I’m a 28-year-old disabled Autistic person with diagnoses of ADD, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and sleep disorder. And yet, I only just asked for accommodations at work for the first time recently when I started a new part-time job. My approach to school, work, and life, in general, has always been to throw myself at everything without regard for my physical, mental, or emotional health. I never knew any other way!
That more-or-less (sort of) worked for 27 years of my life, but I finally reached a massive burnout and just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to ask for help, and I needed to be able to be honest with employers about my limitations and needs.
I went into the process of asking for accommodations with worry, doubt, fear, and a huge sense of vulnerability. On the other side of the process, I feel empowered and relieved.
Here are my tips for asking for accommodations:
1) Look for and ask for help
You might be surprised what vocational guidance services and other specialized helpful services and resources are out there, many of which can be accessed with no cost to you. I had no idea until I asked a friend who works in disability services.
To begin, I suggest doing an online search for services near you. Examples of what to search might include:
- [Your state and/or city] disability resources
- Opportunities for [Your state]ians with Disabilities
- Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation
- Vocational Resource Center
- Disabilities Resource Center
I had no idea that there was a Vocational Resource Center for disabled people literally just down the road from me! I went to the Center, and they determined my level of need, what resources would best help me, and then put me in contact with more specialized services–all at no cost to me! The office I visited: provides job training, helps you look for work and practice for interviews, offers training for job success, assists with asking for accommodations, encourages advancement in a job, etc.
Through the VRC office, I was put in contact with an expert who met with me to go over what accommodations I am entitled to by law, how to ask for them, what specific language to use, etc. She even offered to go to training events with me and contact my employer directly about my accommodations.
2) Don’t compare disabilities or needs
There is a lot of internalized ableism that many of us have to work against, especially those of us with “invisible” disabilities and illnesses. You do not exist on some imagined hierarchy of disabilities. You are you, and your needs are your needs. Even if a resource center determines you don’t qualify for their particular services, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for accommodations.
Learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and what the laws are regarding accommodations. Look up some examples of accommodations such as: having several small breaks throughout the day instead of one longer one, downloading screen reader software on work computers, installing an accessible toilet on your floor, working only nights, having a consistent schedule whenever possible, etc.
Would accommodations like these make you more productive at work? Would they mean the difference between an accessible or non-accessible working environment? Would they better your mental, physical, emotional and/or overall health? Then it’s worth researching and asking for accommodations.
3) Reframe negatives as positives
One thing that struck me most about my meeting with my Vocational Resource Center counselor was her perspective. I had prepared a list of both my concerns about asking for accommodations and how I thought they would benefit me in the workplace.
She read over my concerns and then shocked me by flipping them all into positives. For example, my fear that employers “won’t count on me” when they learn I am disabled, she turned into “You want to be counted on.”
She noted that my honesty would most likely be appreciated and that my employers will likely value my communication. She said, “Employers want people who will show up on time and do a good job. By going to the effort to meet with me and think through requests, you are showing that you want to do the best that you can.”
This, of course, will not always be the case with every single employer, but it certainly put things into a more positive perspective for me as an employee and showed me that a good employer will see asking for reasonable accommodations as an act of a passionate employee who wants to do their best.
4) Keep things in perspective
Asking for accommodations can feel like a huge deal and a burden that you are imposing on an employer, but I encourage you to examine and challenge that idea. The requests may seem huge to you as that they could quite possibly be the difference between keeping or securing a job and not, but to the employer, it may not be a huge ask. They are a huge deal to you. That doesn’t mean they are a huge deal to others.
If thinking from this perspective doesn’t make you feel better about, for example, asking for an accessible toilet to be installed, consider that by asking for that accommodation, you are providing accessibility for any other or future disabled staff members or customers who come to your place of employment.
Also consider that, while this may be your first time asking for accommodations, it is very unlikely the first time your employer has been asked for one. What is a possibly nerve-wracking experience for you will not be for them.
5) Be ready to communicate and compromise
Accommodation requests do have to be “reasonable.” For example, while wearing noise-cancelling headphones at work would help me a lot, I work in customer service and speak directly with members, so it wouldn’t be practical. A compromise, however, was asking for occasional sensory breaks where I step into the back office and wear my headphones for a few minutes.
Be ready to meet employers somewhere in the middle with some requests, but also try to arm yourself with knowledge about what your rights are. Consider seeking help from one or more of the services mentioned in Tip 1 who can help you formulate and ask for the accommodations and act as backup when needed.
-Check out the Job Accommodation Network. They have a wealth of information and resources. You can search for possible accommodations and equipment by specific disability, limitation, work-related function, or by topic. You can even chat with representatives, and their site appears to be fully accessible.
-Arrive at vocational and disability services knowing what they will require from you. Check out their website and fill out whatever paperwork you can before you arrive. Consider compiling information ahead of time such as a chart with the contact information of all of your doctors or therapists, a list of medications, letters of diagnoses if appropriate, possible accommodations you are considering, etc. The more you prepare beforehand, the less “on the spot” you will be and the faster you can be approved for services.
-If you are turned away from services or an employment opportunity, consider appealing a decision about services or seeking legal aid or other resources.
Author Bio: Sara is a 28-year-old Autistic disabled person with diagnoses of ADD, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue. She blogs about her experiences in hopes of connecting with others. She enjoys reading sci-fi & fantasy, writing memoir & fantasy, singing, taking pictures of flowers (like those on her blog!), studying Japanese, and spending time with her husband.
Find her at her blog: https://seekingsara174.wordpress.com/
And on Twitter:https://twitter.com/SeekingSara174