If You're Expecting Another "Meeting that Could Have Been an Email" Story, You're Going to be Disappointed!
In a surprising turn of events during a recent meeting with a client, CEO and IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) leader, Jessica Purdy, left her client in stitches when she faceplanted on her desk. While this may sound like just another humorous workplace mishap, it carries a deeper message about accessibility, accommodation, and the way we interact with one another.
While it's easy to chuckle at the image of someone faceplanting on their desk, let's take a moment to reflect on the broader implications. Accessibility and accommodation are often
associated with physical tools and resources, but they are also deeply rooted in the way we interact with others. Jessica's unexpected moment of gravity-defying comedy reminds us that the inclusion of people with disabilities is not limited to wheelchair ramps or screen readers – it encompasses the way we engage and support one another in the workplace.
In actuality the client did not laugh because Jessica could feel the episode begin and managed to turn her camera off before her body caused her to faceplant. While she does lead with openness and vulnerability, she is also mindful of how her movement disorder can cause disruption and concern.
What Actually Happened
Jessica: Life is interesting, especially when living in a body with a mind of its own. Earlier today, during a client meeting, I had to turn off my camera and microphone for a few minutes. You know I never do that!
Synder: Why? What happened?!?!?!
Jessica: Well, throughout the day, I’ve been struggling with tight and painful muscles in my upper back, right shoulder, and neck, causing me to lean to the right. Most people probably thought I was casually leaning on the desk but in reality, I was struggling to maintain my posture. Anyway, as the meeting progressed, the muscle tightness intensified, pulling me further down and forward. Before it became apparent to the client, I turned off my camera and mic.
Suddenly I found myself face down on my desk, fighting to prevent the pain from overwhelming me. Fortunately, it only lasted a few minutes. It really caught me by surprise. I’ve never experienced this kind of posture related body movement before. Normally I am just twitchy and jerky or struggle to get moving.
What It Felt Like
Synder: How did you feel about this happening in front of a client?
Jessica: I'm glad it was a virtual meeting not an in person one. I wouldn’t have enjoyed people seeing me in that position - Well considering the people meeting in the office across from mine could see into my office, more people seeing me like that. It’s awfully embarrassing when I have an episode that noticeable, but to be seen face down on my own desk contorted and in pain?!?!?!
Synder: Well, if it’s that embarrassing, why talk about it?
Jessica: I share stories like this not to seek sympathy, but rather to normalize such experiences. But I think what you are trying to ask is why talk about now when I didn’t want people to see me like that when it was happening. And to answer that question, because situations like these can make others uncomfortable. People can be judgmental or unsure how to respond. And that's why we need to normalize conversations like this and also why I don't like people witnessing an episode like that.
How To Respond
Synder: How should they respond in a situation like that?
Jessica: That depends. In that moment, there wasn't much anyone could have done. However, had they seen me, I can imagine they’d have asked, "What's wrong?" "Are you alright?" or "Do you need help?" I hear these questions a lot when my movement disorder is noticeably impactful. While these inquiries are well-intentioned, they don't necessarily accomplish much. Instead, perhaps asking, "Would you like us to pause the meeting for a few minutes?" or "Can someone share their notes with Jessi afterward, so she has a copy of anything she couldn't write down?" would have been useful ways to acknowledge the situation without causing me further embarrassment.
Accessibility and Accommodation Isn’t Just About Tools and Resources
We have an opportunity to redefine accessibility. It's not solely about offering tools and resources; we need to be intentional about fostering an environment where everyone feels valued and understood. My concerns about how the client might react to me faceplanting on my desk highlights the importance of creating spaces where people with disabilities can exist authentically, without fear of judgment or exclusion.
When we consider accessibility as a holistic concept, it empowers us to challenge traditional norms and find innovative solutions. My unexpected faceplant can serve as a poignant reminder that accessibility and accommodation go beyond mere tools and resources. It's about fostering an inclusive culture that values every individual's unique needs and experiences. The incident also raises awareness about the need for open communication and flexibility within organizations.
Sometimes, a small adjustment in our approach to work can make a significant difference for someone else.
I try to embrace vulnerability in authentic ways that allows people to see me as a real person, not just a public face that masks the realities of my life. By embracing vulnerability, open communication, and a touch of humor, we can create workplaces where everyone feels seen, heard, and supported. I want to encourage everyone to embrace their own imperfections and work together to create an environment of empathy and understanding. So, let's use the story of my faceplant as a opportunity to have honest conversations about accessibility and reflect on how we can make our workplaces more accessible and accommodating for all.