In June I started a summer job. It’s not a particularly high paying job, but it’s the highest paying I’ve ever had. It’s also one of the most accessible jobs I’ve ever had. It’s only a part time summer job, but being in an accessible work environment has changed a lot for me as a disabled creator.
I’ve worked in jobs that offered accommodations before; it’s not that I’ve never been accommodated. But in the jobs that I’ve had, they haven’t taken accessibility as seriously as they could have. While abiding by legal requirements to be accommodating, that didn’t make the jobs themselves accessible.
When I first applied for the position, I was a little hesitant. It was 30 hours a week and the last time I was out of my house for that many hours a week, my health quickly deteriorated. I would be throwing up from pain induced nausea at least once a week, and was often calling in sick. The first thing that I asked about working there was the options for remote work.
Now I’ve done remote work before, and remote work on its own is not really enough. I worked in one position prior to this that offered remote work that wasn’t freelance. But at that job, the expectations for how my work hours should be spent were very unrealistic. All of our hours had to be logged, and every time we worked in office together, it was made very clear that if you started to chat in the office too long, or if you went to the bathroom, you weren’t supposed to log those hours.
As someone with chronic pain and ADHD, that made life very difficult. It increased my anxiety when I was at home. I’d always get my work done, but if I couldn’t focus on the task immediately, I felt as though I couldn’t start logging my hours. I wasted so many hours that I didn’t get paid for pacing my hallway thinking about how I wanted to get my work done, but wasn’t considered actually working.
When I began this summer job, I came in with the same mentality. But at this workplace, they weren’t counting my breaks or logging my hours. We sat down for meetings and discussed goals and expectations every week. If I needed to sit back from my work because I was feeling overwhelmed, I wasn’t scolded for making small talk.
So when I would work at home, I knew that as long as I was trying to get work done, I didn’t have to feel as though I was wasting hours or conning my boss. And with that, my work ethic improved greatly. Instead of pacing for hours before I could sit down and focus on a task, I’m actually able to ease into my work.
So I actually benefit from saving myself the effort of a commute. I’m not stressing myself out more when I get up from my computer to get pain medication or to stretch when I start feeling more pain. And being able to work from home on days where pain would have kept me inside anyways, I have yet to take off any scheduled work days.
What also helped was that I didn’t need to carry around my computer in order to come into work when needed. I was provided with a computer to work with in the office, so all I have to bring into work is myself, my notebook, and my coffee. Even with a relatively light computer, carrying around my computer meant that I would either be in so much pain by the time I got to the office that I would make sloppy mistakes. Or I had to use a rolling bag to get around. Except, when one hand already has a cane, and you want to carry a coffee, and you got to drag a bag around behind you all day, it makes your commute even more complicated.
Before starting this job, I was starting to believe that I’d never be able to work again. I was starting to believe that my body would hold me back from a life of financial stability or independence. I would always be struggling to survive because I’d never last in a job that might actually pay the bills. But now I know that with the right accommodations and the right management, I can accomplish a lot of good quality work.
A huge factor in what made this workplace more accessible than the others was in fact management. My manager and the director were very open to accessibility concerns. When I mentioned that I might need to work more days from home, they even expressed how that could be beneficial for a small office.
On top of that, my manager regularly checks in with me. They don’t wait for me to come demanding accommodations. They check in with me and when I do have concerns, they work to come to a reasonable arrangement. I’ve never had to bring in a doctor’s note, I’ve never had to disclose my disability, and I’ve never had to argue with them on what would help me be my most productive. And there was a certain transparency. At no point did I feel like I was getting a diplomatic response while I was being discussed in closed door meetings.
I feel truly welcomed and valued at my job. At no point have I been made to feel like I’m not accomplishing enough. And it’s one of the few jobs where I feel like that. Even as we draw into the busiest time of the year for this non-profit, I don’t feel as if I’m not keeping up with the work. I still get overwhelmed, but I’ve been able to work through it on a daily basis.
For the first time in possibly ever, I feel capable. I don’t feel as though I have to make up for some deficit in my productivity. I’ve even been commended on the amount of work that I have been able to accomplish. It actually makes me want to keep doing the work.
I’m grateful that I get to be in this position. While it may not be a permanent arrangement, and I’ll be back looking for a workplace willing to be as accommodating in a few weeks, I’m grateful I got to experience it. Because now I know that it is our systems and the expectations we put on workers that keeps disabled people out of employment. It’s not that we can’t do the work, or that we don’t want to do the work, it’s that we are kept from being our best selves.
We have to stop holding all workers to unrealistic expectations. Especially when the pay doesn’t match the expectation. If we don’t, then we are never going to get the best from them or for them.