Hello, folks! I’m pleased to introduce myself and Cloudflare’s newest Employee Resource Group (ERG), Flarability, to the world. The 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which happens to fall during Cloudflare’s Impact Week, is an ideal time to raise the subject of accessibility at Cloudflare and around the world.

There are multiple accessibility-related projects and programs at Cloudflare, including office space accessibility and website and product accessibility programs, some of which we will highlight in the stories below. I wanted to share my accessibility story and the story of the birth  and growth of our accessibility community with you.

About Flarability

Flarability began with a conversation between a couple of colleagues, almost two years ago. Some of us had noticed some things about the workspace that weren't as inclusive of people with disabilities as they could have been. For example, the open floor plan in our San Francisco office, as well as the positioning of our interview rooms, made it difficult for some to concentrate in the space. To kick off a community discussion, we formed a chat room, spread the word about our existence, and started hosting some meetings for interested employees and our allies. After a short time, we were talking about what to name our group, what our mission should be, and what kind of logo image would best represent our group.  

Our Mission: We curate and share resources about disabilities, provide a community space for those with disabilities and our allies to find support and thrive, and encourage and guide Cloudflare’s accessibility programs.

An example of how we have worked with the company was a recent Places Team consultation. As we redevelop our offices and workspaces for a return to what we are calling “back to better”, our Places Team wanted to be sure the way we design our future offices is as inclusive and accessible as possible. You may read more about how we have partnered with the Places Team in Nicole’s story below.

About the Disability Community

There is a lot of diversity amongst disabled people as there are many types of physical or mental impairments. Flarability includes employees with many of them. Some of us have intellectual disabilities such as autism and depression. Some of us have physical disabilities such as deafness and blindness. Several of us are not “out” about our disabilities and that’s definitely okay. The idea of our community is to provide a space for people to feel they can express themselves and feel comfortable. Historically, people with disabilities have been marginalized, even institutionalized. These days, there is much more awareness about and acceptance of disabilities, but there is a lot more work to be done. We are honored to take a central role in that work at Cloudflare.

Stories from Flarability

I am not the only person with a disability at Cloudflare or who works to make Cloudflare more accessible to those with disabilities. We are proud to have many people with disabilities working at our company and I wanted to enable some key individuals with disabilities and supportive team members to share their experiences and stories.

What does accessibility mean to you?

Watson: “Accessibility means integration, having the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in society. My disability was seen as shameful and limiting, and it was only a few years before I started elementary school that New Jersey integrated children with disabilities into the classroom, ensuring that they received an adequate education. Growing up I was taught to hide who I was, and it's thanks to the self-advocacy that I am now proudly autistic.”

Do you have a story to share about how workplace accessibility initiatives have impacted you?

Nicole: “Workplace accessibility is one of the top priorities of Cloudflare's Places Team while we design and build our future office spaces. Feedback from our teammates in all our offices has always been a collaborative experience at Cloudflare. In previous years when opening a new office, the Places Team would crowdsource feedback from the company to adjust, or repair office features. Today, the Places Team involves a sync with Flarability leaders in the office design/construction process to discuss feedback and requests from coworkers with accessibility needs.

We also have an ergonomics and work accommodations program to ensure each of our teammates is sorted with workplace equipment that fits their individual needs.

Lastly, we want to provide multiple outlets for our teams to advocate for change. The Places Team hosts an internal anonymous feedback form, available to any teammate who feels comfortable submitting requests in a safe space.”

Why is accessibility advocacy important?

Janae: “Accessibility is important in the workplace. However, when people are not advocating for themselves, accessibility initiatives might not be leveraged to their fullest extent. When you don't communicate what is holding you back from being more productive, you are doing a disservice to the company, but most importantly you. Perhaps you work more efficiently with fewer distractions, yet your boss has assigned you a desk that is right next to a noisy area of the office. What would happen if you asked them for a different workspace? For example, I am hard of hearing. As an outsider, you may not notice, as I appear to be able to carry on a verbal, face-to-face conversation with ease. In reality, I am lip reading, attempting to filter ambient noise, and watching others’ body/facial movements to fully understand what is going on. I work best when in quieter, less distracting environments. However, I am able to work in loud, distracting environments, too; I am just not able to perform at my best in this kind of environment.

Lastly, I’d like to highlight that one day I was casually chatting with a co-worker about my struggles and a company co-founder overheard me. They offered to support me in any and all ways possible. The noisy, distracting office space I had was changed to a workspace in a corner, where less foot traffic and cross conversations happened. This simple adjustment and small deed that our co-founder acted on inspired me to help start Flarability. I want all employees to feel they can advocate for themselves and if they are not comfortable enough to do so, then to know that there are people who are willing and able to help them.”

What’s next for our group?

We are looking forward to growing our Flarability membership, globally. We have already come a long way in our brief history, but we have many more employees to reach and support, company initiatives to advise, and future employees to recruit.

Thank you for reading our personal stories and the story of Flarability. I encourage all of you who are reading this to do some more reading about accessibility and find at least one way to support people with disabilities in your own community.

We would also love to connect with accessibility ERG leaders from other companies. If you’re reading this and are interested in collaborating, please hit me up at [email protected].