I recently applied for a teaching aide position at a school for special education. The process was relatively smooth-sailing, since I had a friend who was working there – not only was she my character reference but also my middleman in making enquiries about the school, job scope and application process. The decision to enter special education wasn’t difficult, having had volunteer experiences in interacting with this community via my church’s ministry. It was with a certain level of confidence that I breezed through my applications, until I encountered the section where I had to make my declarations.
“Have you ever suffered, or are suffering from any medical condition, illness, disease or physical impairment?”
I stared at that statement, heart skipping a beat – I’ve written before about my experiences with congenital hydrocephalus. This would be the first time I’d faced the decision of having to make this declaration, with full understanding of its medical implications. I never found myself declaring this on prior occasion because while I was aware of how hydrocephalus had manifested in my life, I had only recently discovered it was a medical condition with documented statistics. Prior to this, while I had some understanding of the mechanics of this condition, I always assumed it was a perinatal fluke. Thus, the lack of declaration was less a decision to “hide my flaws,” and more because I didn’t realize it was a medical condition to be declared.
This may surprise you, but I was keen, and – dare I say it – excited to make this declaration. I knew in doing so I was opening myself up to potential blatant and undeserved discrimination, but I figured should it happen, that would have said volumes more about the organization I was applying for, than my own abilities. In no order, here’s the reasons behind my peculiar enthusiasm:
1. Academic criteria and volunteer portfolio
I had met the academic requirements as stated on the webpage that detailed the criteria for application. There had been no mention I would be required to do any extreme physical activity, where having hydrocephalus would put me at significant disadvantage – such as competitive sports. To my best knowledge of the application criteria, I had more than met the requirements. Furthermore, my experiences of volunteering for my special needs church ministry would have been indicative of my exposure in interacting with this community. Although unspoken, part of me wanted to declare this due to a fierce resolve to prove in spite of congenital hydrocephalus, I can, if given sufficient understanding and opportunity, be as capable as my peers without it.
2. My maiden opportunity at this declaration
The journey of realizing hydrocephalus was a documented medical condition had been like putting together parts of a detective mystery. My well-intentioned parents had kept this from me since childhood – they still have yet to approach me on this – failing to realize not having age-appropriate words to describe this condition was emotionally detrimental to my childhood because I had many experiences of feeling inadequately less-than.
Hence, having the opportunity and autonomy to make this medical declaration was oddly empowering – I could finally take a stand to disclose as much or as little about the condition as I deemed fit, without a third party making such decisions for me. Weird as it sounds, I think it’s something one has to experience to understand how it feels.
3. For understanding – to minimize speculation
In various parts of my life, strangely more in adulthood, I have had people try to speculate what might be “wrong” with me or the condition I might be coping with. While I empathize with the awkwardness they might face when encountering my physical limitations, I didn’t, and still don’t think, it is nice for people to make speculations on matters they don’t know.
At the school where I previously taught, I once overheard a conversation where a colleague described me to another as “the one who limps.” On another occasion, a different colleague made snarky remarks on how, because of the way I walked, she was “concerned” I would be “victimized” by one of the meaner students we both taught. In honesty, I felt that comment was poorly veiled false empathy because she seemed to harp more on how I was different, than why she was concerned for me.
It was hence a natural decision to put forth a declaration to the relevant authorities – so the people for whom this information is essential, can make appropriate decisions about my job scope. It would also be beneficial to have someone at work know the truth of my condition, rather than to have everyone speculate about things they were unfamiliar with.
Having calculated the risks, I made the declaration for my congenital hydrocephalus, complete with the medical insurance letter to validate coverage for it.
While I maintain such decisions should be made with extreme caution, I think in this case it worked out to my advantage. My interviewer, the school principal, said she appreciated my upfront honesty on the matter. With this knowledge, she would be keen to place me in areas of aesthetics involvement, rather than sports co-curricular activities.
I have yet to receive a confirmed offer for the job, in part owing to the relevant paperwork and administrative matters relating to my previous work in mainstream education. Watch this space for updates!
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