and when he knew that proofreading was a supply of tension for me. It wasn’t the one time he pulled this stunt both. For a lot of months following, I endured his jokes at my expense. When the time was proper, I left the corporate and located one other job. 

Deciding to reveal

I’m not alone in having these kinds of experiences in the office. Based on a study by the Middle for Expertise Innovation, 30% of the workforce has a disability and 62% of these people stated their disabilities had been invisible, that means they must disclose the situation for different folks to know they’ve a disability. Invisible disabilities embrace many issues, from ADHD, to diabetes, to psychological well being situations like melancholy. 

You ask your self: ‘Will this modification how folks have a look at me? Will my supervisor suppose I’m lazy or not able to ending a activity?’

Working to hide a disability might be exhausting. You reside in concern of being found. However confiding in coworkers, managers, and/or HR may also be dangerous, as my second instance illustrates. You ask your self: “Will this modification how folks have a look at me? Will my supervisor suppose I’m lazy or not able to ending a activity? How will it have an effect on my profession improvement? May or not it’s the tip of my profession—or will nothing occur?” 

I hid my disability for round 10 years. It took me a very long time to be happy with it. However now the masks is off, and I’m okay with that. I’m telling my story to you now, despite the fact that it may be uncomfortable, as a result of I hope it is going to convey larger consciousness, and make it simpler for me and others to get the sources they want. 

If in case you have a hidden disability, I would like you to know that you just don’t should stay in concern like I did. You may have the law on your side, and you could find assist techniques and sources, like the Learning Disability Association, or Lindamood-Bell, a company that gave me a ton of confidence.

If we don’t converse up, future corporations gained’t perceive what they’re lacking. As soon as your coworkers and managers are conscious that you’ve a disability, they might perceive why you won’t be good at activity A, however you excel at activity B. They should discover that candy spot the place your integration provides power to the staff. My disability has made me a onerous employee and taught me to develop inventive workarounds. Like Wile E. Coyote, I’ve been pushed off these cliffs, and every time I’ve come again stronger.

Terri Rodriguez-Hong is a UX/UI designer in Silicon Valley who helps run a podcast known as Ramblings of a Designer. She wholeheartedly believes accessibility is every thing and loves to attach the dots between the corporate and the end-user.