Handling Physical Disabilities in College & the Workplace

By: Whitney

College students, especially those leaving home for the first time, experience a whole lot of new things—new school, new friends, new interests—and many firsts. Like many students, I felt uncertainty, anxiety, and excitement about these things. One area of uncertainty for me was how to handle my physical disability as an adult. I had additional questions about jobs such as: How physically demanding they would be? Would employers be hesitant to hire me or underestimate me? After some time, I decided I needed to acknowledge my Cerebral Palsy (CP) related uncertainties and find ways to address them. I can’t speak for everyone with a physical disability nor everyone with CP. How I want to address the impact of CP in my adult life is a process I am still figuring out and I wanted to share my journey with you all up to this point.

Overview of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is really an umbrella term describing a group of conditions that affect balance, movement of the body, and muscle coordination resulting from damage to the brain (specifically motor areas). It is not genetic and is said to be not progressive (United Cerebral Palsy, 2010 as cited in Whidden, 2013). However, as the body changes throughout life, I have also noticed changes in my experiences with CP. Additionally, because the brain is exceedingly complex, and people are unique, everyone with CP experiences it differently, yet some of our experiences may be similar.

I have had CP since birth, a mild form that makes my leg muscles tighter than average. I have a touchy sense of balance and needed the support of a walker to get around until partway through elementary school when I had a surgery to improve my muscle tone. In middle school, I started having muscle spasms in my legs that started to make things more difficult. These get worse with high—levels of stress, nervousness, or if I need to stand still for long periods of time.

Four Areas I’ve Worked On

Self-advocation
In my journey to learn how to handle concerns related to my disability in the workplace, one of the best tools I have is self-advocation. The best way to learn how to self-advocate is to do it. Sometimes I wouldn’t go after opportunities that appealed to me because I was uncertain about if I would be physically able to handle them. I have learned that uncertainty is part of it. For me, self-advocation means question asking. When I feel uncertainty, I pinpoint the specific reasons I feel uncertain and find out what information I can related to those issues by asking questions. After getting more information, I can then evaluate an opportunity more accurately. If it still interests me after that, then I go for it, asking for accommodations if necessary. The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability has useful tips about self-advocacy.

Self-advocation, while empowering, can also be tiring. One important thing to note is that being a self-advocate doesn’t mean handling things alone. It’s helpful to have people around to help too! Which brings me to my next point.

Handling physical disabilities in the college and the workplace

Community
In most situations, I am the only person I know who has CP. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like the I’m only one dealing with these concerns. Finding a community of trustworthy people, who are dealing with similar things has been helpful for me, and can be found in many ways. On campus, getting involved with Disability Resources is one way. I have found community by joining Facebook groups specifically related to CP. People of many ages and many experiences with CP are part of these groups and I have gotten to read posts about some of their experiences in life and in the workplace and some CP related questions they have.

In relation to the workforce, community can also mean seeking out stories of individuals with any disability in the workforce and learning about what jobs they are doing and how they handled entry into and daily activities of the workforce. This summer I got to hear a little bit about an elementary school teacher who was also blind and her approach to her job. To hear of other individuals living with disabilities doing work in a human services job (a field related closely to my interests) was encouraging. It reminded me that there are multiple great ways to do a job and be effective.

Accommodation
Figuring out reasonable accommodations and having conversations about them is an area I’m still trying to figure out. Frankly, sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to need, especially before I’ve started the work. Sometimes I know that something presents a problem for me but am not sure how to solve it. Sometimes I am hesitant at asking for accommodation because I’m afraid of being underestimated. I have recently discovered JAN (the Job Accommodation Network). Which lists possible workplace accommodations for many different disabilities (physical and otherwise) as well as questions employers could ask to help pinpoint what accommodations may be helpful (I think they are questions I could ask myself as well). One of the suggestions for CP was a sit stand stool a lightweight foldable stool I could carry around with me for when I need to sit. Something I hadn’t considered using in the workplace before but could be extremely helpful for me.

