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How AppianAbility is Making Work Inclusive and Accessible for People with Disabilities

Appian App Icon Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan and Emily Lee


AppianAbility is building a community around support, advocacy, and education for those with physical disabilities or neurodiversities, their families and caregivers, and allies at Appian.

Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan and Emily Lee shared their personal stories of why the Affinity Group is important to them, how they’ve seen the group’s impact, and what accessibility and equity means to them. 

Headshot of Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan, wearing a white blouse and with a blurred background at the McLean HQ office.

Meet Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan.

  • Talent Development Coordinator 
  • Based in Washington, DC

I have a disability that is very visible, where I walk into a room and you can immediately tell that I'm a little person.

In the past, I hadn’t told people what accommodations I needed, because I hadn’t been in the kind of environment where I felt comfortable saying, “This is what I need in order to bring my best self to work”. It’s one thing for companies to say they’re inclusive and equitable, but very different to actually practice it in action. 

Coming to Appian, in comparison, was a breath of fresh air. At the outset of my interview process, I mentioned my interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The interview team was transparent about the fact that while Appian does have a number of current initiatives and programs in place, DEI is still an area of opportunity, and emphasized Appian’s openness to hearing and implementing ideas from new joiners and current employees alike. Since having joined, it’s been refreshing to be able to speak comfortably about my disability, and people have listened. Through AppianAbility, we’re having more of these important conversations about accessibility and equity for every employee. 

In my role as a Talent Development Coordinator at Appian, I lead new hire orientation and I talk about the importance of Affinity Groups in building our community culture. Since AppianAbility was created,we’re seeing more and more people feel comfortable speaking up and talking about how we can do things differently here at Appian. Witnessing this new level of comfort among our employees in itself has an incredible impact with respect to how we advocate for our people and empower them to share ideas about what they require to be successful in the workplace. 

The feeling of an environment where you can ask for accommodations.

It can be hard to ask for accommodations or what you need when you don’t feel like you’re in an open environment to do so. Having a group like AppianAbility offers people with disabilities and their caregivers the space to come together and not only help create but also foster that type of environment where we can get the assistance we need to do our best work.

At Appian, I feel confident about submitting accommodation requests -- all of which have been acted upon quickly. I’ve submitted accommodation requests that have allowed me to benefit the same as my peers when it comes to navigating our facilities. 

An example that comes to mind is when free food is offered in our HQ office kitchens in McLean, VA. Most countertops in our office are higher than I am capable of reaching, therefore the food wasn’t accessible to me, and in those instances, employees were always helpful in getting something for me. Fast forward to the present day: we now have clearly labeled stepping stools available on all floors in the kitchens to assist with access to cabinets, coffee machines, and water stations so that everyone knows where the stools need to stay.  

Having the ability to use a stepping stool has been a helpful game-changer for me; I now can get that free food the same as everybody else, just with a little more assistance to do the same thing.

Hosting Zach Shattuck, Paralympian swimmer and bronze medalist.

In our AppianAbility discussions around potential speakers and advocates for accessibility, it was a pipedream of ours to bring in a Paralympian speaker. We thought, how cool would that be?

Outside of work, I’m part of a national organization called the Little People of America, an organization made of people with dwarfism and their families. I consulted my networks and discovered a connection to Zach Shattuck, US Paralympian Swimmer and 2021 Tokyo Bronze medal winner, so he came in to speak to our McLean HQ office this past summer at an event in partnership with AppianRise! We also hosted a virtual event with Paralympian Silver and Bronze Medalist in Swimming, Sophia Herzog Gibb, in partnership with AppianRise and AppianWomen, with watch parties across our global offices. 

 From left to right: Lakshmi, Paralympian Swimmer Zach Shattuck, chair of AppianAbility Mandi Kelly, and chair of AppianRise Alex Yu, in one of the Appian HQ conference rooms.

Zach Shattuck, Paralympian swimmer and bronze medalist came to speak at our office.

For those who have heard incredible success stories like Zach’s and Sophia's: I think you slowly see the gears turning in people's heads when they hear about what similarly-abled people can achieve within a really supportive environment. It was a great experience to host others who are a part of my community, and I love the idea that doing so increased perspectives and expectations for what people with varying disabilities are capable of. 

Months after Zach came to speak with us, I still hear people talking about the event – it was that impactful. Hearing Zach’s story encouraged a lot of new perspectives, and helped people start thinking not only about what accessibility actually means, but also more about what members of this demographic are capable of. It sparked conversation about how personal and professional communities alike can best equip them with the tools that they need to continue going above and beyond. 

Headshot of Emily Lee, wearing a black blouse with a blurred background.

Meet Emily Lee. 

  • Lead Solution Engineer
  • Based in Sydney, Australia 

Disability awareness has always been important to me as someone who has epilepsy, and has grown up with a father who had a physical disability. Therefore, the idea of how to make workplaces safer was always something in the back of my mind. I’d never worked at a company that had a group like AppianAbility so when I joined Appian I knew I wanted to get involved. 

A few programs I’m most proud of with AppianAbility include facilitating a test run of a Disability Awareness program to educate all people managers in my department about disabilities in the workplace, as well as offering First Aid Training. 

First Aid Training at the Sydney office. 

My favorite event with AppianAbility was our First Aid Training last year where 12 of us completed our First Aid Certification with St John Ambulance. 

Some AppianAbility members at our office in Sydney, Australia, where four people are holding white bags with a red logo that says “St. John”.

Some AppianAbility members at our office in Sydney, Australia for the First Aid Training.

I haven’t had a seizure in the past two years since joining Appian, but I did share my experience about having epilepsy early on. I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to take the first aid training and now I know if something happens or someone else needs help at the office, there’s a group of people who are more equipped to help. It felt so supportive.

My manager is also very understanding and supportive of my work with AppianAbility. If I need to, I can take breaks during the day without feeling guilty or signing off early.

Give back with Affinity Groups. 

In addition to being part of AppianAbility, I’m a member of a few other Affinity Groups as well. Being part of one or more Affinity Groups is a great way to meet people across teams around the world and to give back to the community. Here in Sydney, AppianAbility has hosted a few social events and fundraisers where we raised and donated money to the Epilepsy Foundation Australia, which was especially personal for me. I participated in the Walk for Epilepsy last year as well. 

AppianAbility is not a group solely for people with disabilities; it’s a community for allies, too. More generally, the Appian Affinity Groups are a unique opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise through your work and contribute to the inclusive community we’re building at Appian.

Learn more about one of our other Affinity Groups, AppianPride, and how they’re creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ community members and allies. 

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Written by

Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan and Emily Lee

Lakshmi Shyamakrishnan is a Talent Development Coordinator at Appian. Emily Lee is a Lead Solution Engineer at Appian.