An open letter to companies who continue to accept emotional labour from their customers without changing their way of working
Recently I have been advocating for myself more in terms of accessibility and inclusivity, since learning I have ADHD and starting to explore the possibility I have Autism.
A little while ago I was emailing a company back and forth about an accessibility issue that was causing some problems for me with their product, a web app that I use for my business. They had been pretty good with a previous inclusivity issue I had raised with them, so I was hopeful they would be proactive with this too.
They were kind in their replies, telling me this wasn’t something they could change at the moment, and explained why. However, as someone with a background in web development I couldn’t help but be frustrated that they weren’t open to discussing possible work-arounds. They seemed to have firmly decided on their answer, and committed to the idea that their only course of action was to apologise for the inconvenience, and justify their position by repeatedly referencing the small size of their team.
The final sentence in the email I replied to from the “customer success manager”, whom my request had been “escalated” to read:
“Your dedication to inclusivity is amazing and I encourage you to keep advocating for yourself and others, but please do also consider the limitations of our small team as well.”
This sentence sums up the way that a lot of companies approach inclusivity and accessibility.
It’s not good enough.
In my reply I explained why their final sentence, whilst well intentioned, made me incredibly uncomfortable. The explanation I wrote sums up my feelings on advocating for myself in general, not just this specific situation.
I’m sharing it publicly in the hope it gives some others in positions of power an insight into why they may not be as inclusive as they think, and to encourage them to consider the impactful changes they could make.
As I referenced before, I have been impressed with your company with previous correspondence I’ve had with you. The impression I have gained from communicating with various members of the team previously is that you do all care, and, as you say, put heart into everything you do. I do however believe there is a difference between putting heart into everything you do, and being committed to making things better. The latter requires being open to the possibility of being wrong, and making changes to our understanding of the world.
The last sentence in your email reads uncomfortably to me in this regard. I may be misinterpreting — as can often be the way with the written word — however my feeling at this sentence is that you are saying that admire the fact that I — an individual queer, neurodivergent person — has given emotional labour to ‘advocate for myself’ in order to ask for the accessibility I need from a service I pay for, and that you encourage me to keep doing that (in addition to the inclusive approach I have to actually running my own businesses) — but that as a small company (of 16 employees, as your website states), it is not possible for your company to consider looking at how it could have a more intersectional approach to the work it does.
I would just like to share with you something personal about me ‘advocating for myself’. I hope it will give more context to my interpretation of your last sentence, and possibly an insight into why intersectionality is so incredibly important.
I have RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria) which is quite common for neurodivergent people. I learnt early on in my life, that speaking up about things that were seen as “the norm” but that were problematic for me resulted in my RSD being triggered — either because the person I spoke with told me to stop being silly, or that it wasn’t a big deal/that’s just how things are and I should just learn to cope with it, or that because of emotional dysregulation (another part of ADHD), I would get frustrated, and therefore speak in a way that was seen as me being angry, rude, blunt, or (possibly the worst one) uncooperative, and the other person would get defensive, and angry back at me. For me, this meant that from a young age, I became a people pleaser, as a way to avoid rejection or criticism of any kind, because the emotional pain I feel from this is so huge and difficult for me.
I was only diagnosed with ADHD last year, and the very fact that I have reached out about this issue, and am continuing this conversation is something that a lot of neurodivergent people would never even be able to do. The only reason I am is because of a lot of self exploration, personal growth, learning about systemic issues that I benefit from (white privilege for example), and having an incredible amount of emotional support from people that are close to me.
Therefore, when someone encourages me to advocate for myself, especially when they do it in a way that indicates they are not fully engaging with what I am saying, I feel that they are not understanding the fact that it is not as easy for me to do that as it sounds to them.
By its very design, society is ableist. This means that speaking up and advocating for myself, involves me putting myself in harm’s way. This has been proven time and time again — and in current society more than ever — activists receive a huge amount of hate for speaking out about injustices in the world, and asking for changes. Most of the time, activists are speaking up about these issues because they affect them directly, meaning when they get hate sent to them about what they are saying/doing, they are receiving hate directed at them.
This holds true for all marginalised communities. Speaking up — advocating for themselves — and pointing out changes that need to be made when they come across things that cause them and their community difficulty and harm, means having to make the choice to actively put themselves in a potentially harmful situation, and often take action that may impact their lives negatively in big ways.
I tell you these things not to elicit sympathy or special treatment, nor to lecture, but in the hope it gives you an insight into why inclusivity and accessibility is so important, and why I am so passionate about it.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
It took me nearly four months to be able to reply to their email. I’m proud that I did — a year ago I wouldn’t have been able to reply at all.
It’s been over two months since, and unfortunately I’ve not heard back from them.
I wish I was surprised.