To observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we invited Indiana state government employees with disabilities to provide their perspectives on being disabled in the workplace and share stories and experiences from their careers and professional lives. We hope these handful of anecdotes will help lend visibility to the importance of accessible, inclusive, and diverse work environments in state government and beyond.
What do you think are the most common misconceptions about disability and employment?
Which are the most harmful?
What employment-related misconceptions about disability have you experienced firsthand?
I think one of the most common misconceptions about disability and employment is that a person with a disability could never be as productive in a role as an employee without a disability. I've experienced jobs that were not willing to keep me as an employee because they feared I wouldn't be able to handle the workload instead of supporting me in finding accommodations that would allow me to perform my role effectively. In my current role with the state, my accommodations fit seamlessly and I'm a valuable member of my team.
People think cognitive and learning disabilities mean "low-functioning." I have a master's degree. It was a struggle to earn it, but I did it. Also, the difference in the way people talk about autism compared to ADHD is stark. People treat ADHD as some sort of moral failing rather than something that could benefit from accommodations. I feel a lot of embarrassment about having disabilities and don't ask for accommodations for it.
One of many misconceptions is that if a disability cannot be physically seen that it is not a real disability, or when the impairment is intermittent instead of constant, it must not be real. Just recently, I was approached and reprimanded by a stranger that did not feel I should be parking in an accessible parking spot just because he could not see my disability that particular day.
What are some of the difficulties, challenges, and hardships you have experienced throughout your career as a person with a disability?
What cultural and structural changes need to occur in the workplace to prevent similar experiences from happening to others?
What advice would you give to other people with disabilities experiencing similar problems in their careers?
I have had to jump through so many hoops to obtain approval to park in a location that was more accessible for me, and I'm always afraid of my pass being taken away from me if they find someone that they feel needs it more. I feel like I have to violate my own HIPAA rights by overexplaining and disclosing information about my health and disability so others can understand what I experience enough to believe that I need accommodations.
I have learning disabilities and I'm hard of hearing. People seem eager to provide accommodations for my hearing, but not the learning disabilities. Written communication is difficult for me at times and I communicate best verbally, but my supervisors have not been willing to work with me.
My disability is invisible, and I think that invites judgement from people. Unless you have experienced chronic migraines yourself, you don't realize how debilitating they can be. Migraines aren't just headaches. I have had to fight over and over to get accommodations that allow me to do my job, like flexible hours and working remotely more than fifteen hours a week. That's all I want. Please just let me do my job.
What advice would you give colleagues, employers, managers, and administrators wanting to do more than the bare minimum to support the success of working professionals with disabilities?
What do you consider to be the bare minimum?
I consider the bare minimum to be respecting that accommodations for employees are a fact of life. For managers, actively learning about the disabilities of the employees they oversee and engaging with those employees about what effective support looks like to them is important. For colleagues, it's very important to remember that there are most likely visible and invisible disabilities in play in the office, and the only way to create a harmonious environment is to keep an open mind that everyone has different needs in order to be successful.
Don't treat us like we're trying to get away with something or trying to get out of doing work when we ask for accommodations. The reason I ask for accommodations is to allow me to do my job to the best of my ability. Respect that we work full-time on top of having a disability — we don't have the energy to fight battles for basic accommodations.
We need to have open conversations about accommodations and check in with people and ask about what they need in order to perform their jobs as comfortably as they can. Employ universal design principles in the workplace.