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For Disability Blog Carnival #59: Disability and Work:

Liz Henry tells us that October is Disability Employment Awareness Month in the United States. Who knew? I guess this is why my university's human resources newsletter this month has an article called "Accommodating Our Valuable Employees", all about the wonderful ways in which the human resources department jumps through hoops to adapt the environment for employees with disabilities. Someday I have to meet this department of which they write. </snark>

Anyway, I've written plenty on the frustrations of being a working person with disabilities, but I wanted to talk about some of the ways in which it's actually pretty awesome.

Although I think of myself as not very disabled, it's at work where I'm more disabled than almost anywhere else. I could do most of those infamous "activities of daily living" without help if I had too (since I don't think that Congress defines "open-source coding and checking my feeds" as an activity of daily living). But without adaptive technology, I would not have been able to hold a job for the last 10 years, full stop. Most of my friends have seen me type, but consistently and steadily enough to hold a job? No way, not any more. So in the workplace environment, I absolutely require dictation software, a computer fast enough to run it, a high-end microphone, and an office with privacy for dictation. Of course, in most work environments, the office with the closing door is much more traumatic for management than the expensive software and hardware!

Nonetheless, my current coworkers are pretty fabulous about my disability. They let me define what I can and can't do. My boss reminds me not to write and supports me in the extremely unpopular position that I can't take minutes in meetings. People open doors for me now that they know I would like them to, but they don't make assumptions. People don't stop me from using my hands unless they see me going out of my way to avoid using my hands; if so, they usually offer to help, and take no for an answer. I know my boss is concerned that there aren't enough Automatic Door Openers between me and all of the places I need to go during the day, and she's trying to fix that. Sure, there's a certain amount of the neato-keen reaction to watching me dictate, but for the most part that's calmed down, and my coworkers now share my amusement at embarrassing dictation errors instead of bursting in to watch me work and yelling "DELETE!" like one manager I once had.

I have plenty of friends whose disabilities prevent them from holding part- or full-time jobs, and what I feel for them is only shared fury and frustration that either they can't work when they want to, or that society judges them and finds them wanting for not working. I know that if I couldn't work I would be fighting my upbringing every step of the way, stupidly hating myself for the imagined failure. Hell, if I had just gone on Worker's Compensation like a normal person, instead of going to work every day through the initial trauma of injury, I would probably be mostly healed by now. I know the fact that I still have issues about switching careers in a way that's lowered my professional status and earning potential but raised my life satisfaction immeasurably is something I really need to address. I know that the need to be working full-time and professionally is a broken social construct that needs to be addressed.

But that being said, I live inside that social construct, and I can't deny that it makes me feel really good to be in a job that accommodates me. I kept working when I really shouldn't have, in environments which were way less healthy for me and way less supportive. The fact is that right now I am an essential part of my department. They like me and they need me -- and they've made reasonable accommodations to make my job something I can do. Sure, I'd rather be independently wealthy so I could spend all my time writing open source code and gardening and napping and reading. But given that I'm not, this is a damn good way to spend my days.

So there you go, there are good employers out there. There are good coworkers out there. I'd be lying if I said this place was never made of fail when it comes to dealing with disability issues. And I'd be lying if I said I never run completely out of spoons and just want to cry because I haven't got the resources I need to do my job. But on a day-to-day basis, it's pretty damn good.
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