Self-disclosure
For some people, the disability they live with is readily apparent to others and for some, it’s not. I’m in a grey area where people can see something different about me but don’t necessarily know straight away about the disability. Self-disclosure then becomes a question. If I want to self-disclose and when to do it. My self-disclosure choices have changed throughout the years. I have always remained very open about disability and my life but choose to self-disclose significantly less often these days than I did when I was in middle school and high school. In college, I have re-evaluated when I want to self-disclose and chose not to tell people about it unless they respectfully asked. In job situations, I have also only disclosed when I came across something I thought I would need accommodation for. I have sometimes disclosed in applications, during interviews, on the job, and for some positions, I haven’t disclosed at all.

Current Thoughts
Everyone has so many unique skills and perspectives to offer in life, including the workforce. My experiences with CP have given me many opportunities for creative problem solving, finding a new way to accomplish tasks, and practice adaptability. Disability is one aspect of my life and making decisions about how I want to approach this part of my life has given me more confidence. These decisions are not set in stone and can always be revisited as my needs and ideas change.

For all my uncertainties about having these conversations within the workplace or during college, all the people I have ever talked to have been respectful and willing to help me.

Of Possible Interest:

Read Whitney’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | Felix Plakolb

Mental Health Conditions and Workplace Accommodations

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

Today on the blog, we are going to talk about three more common mental health conditions and what might be some reasonable workplace accommodations for each of those. Did you know that approximately 61.5 million Americans, one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013)? One in seventeen individuals lives with a serious mental health impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013). We see many different kinds of mental health conditions working in disability and higher education, but a majority of the conditions we primarily work with would be students with anxiety, depression, and/or different mood disorders.

There are a number of different functional areas that these conditions can impact such as concentration, attendance, focus, organization, memory, sleep, stress, handling emotions, fatigue, and coworker interactions just to name a few. The next few pieces of information are found on the Job Accommodation Network website and include many of those different areas that people with mental health conditions could be impacted in and what accommodations would help to reduce those barriers if need be.

Mental Health Reasonable Accommodation Ideas:

Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the work area:
    • Provide space enclosures, sound absorption panels, or a private office
    • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
    • Allow the employee to listen to soothing music
    • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Memory:

  • Provide written as well as verbal instructions
  • Provide written checklists
  • Use a wall calendar
  • Use a daily or weekly task list
  • Provide verbal prompts and reminders
  • Use electronic organizers, handheld devices, and /or apps
  • Provide a mentor for daily guidance
  • Provide reminders of important deadlines via e-mails, memos, and weekly supervision

Organization:

  • Use daily, weekly, and monthly task lists
  • Use calendar with automated reminders to highlight meetings and deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers, mobile devices, and/or apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Time Management / Completing Tasks:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
  • Provide organizational tools such as electronic schedulers, recorders, software organizers, calendars, watches, and apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Schedule weekly meetings with supervisor, manager, or mentor to determine if goals are being met

Stress / Emotions:

  • Encourage use of stress management techniques to deal with frustration
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Use a mentor or supervisor to alert the employee when his/her behavior is becoming unprofessional or inappropriate
  • Assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer the employee’s questions
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions during times of stress
  • Refer to counseling, employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks
  • Allow flexible work environment

Panic Attacks:

  • Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises
  • Allow the presence of a support animal

Sleep Disturbances:

  • Allow for a flexible start time
  • Combine regularly scheduled short breaks into one longer break
  • Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
  • Allow the employee to work one consistent schedule
  • Provide a device such as a Doze Alert or other alarms to keep the employee alert
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting

Fatigue:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide a goal-oriented workload
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Attendance:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
  • Allow the employee to make up the time missed
  • Modify attendance policy
    • Example: count one occurrence for all PTSD-related absences

Coworker Interaction:

  • Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations
  • Allow the employee to work from home part-time
  • Provide partitions or closed doors to allow for privacy
  • Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors

All in all, it is good rule of thumb to remember that people with mental health conditions or disabilities are just as capable of completing  tasks and doing an amazing job at whatever they may be working on – as there sometimes is stigma around these conditions due to lack of understanding, judgment, and being uneducated on the topic of mental health. If you are curious about learning more there are many great resources available to you on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website and Active Minds website about mental health conditions. Education, awareness, and understanding are key. We must not be afraid to talk openly about these conditions and encourage others to share their awesome stories. We all have something to say, so don’t be afraid to just simply listen.

