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From awareness to advocacy: How Kelsey’s perspective as an #ActuallyAutistic person is driving change for Oracle

“If we trust one another, we can all use our strengths to make a more productive and valuable organization.” Kelsey Belcher

Kelsey, a self-described #ActuallyAutistic person, is a UX (user experience) researcher at Oracle NetSuite who is proud to share her perspective on autism at work. “My perspectives may be different from others my age, because I was diagnosed with autism at the end of graduate school. Some people reading this interview might find this to be odd, especially parents of autistic children who had early diagnoses. However, there are many neurodivergent people in society who were misdiagnosed, never identified or otherwise left behind. Although my diagnosis came after I finished my graduate degree, I have always known I did not think or function in the same way as most of my peers, whether that was in elementary or grade school or in college and graduate work. I am thankful that I was raised to advocate for myself and speak up for others who were struggling.”

When asked what #ActuallyAutistic means, Kelsey said, “I am an autistic person who advocates for myself and the community. This hashtag arose because the #autism one is overwhelmingly used by neurotypical people, many of whom subscribe to the medical model of autism as opposed to the neurodiversity model, which more closely aligns with the Disability Rights movement.”

How an unexpected academic detour helped Kelsey discover her hidden talents

When Kelsey enrolled in the iSchool at the University of Texas for her graduate studies, she anticipated a career as an archivist or research librarian, but what she found was a hidden passion for the field of user experience, an unexpected discovery that suited her personality and skills. Discovering UX allowed Kelsey to tap into her abilities, and after listening to herself, she decided to move forward with a career that sparked joy in her. “I also think that the willingness to understand why I did not ‘think’ or operate like my peers led me to a higher understanding of neurodiversity. It also helps me know there is power in saying ‘I can’t completely understand or empathize with you, but I support you nonetheless.’ This is how I try to approach others, and how I hope others will approach me. This approach lets me try to work with others to try to help others understand and break the common stereotypes of autistic people and others with invisible disabilities,” she added.

Understanding the importance of allyship alongside awareness

Although she values how Autism Awareness/Disability Employment Awareness creates a space to share the values of having neurodiverse employees, Kelsey believes awareness alone is not enough. That’s why our Oracle Diverse Abilities Network (ODAN) is pushing for Acceptance and Allyship this month as well. “I am happy to be part of a movement within Oracle that is making efforts to recognize and actively include autistic employees, so as to capitalize on our strengths,” Kelsey shares. “While stereotypes point to autistic people being male computer whizzes, there are autistic people of all gender identities well-suited for a variety of roles. For example, my strong memory and aptitude for pattern recognition helps me as a UX researcher.”

She attributes programs such as ODAN that look at autism in the workplace as central to making our company culture more inclusive to neurodivergent people—and her ability to feeling included and more energized within the work setting.

Empowering employees with diverse abilities

Kelsey says that diversity and inclusion is the responsibility of everyone in an organization, and while it may be a tough conversation to have, it’ll result in taking the steps needed to foster real change in the workplace. “Otherwise, we are just paying lip service. It is necessary to support organizations that actually elevate the voices of minorities and encourage representative persons to advocate for themselves. We also need to recognize that we aren’t going to agree on everything, and that’s ok. I was raised in an egalitarian household, where ‘because I said so’ was not considered an acceptable answer. Avoiding difficult discussions only leads to more discord and disagreements in the future,” she explained.

When asked to offer her own advice on how to effectively advocate for Autism and Disability Employment Awareness Kelsey said “It is especially key to understand and respect each other. Some companies have taken to having programs that pair a work ‘buddy’ with an autistic employee to show them the ropes. Such (well-intentioned) approaches could be viewed as highly paternalistic in set-up and tend to demean or infantilize the autistic worker. I would hope that companies can focus more on learning about communication styles and being more understanding of (and changing) the narrow social constructs that limit the neurodivergent employees’ potential for success. We could then more readily help autistic employees fit in and thrive by being inclusive, rather than trying to make them fit into a cookie-cutter style organizational model.”

Kelsey’s top principles for success

  1. Vulnerability - I believe that vulnerability is not weakness. Opening up to others allows a team to develop and strengthen each other. It allows a person to share parts of themselves that can contribute to the success of the organization by adding diversity.
  2. Trust (Believe in People) - If we trust one another we can all use our strengths to make a more productive and valuable organization.
  3. Communication - The ability to communicate clearly and understand each person’s varying styles helps garner success. For those people working with autistic employees or peers, a person should avoid nuanced social signals, which might be missed easily missed.
  4. Know Your Limits - It’s something I continue to struggle with, as a (relatively) newly diagnosed person. This is not to imply that you should stifle your endeavors, but instead that you should ask for help as needed.
  5. Be Yourself - In the autistic community, we struggle with internalized bias against our mannerisms and behaviors that are not considered socially acceptable, such as lack of eye contact, hand-flapping, and other forms of “stimming.” This leads to “masking” or camouflaging our natural regulatory behaviors in order to appear neurotypical. Masking is unhealthy and can lead to exhaustion, loss of identity, and autistic burnout, among other things. Masking takes energy and focus away from other endeavors, including work, so I have made it a personal goal to mask as little as possible. So far, coworkers have been patient, receptive, and understanding.

Neurodiverse people are problem-solvers, creators, communicators, and leaders. At Oracle, we embrace the diverse abilities our employees have by offering strong support and uplifting their voices. Do you want to join our team? Explore the career opportunities at Oracle.

 

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