How I Got Workplace Accommodations to Succeed With a Disability
I recently read a wonderful article by a young woman, Jen Starzec, who is a fellow contributor at The Mighty. She discussed how one of her fears about moving on in the world with a disability is getting a job. I myself feared the same things. She addressed several concerns I had as well. I could hear her saying all the things I had once said.
“How will they deal with me getting sick, doctors’ appointments and therapy?”
“Will I be able to do any job at all?”
“Will I be accepted by my peers and co-workers?”
I remembered my 19-year-old self crying about these same fears to anyone who would listen. Nobody really had words to assuage my fears. What I really needed was some coaching — and a lot of trial and error.
When I was looking for a job, the first thing I did was look for a job I would fit, not a job that would fit me. My mistake was always putting the job before my needs, health, abilities, disabilities and life. According to the Social Security Administration, I have had over 60 jobs in my life and I’m 29! Many of these I lost, some I tried and never came back to. My 60 different failures taught me that I was good at getting a job, yet the jobs were always really bad — bad for me, my disabilities, my health and life.
I was working from an “ableist” mindset that if I didn’t have a job, I was worthless. I had two degrees, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, and I couldn’t stay employed. Every time I would get a job people would ask, “Why do you work here? You have a Master’s degree.” That hurt me so much I just wanted to learn, be around people and advance my social skills. But the frustration would mount, symptoms of disabilities would get worse and eventually the job would go.
It took me a very long time to figure out what I can and can’t do. But I also started to look for a job that would fit me! Fit my disabilities and what I could provide to the company. I also looked at what they could do for me. I need a simple and repetitive job that is part time. I also needed health insurance badly. Eventually, I was able to find a job that could meet all of those needs. What I didn’t expect was that my disabilities could cause problems even when I thought all my needs would be met by the “perfect” job. I needed accommodations — the dreaded word when it comes to disabled job seekers.
I have always self-identified when applying for jobs, but I was often too scared to ask for accommodations, so eventually the job went bad. I have asked for accommodations from other employers and it didn’t go well. This time, I wrote out what I needed in a letter and sent it directly to the HR office. The HR office forwarded it along to my supervisor, where we all made a plan for my success. That’s really what job accommodations are — a plan for success. I didn’t know what accommodations I needed going in, but once I found out what I would need, I communicated those needs in writing.
I just got promoted a week a ago. My first promotion in my life! I love the company I work for — UPS. “What can brown do for you?” They gave me hope. They have a great commitment to people, individuals with disabilities, minorities and women. I work for a great team that is there to support me. I feel welcome and accepted. I’ve also communicated that my dream job there is to recruit individuals like myself who have disabilities and help them find a place in our working family.
As a job seeker with a disability, I had to look for the right job for me, not just the first one that gave me an offer. I also had to communicate my needs to my employer. I needed to take responsibility, so I did. It has worked out better than I could have ever hoped — and I believe it can for you, too.
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Thinkstock image by Wavebreak Media.