Also read: #BulldogOnTheJob: Bri (she talks about experience with depression and anxiety and the impact those illnesses have on her professional life)

Read our other Disabilites in the Workplace posts.

Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One of the biggest and most pressing topics in higher education at the moment is the mental health and wellbeing of our college students. It is estimated that around 1 in 3 students have or will experience a mental health condition during their academic career. Currently, our office serves the biggest population of students with mental health conditions compared to any other disability population and that number seems to be rising. With that growing population of students, many of them will, of course, be entering the workplace after graduation and we want our students to be as prepared as possible as this is a very common and normal thing to experience.

We all have mental health and we all need to take care of ourselves. So hopefully, this piece will give you some good tips on managing your mental health and stress better in the workplace and ultimately be as successful as possible.

Managing Mental Health

In this blog post, I will talk about 10 awesome and very helpful tips for better managing mental health and stress in the workplace and ultimately help you be more successful.

  • Know what you do well and your interests. What do you do well? What interests you? Your answers are important because the more you love your job, the more you will want to wake up and go into work every day. This is very important. The more your skills are needed, the more you’ll feel appreciated and valued by your co-workers which in turn will make you feel good. It is also helpful to know the things you need to or would like to improve on as well as this can be helpful.
  • Develop a good routine. Routines make everything much easier. Develop a routine for getting ready for work each morning so you start each day as productively as you are able to. To help you manage your time, use a weekly routine for at work and in your personal life. Make sure to include social time with friends, family, and possibly that cute little furbaby of yours.
  • Physical health is just as important. A healthy body contributes to a healthy mind. Going for walks or to the gym can be incorporated into your weekly routine. Involving your friends or making new ones is a great way to make it fun and a great stress reliever.
  • Stay organized. Being organized is a great way to reduce stress. Investing time thinking about how to organize your work is smart. Being on time and continuing to use a planner or calendar to keep track of your appointments is key. I am a huge fan of to-do lists as they can definitely keep you on track and way ahead of a deadline so you don’t get stressed out. Prioritizing things using post-it notes or highlighters for color coding is also beneficial. It takes practice to find out what tips and tools will work best for you.
  • Reward yourself. Work can be hard, so reward yourself. Buy yourself something special you have been wanting or go see a new movie. Take a break. You’ve totally earned it.
  • Take time for YOURSELF. Along with staying organized and rewarding yourself, an important way to reduce stress is to make time for relaxation and YOU TIME. Whatever it is that helps you calm down after a stressful day or week, keep it high up on your list of priorities. It is the best way to stay refreshed and motivated. These are often called coping skills so develop a good list of them and keep it available to you at all times!
  • Use resources available to you. There are some resources available to you which help level the playing field. These are just a few:
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Do not waste time and energy on people who bring you down. Research shows that positive people are more effective and happy, and so hanging out with positive people can help too. Having a strong support system can make all the difference at your place of employment and in your personal life as well.
  • Maintain a stable and organized work environment. Your physical work environment can have a huge impact on your mood. Things that help you through the day could be snacks, a good playlist and headphones, a warm sweater, a plant, a stress ball; really anything that will make you feel more comfortable throughout the day. Keeping a clean and orderly desk or workspace will help you focus on your work and present a professional image to coworkers.
  • Understand that nothing can be perfect. Some days will be harder than others and that is totally okay. You will have support as long as you reach out to people and use your resources. Some days will require a little more work than others. Don’t be discouraged. Stay confident – you’ve got a job to do. You can totally do it!

This information was adopted from: https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/10-Tips-for-Managing-Mental-Health-in-the-Workplac#sthash.g5By5UTw.dpuf

Other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

 

Self-Advocacy in the Workplace

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One of the most important skills to learn if you are an individual with a learning difference or disability, whether that be physical or invisible, is how to be an advocate for yourself and be able to communicate effectively about your needs in whatever may be thesetting.

