Why I'm Thankful I Asked for Disability Accommodations at Work
No one likes having difficult conversations. They’re all around stressful — from preparing beforehand to actually having the conversation, and then processing what was said after the fact. I tend to avoid confrontation if possible. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable (who does?) and tend to over-analyze everything. I worry about saying the right thing as well as not hurting anyone’s feelings. Sometimes though, these conversations are necessary. In fact, they can actually lead to an improvement in whatever situation you are discussing. Therefore, while it was incredibly difficult, I am thankful for the experience I had last fall when I talked with my supervisor about adjusting my assigned work duties.
Over the last year and a half I have had a harder time balancing my health issues and work responsibilities. Without going into too much detail, I was trying to do too much and the tasks didn’t make sense because they required skills I wasn’t very proficient and/or efficient in completing. They were tasks that required both fine and gross motor skills. I could technically do them, but it was difficult and time consuming.
I felt a lot of pressure (mostly that I put on myself) to make sure everything was absolutely perfect. When this didn’t happen, I became very stressed and felt as if I was completely and 100 percent ruining the project. I’ll admit that some things were my fault. I know I’m not perfect (no one is). But, I always tried my best. The issues that arose were often related to the fact that the tasks I was doing were more difficult for me (as opposed to a peer) specifically because of my disability.
After months of trying my best but having difficulty off and on, I decided I wanted to talk with my supervisor about adjusting my work responsibilities. By this point it felt like everything was falling apart. I felt like I was failing at my job. I was stressed and upset about “ruining everything.” There were other things within the project that I felt matched my “skill set” and abilities more closely. I basically wanted to switch tasks with one of my co-workers. I felt like this person would be better suited to do what I was currently doing. More efficient. More reliable in terms of being able to physically come into the office to handle time-sensitive matters. Being able to make special trips to the post office. Things like that. On the flip side, I would be doing more computer and phone-based tasks. I felt like these would be a much better match for my interests and abilities.
The very day I had been planning to ask to meet with her, she asked to meet with me. Her initiating the meeting made me more nervous and threw my confidence a bit. I should mention that my supervisor has been very accommodating since the day I first interviewed with her. She has always been flexible with both my schedule and where I work (home vs. office). The key thing is trust. She trusts me to do what I need to do in order to get my work done. That’s huge. She has been an amazing advocate for ensuring my work area as well as the general office area is accessible. I’m so very thankful for the support she’s given me. This in turn makes me want to work even harder in order to succeed. Therefore, I knew that no matter what, she would absolutely treat me with respect and want to work with me to find a solution that worked for everyone. I was still intimidated, though.
The conversation started off with her asking about how I was feeling. She knew I was having trouble managing a variety of symptoms and was genuinely concerned. We then talked about how I thought I was doing in terms of my job responsibilities. It was hard to talk about how I felt like I was struggling… It was hard to go over how my disability literally affected how well I could do my various tasks. There were times where I wanted to start crying or fall apart. All my frustration from the previous months came to the surface. I was able to keep it together during the meeting (made it until afterwards to cry in my office). During the meeting I remained calm and didn’t become defensive.
Overall it was a good conversation, because I was able to talk with my supervisor about how I wanted to adjust what I was doing. She was very responsive to what I said. She talked about how she wasn’t aware of how I was struggling and that sometimes she forgets I do have limitations (low vision, fine/gross motor skills etc). I think this is because I try so hard to do what needs to be done.
I think this conversation was a really good professional growth experience. It allowed me to practice effective communication skills. I learned the importance of being honest with myself and knowing when to ask for help. The conversation was hard, but I am thankful we had it. Without having this open and honest conversation, nothing would have changed. I wouldn’t be happier in my job. My responsibilities would not have changed to be more in line with my skills and abilities. I feel like I am succeeding, or at the very least, making a positive impact within the team and the research project itself. I am thankful for the opportunity to work within the team. I still have some difficulty balancing my health and work responsibilities, but things are improving.
The lesson I learned from that day is to speak up sooner; when things seem overwhelming, speaking up and asking for help can lead to actions being taken that ultimately improve your situation.
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Thinkstock photo by Spyder Skidoo.