Disability isn’t a bad word

Inside Box’s new Employee Resource Community, BoxAbilities

Hello! My name is Eleanor Wenker and I started at Box in December of 2022 where I work as a receptionist at the New York office on the Workplace Services Team! This May, I spearheaded, with an incredible team, Box’s newest Employee Resource Community (ERC), BoxAbilities. BoxAbilities supports Boxers with disabilities, neurodiversities and their allies through education, allyship, and empowerment.

While in college, I realized I was dyslexic and during the Covid-19 pandemic, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I spent my life thinking I had a unique brain and ways of doing things, but I had no idea that it had a name nor how much it was affecting my life. For me, being diagnosed was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and felt liberating. I had spent so much of my life struggling to exist in a ‘normal’ way, and felt a burden for not being able to pull it off. I was burnt out, and struggled with anxiety as a result of it all. Since then, I have found community with others going through similar things, and done extensive research on both ADHD and dyslexia. I personally identify as both neurodivergent and disabled. I believe ADHD is not a deficiency or fault of my brain, rather, just a different structure than the norm, and because our society is not built to accommodate this, I am disabled. (Not all people that are neurodivergent identify as disabled. This is my personal identity.)

How does your neurodivergence and dyslexia present itself in your life?

In many ways! In elementary school, learning to read, write, and spell was a mammoth endeavor. I was consistently behind, until my parents took matters into their own hands and got me into extensive private tutoring. Reading, writing, and spelling are much easier now, though I do find myself misreading words and prefer to listen to audiobooks!

For my ADHD, extreme fatigue, social interactions, and focus are things I consistently manage. In many ways, my ADHD can look like depression from the outside. I have to prioritize sleep, take medications, and find balance in my activities to not burn out my energy levels too quickly. In social situations, I prefer one on one interactions, often feel like I am missing something from a conversation (sarcasm, intonation, something else?), and can be very intense.

Once diagnosed, I found better ways to manage my focus (both inattentive behaviors and hyperfocus spells) through post-it to-do lists, digital calendars, and alarms. Learning about my ADHD has also helped me see the ways in which it also comes with advantages. I attribute my creativity and general fearlessness to my special brain. I do many different arts and crafts from hand making office decorations to making music (mostly singing). I find that I have a unique perspective, and use it to my benefit. Though I have anxiety doing basic things (writing emails), I am fearless in making my giant dreams happen. I studied abroad in Spain, for a year, as a junior in high school, speaking very little Spanish before departing. That was a really easy decision for me to make and execute.

What became clear through my life and diagnosis is that nothing is ever all good or all bad. Life is usually a mix of it all. There are days and weeks where my ADHD and dyslexia raise hell and make my life very challenging, but it has taught me so many lessons and come with many advantages. Finally knowing how my brain works gave me the lens to come to this realization and be freed from shame. When coming to Box, I was eager to connect with others living through similar experiences, and build a strong community.

What has your experience with the BoxAbilities ERC at Box been like?

The beginning of BoxAbilities has been astonishing time and again. When I started at Box in December, I was surprised to not see a disability/neurodivergence group within the existing ERCs. I reached out to our Head of Belonging, Takayla King, and she was completely onboard with helping me create an ERC and support the entire process. I expected this initial phase of creating it to take a long time, and be filled with red tape (as is common in most bureaucratic operations), but have been surprised at how quickly we have been able to take action. We had 73 people respond to our membership survey. I was touched by how honest and authentic people were in the comments. They shared their experiences, and spoke in detail about what they were looking for in BoxAbilities. There is some incredible energy in BoxAbilities and I look forward to seeing where we are on our first anniversary!

Are there any events or activities that Box is doing during Disability Pride Month or throughout the year that you’d like to highlight?

For Disability Pride Month we are hosting a series of coffee chats in offices and virtually to allow community members to connect. One of the most common responses from our members was the interest in connecting with others and sharing experiences. By hosting a coffee chat, we are able to create a laidback space where people can show up in the most comfortable way for them! Plus, we can lure non-members in with treats, and share a bit about our upcoming events. We also have new, branded stickers to celebrate! As for the rest of the year, we’re hosting an AMA in August to start a conversation about our work and the work in the larger community at Box. And after that, we will have to see! We’re still new and finding our stride! Whatever it is, it will be exciting!

In your opinion, what challenges remain for disabled/neurodivergent folks today, and how can allies best show up for the community?

I personally think awareness and community acceptance is the most important challenge we face today. Many people do not realize how vast and common disability and neurodivergence are, and how they manifest on a daily basis. For change to be made to our society and create greater accessibility, others need to be aware that we exist. By understanding what disability/neurodivergence can look like, and the challenges that come with, allies can work with us to dismantle ableism. From my experience, challenges disabled/neurodivergent people face are downplayed or ignored by the wider world. This experience is incredibly frustrating and leads to isolation, and shame. By raising awareness and acceptance, we can all work together to break down barriers, and create a society that is more inclusive.

Allies, I ask you to do your research! Read about being disabled/neurodivergent, watch videos on social media about our lives, and please use these representations to challenge your own beliefs. By learning about our lives, you can break down your own biases, and find ways to make the world around you a better space for all.

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