Self-advocacy is knowing what you want, what you need, what you do well, and what you may need assistance with doing. This also includes knowing your legal rights, what is best for you, and who to tell what information. Self-advocacy can empower people and give them the access they need to reasonable accommodations and strategies. Let’s talk more about what are some helpful tips for becoming a better self-advocate in the workplace.

First Steps

  1. Work hard and be as productive as possible. If your supervisor knows you are a hard worker and reliable, they will want to work together on figuring out what works best for you and can improve your performance even more. Make sure you do your best at all times and it will feel more comfortable approaching your supervisor about workplace accommodations as well.
  2. Represent yourself well and professionally. In order to show that you are a productive worker, there are usually expectations to follow at your workplace, such as: dressing nicely, getting to work on time or early, keeping on track of your work emails, being respectful and pleasant around coworkers, being helpful, being passionate about your work, asking questions to your supervisors, and keeping them informed of things going on.
  3. Be as helpful as possible! We can’t stress this enough! When anybody asks you to help out or do something, DO IT! Use this as a way to grow and opportunity to serve and help others. If other people feel supported by you, the more likely they will be there to give support to you when you need it as well. It always helps to work in a kind, supportive, and steady work environment.
  4. Be confident! The more you practice being assertive and working on being kind and compassionate to yourself, the more others can see that and feel comfortable coming to you with things and having you as a team member. Confidence is a skill that takes practice, work on that by bettering yourself and working on things you might not be as comfortable with and by getting feedback from supervisors.

self-advocacy-in-workplace

Next steps: What Accommodations are Right for YOU?

  1. First off, you should always be familiar with your legal rights as a person with a disability. Read through and research the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When you are able to learn that the law really is on your side and here to help, this will help you to feel even more comfortable and confident when approaching supervisors about accommodations. Practicing these conversations is a good idea. You usually do not need to submit documentation when asking for workplace accommodations, but should have this available to you as employers can request that before actually providing the accommodation.
  2. Ask yourself these questions: Does your workplace have everything you need and does this increase your productivity? How well do you communicate with others, what are you most comfortable with and what are areas to improve on in this way? What are your main job duties and tasks? What do you need in order to be the most productive at your workplace? Always remember to focus on your strengths and what you do well.
  3. Be familiar with what accommodations are typically offered for individuals with your condition. A really good website to use is the Job Accommodation Network or askjan.org. This website lists different disabilities – physical, emotional, etc. It then lists examples of reasonable accommodations for each condition and ways to ask for or use these at your workplace. This is a great resource to turn to when you have questions and to better educate yourself and your employers as well. Feel free to check out the website at www.askjan.org or give them a call at 1-800-5267234.
  4. Make your request. Sometimes you do not even need to disclose your actual condition to your employer; there is so much new assistive technology that is constantly used by people with disabilities and without. The choice is yours on disclosing. Be comfortable deciding what you want to do and come up with your own suggestions and solutions before hand so you feel empowered.
  5. Follow up with your written accommodation request. This request should be brief and should also talk to the important information regarding your condition and the current need for accommodations. Make sure to talk about how these reasonable accommodations will assist you in meeting your workplace productivity and goals. If your accommodation request is denied, for whatever reason, continue to work with your supervisor and also with the HR department at your workplace to resolve the matter.

When your reasonable accommodations are approved, continue to use them well and to be productive in your place of employment. Continue to be helpful to your co-workers and supervisors and feel comfortable expressing how things are going. Remember, becoming a skilled self-advocate takes time, practice, and determination. Work hard and great things will come your way, we believe in you, Bulldogs!

Read other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

Photo source: Unsplash | Joanna Kosinska

To Disclose or Not to Disclose Your Disability? That is the Question.

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One very important thing that comes up for many job hunters with disabilities is disclosure. Should you tell a prospective employer about your disability? If so, why? when? and how? While every situation is usually quite different, there are a few key things to most likely consider when making this important decision.

