A Tourettes-afflicted Drupal Developer's Inclusive Journey: Mathieu De Meue

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Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

Individuals living with Tourette's often experience tics, involuntary actions they can't control. Yet isn't it wonderful when we don't let things out of our control limit us?

In a candid conversation with Elma John, sub-editor at TheDropTimes [TDT], Mathieu De Meue, a remarkable individual and a developer with Tourette's Syndrome, provides insights into his roles as a Drupal Developer at Calibrate and a Freelance Full Stack Developer at Smashing Impact.

Mathieu's story is a testament to the power of inclusivity and its positive impact on the workplace and, by extension, the tech industry as a whole.

Mathieu's professional journey is a unique blend of two roles. At Calibrate, part of the Cronos Group, he serves as a Drupal Support Developer. His work at Calibrate offers a glimpse into the world of Drupal, which he's deeply passionate about.

In his spare time, Mathieu operates his one-person venture, Smashing Impact. Here, he builds websites for smaller clients, a pursuit that not only broadens his skillset but also enables him to explore other technologies like ReactJS. Mathieu's journey is a testament to his dedication to continuous learning and self-improvement.

Mathieu De Meue
Mathieu De Meue

I interned at a Drupal company and fell in love with the Drupal project and how the open-source community was built around it. After successfully ending my internship, I got a job offer at Calibrate, so this is my first job. When I applied, I immediately told the person who interviewed me I had Tourette's syndrome.

We went from one call to a meeting in real life at the office, and they told me that if I started with the job, they would care for my Tourettes while I was onboarding. Before my first day at work, my boss told all my co-workers that I had Tourettes, and nobody gave me a strange look or made a big deal about it. Also, everyone in the office wears noise-cancelling headphones, so my vocal tics aren’t a big problem.

In his role as a customer success developer, Mathieu often interacts with clients, including meetings over the phone. Before these meetings, he emails clients to inform them about his condition and the possibility of vocal tics or other involuntary movements. This approach has succeeded, as every client has shown understanding and cooperation.

One thing I can say is that communication is vital. There will always be a solution for ongoing problems, and communicating can solve these problems. If I have to give some examples, I always wear my noise-cancelling headphones when there is a lot of noise in the office. A lot of noise and a busy place can trigger my tics, so I can zone myself out for a moment while wearing my headphones and listening to piano music or a podcast.

When Mathieu experienced high-frequency tics, particularly the vocal ones that had the potential to disrupt his co-workers, he initiated a constructive conversation with his boss. Together, they agreed to allow Mathieu to leave for lunch and work from home in the afternoons when necessary. Although not needed frequently, this arrangement showcased the supportive and considerate nature of his workplace, benefiting both Mathieu and the company. He also mentions thoughtful gestures from his co-workers that reinforced the sense of mutual support and camaraderie within the workplace.

Reflecting on his experiences, Mathieu emphasizes that workplace dynamics can vary widely, but effective communication is universally vital. It is through open and honest communication that challenges can be addressed, and solutions can be collaboratively devised, creating a more inclusive and accommodating work environment for everyone.

In creating a truly inclusive workplace, open and honest communication is the cornerstone of this endeavour. Encouraging employees to express their concerns and expectations from the outset establishes a foundation of trust and understanding. Additionally, recognizing and accommodating unique needs and challenges individuals face is essential. Minor, thoughtful adjustments, such as providing noise-canceling headphones, can have a profound impact. Flexibility in finding solutions that benefit both the employee and the company exemplifies a commitment to inclusivity. Finally, promoting effective health management, including sharing tips and advice within the workplace, nurtures a culture of mutual support, fostering an environment where every team member can thrive.

Mathieu's journey also reflects the broader efforts of the Drupal community in enhancing accessibility in web development. Web accessibility (often referred to as A11y) is vital to making digital spaces welcoming and usable for everyone, including those with disabilities. The Drupal community's ongoing work improving accessibility contributes to a more inclusive digital world.

Overall, Mathieu De Meue's story is a powerful testament to the transformative potential of inclusivity. His experiences offer practical guidance for tech companies looking to create more welcoming workplaces.

I think the web should be accessible to everyone, and many digital agencies are working on progression around this field. As I said, I think it’s important to communicate with everyone in the company and tell them your concerns and expectations from the start. These expectations don’t have to be groundbreaking, but helpful things like 'telling co-workers about your disorder before your first day' and 'finding solutions based on your personal needs' were essential in my case. And I hope one day, the web- and IT industry can be all-inclusive for everyone!

In his engaging session at DrupalCon Lille titled "Breaking Barriers: My Inclusive Fairytale as a Tourettes-afflicted Drupal Developer," Mathieu De Meue will take you on a personal journey of resilience and inclusion. As a developer with Tourette's Syndrome, Mathieu will share his experiences overcoming doubts and fears to find a supportive community within the tech industry, particularly in the Drupal community.

Disclaimer: The information provided about the interviewee has been gathered from publicly available resources. The responsibility for the responses shared in the interview solely rests with the featured individual.

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