Actual things said to disabled people who asked for accommodations

Editor’s note: I originally posted this on LinkedIn as a part of recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Actual things said to friends and family (and me) who asked for accommodations for their disabilities at work:

“InfoSec locked down the screen resolution on the monitors. Can’t you just sit closer?” said to someone with moderate low vision who was struggling to read their screen. 

“If we give you a special chair we’d have to give everyone a special chair”, said to someone with two slipped disks in their back holding a doctor’s note. “Chairs are expensive.”

“Why should you get a different lamp than everyone else?” said to someone experiencing migraines from the fluorescent lamp over their desk who asked to have it shut off and replaced with a desk lamp. 

“I can hear the voice track just fine” said to someone with a hearing disability who asked to have an internal video captioned because they couldn’t hear the voice track over the background music.

“Nobody’s allow to bring their laptops into the meetings anymore because none of you people pay attention” said to someone with depression and brain fog who needed to write important points down to remember them. 

These statements are ablest and these kinds of attitudes are a big part of the reason why the Americans with Disabilities Act and its clauses regarding employment accommodation exist. 

Low vision, neurological disorders, auditory processing disorders, depression, brain fog: these are all invisible disabilities. They’re not disabilities because there’s something “wrong” with the people. Everyone is different. Sometimes bodies don’t behave according to spec. These are disabilities because the environment — physical or cultural — stops the people with these conditions from doing the same things that people without these conditions can do. 

An accommodation doesn’t always look like a wheelchair ramp or an ASL interpreter (though those are important accommodations!) Sometimes they look like booking the off-site at a place that doesn’t require everyone to go up a flight of steps. Sometimes they look like getting someone’s celiac-friendly lunch order right so they can eat with the team. Sometimes they look like turning down the office radio or giving everyone permission to use headphones. Sometimes they look like a corporate drug policy that allows medical marijuana so someone’s not in pain all day. 

Mostly, they look like listening to each other and going, “That situation sucks for you, so how can we fix it?”

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, look at your office or workplace and ask yourself, “If I interviewed the most brilliant and amazing person for a job here today, a total slam-dunk hire, but they needed an accommodation to work here, would I feel confident I could hire them?” And if the answer is no, fix that.

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