Know yourself, know what you need, know what you’re capable of
I started IAmMe with the hope that I could help my friends, family and support systems understand my perspective on the world, but also, that I could help validate others who may be going through somewhat similar circumstances. Selfishly, since beginning the blog, I have found my voice and learned how to educate the world around me as I advocate for myself. Thankfully, since graduating university in May, I have been lucky enough to find a job that combined my passion for helping others and fighting against the many stigmas that surround mental illnesses. As the weeks go on, I have found my footing at work, I am learning the ropes and gaining confidence in my abilities to carry out the responsibilities expected of me. However, what I am beginning to learn is that when you’re working with a new group of people, everyone has an adjustment period, followed by a learning curve- as an individual with physical limitations, that learning curve can be somewhat steep.
I know myself better than anyone, but that isn’t the case for my coworkers. It will take time for them to get to know me as a person, and that is especially true as a coworker. So, how does one navigate being a person with a disability in the work place? First, advocate for yourself, always! Next, be patient with those you directly work with. Finally, create an environment where questions are encouraged and discussion is welcomed!
- Self-advocacy- I cannot, cannot stress how important this is for anyone, especially for an individual with special needs. I am surrounded by a professional, medical support team that has the knowledge and resources to support my needs. However, as the person that is going through it, I am among the best resources that they (the team of doctors) have. This is no different at work. Since beginning work (excitedly, the first job I have had that is directly related to my university degree) I have found that I work for an agency that is filled with amazing, supportive individuals.
However, for many of them, I am the first person with Cerebral Palsy that they have direct experience with. Each of them wants nothing more than to help me, to support me, but sometimes that presents itself with their assumptions of what I can and cannot do, or what will be a struggle for me. Never is this maliciously done. It is done out of respect and a desire to help and support us as best they can. I appreciate this more than they will ever know. However, this is where advocacy comes in. I know what I can and cannot do. I have begun to understand my limitations and know when I need to ask for help.
So, in instances where my coworkers go to do something, because they want to make it easier for me, I have to speak up. I was hired knowing I was a person with a disability. I was hired because I showed that I wasn’t just a person with a disability, but I was a person who was going to above and beyond to do the very best I can, despite this fact. So, while I appreciate the understanding an willingness to work with me, I have learned to use my voice and ask for help when necessary. Beyond that however, trust me, I’ve got this!
- Be patient and forgiving– Now, for the readers that know me well, I’m sure you just chuckled. I am far from a patient person. However, I am learning patience. I have to, working with individuals that I have only known for a month. Sometimes, they are going to volunteer to do a job specific task, because they’re trying to be helpful- not because they believe I’m incapable. Rarely, they are going to make an assumption that I have to debunk when it arises. Mostly, it is going to take time to find a natural flow in our working relationships.
I have been lucky to have an amazing support system for almost twenty-six years. However, these relationships are new, and trust takes time; forgive blunders and move on! It benefits no one to continue to brow-beat an issue. Most of the time, it is a “no-harm, no foul” situation. So, what do I do? Acknowledge, educate, forgive and move right along. The job that we’re expected to do is far more important than a bruised ego!
- Encourage questions, welcome discussions- This is, in my opinion, the most important of the three! As an individual with disability in a work place, I have learned to encourage questions. Sometimes, I forget that this has been my reality for my entire life, but that isn’t the case of most people. If I am the first person with a disability they’ve worked with, their experiences are limited and their knowledge may be nurtured by media portrayals and misconceptions, and that is not their fault! So, when my coworkers have questions about my dinability or limitations, I answer them as directly as possible. I reassure my coworkers that no question is a silly one and that I will answer them every time they are asked! I also help them to understand that I can only speak to my experiences. With questions come education and with knowledge comes support, assistance and understanding. Last, bring on the discussions! I have become much more comfortable speaking about my disabilities, concerns, experiences and abilities. I‘ve had to! So, when the individuals I work with and for have questions, I do the best I can to create a discussion that is informative, respectful and welcoming.
At the end of the day, I do the best I can with what I have. I, like everyone else, have great days and days that sometimes have more struggles than small victories. Thankfully, my navigation through the workplace is not all that different than my peers. These are my experiences, and so far, I have been blessed to have the positive experiences that I have!