Some people with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations to do a particular job or duty. According to the US Department of Justice, a reasonable accommodation is a “modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.” Some examples of reasonable accommodations can include things like making the facility accessible, modifying work schedules, assistive technology available, and being able to work from home, just to name a few.

disclose-disability

Something to keep in mind is that if your employer is unaware of your disability, they have no legal obligation to provide you with a reasonable accommodation. If you need an accommodation to perform a job, you will need to disclose your disability at some point. One of the main reasons behind WHY disclosure in the workplace is important, is so that the employer is able to provide you with accommodations so you are able to perform the essential functions of the job.

Disclosing any sort of more personal information can be scary. We totally get that. Some things that could be helpful and possibly make you feel more comfortable disclosing your disability, especially if you are new to this subject, would be to research the company’s history with disability. Some questions to ask yourself are :

  • Have they hired people with disabilities before?
  • Does their website or hiring materials include a diversity statement?
  • Has the company been involved with any disability-related organizations, such as sponsoring an event, donating to a fund raiser, or posting openings to disability-focused job sites?
  • How is the company environment; more flexible, open, etc.?

Another important question that pops up is WHEN to disclose your disability. Do you disclose before the interview, during the process, or after you are hired?! Guess what…..that is TOTALLY up to you! You will want to make sure you select a confidential place in which you feel comfortable and allow the potential employer time to ask questions if needed. Always, always focus on your strengths and things you do amazingly; do not dwell on any limitations your disability might pose. The timing of disclosure might depend on the requirements of the interview process, the barriers presented by your disability, or the essential duties of the job.

Last but not least, HOW to disclose your disability to potential or current employers. Being prepared is KEY for disclosing your disability. It may even be helpful to practice your disclosure discussion with someone you feel comfortable with. You could even put together a little script to help you out and practice that. Remember to keep it positive and strength focused and you will shiiiiine. You got this!!!

If you want more information on this topic or even some practice disclosing, do not hesitate to reach out to me by email at alstainb@d.umn.edu – we can even meet in person if you like! I would be more than happy to help!

However you disclose, it is helpful to be familiar with your rights under state and federal disability laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. See the links below for more information.

Sources and more information:

Read other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

Photo Source: Unsplash | Ashley Knedler

Introducing Disability Resources

By: Alissa

Hi there! Did you know Career & Internship Services and Disability Resources at UMD are collaborating this year to bring you tons of cool and new information around the topic of disability in the workplace? Well, now you know!!! I am so excited to be a guest author this upcoming school year and maybe be able to teach you a thing or two about this topic. 😉 My name is Alissa Stainbrook and I am a Disability Specialist on campus working in the Office of Disability Resources. I am also a Licensed Social Worker and am just wrapping up the MSW program here at UMD. So I totally get what it’s like to be a student too….best of both worlds — working and education, am I right?!

20160902_121238
Alissa in her office.

Our office is a pretty awesome place. We are located in the Multicultural Center on campus as we consider disability a part of diversity and want to spread the awareness to others as well. Our office is here to ensure access for students with disabilities. What do we do here in DR you may ask? Well, our office does the following: coordinate academic accommodations, provide a testing location for students who need accommodations, work with students to coordinate access to other on-campus resources, and offer guidance & support.

What does DR do

Another important question we get asked is who does our office work with? 

  • Our office serves any students with documented disabilities who need to arrange academic accommodations for their classes. This includes students who have ADHD; Mental Health Conditions; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Acquired Brain Injury; Physical, Sensory, or Learning Disabilities.
  • Our office works to educate the campus community about access and disability related issues. We also work closely with UMD faculty and staff members.

This year DR and C&IS are teaming up to bring you a pretty awesome series around Disability in the Workplace. There are a number of topics we want to cover including: disclosing disability – when, how, and why; differences between disabilities and what accommodations are reasonable; how to ask for accommodations; how to be a better advocate for yourself; what resources are available to you; mental health and well being in the workplace; and personal stories of students who have graduated who have disabilities and are now working.

We cannot wait to chat with you and are totally open to any suggestions of other topics around disability in the workplace and what you want to know!

It is going to be a great year, all!

Of Possible Interest:

Photo source: graphic 1