It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, established by the US Congress in 1988. The theme established for this year is one that I’m very passionate about, the value brought to workplaces, places of worship, communities, and our nation by diversity.
“Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity INCLUDES Workers With Disabilities”
The theme serves to inform the public that workers with disabilities represent a diverse and vibrant talent pool for hire. This theme epitomizes Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis’ commitment to “good jobs for everyone.” “The solutions and innovations applicable to the successful employment of workers with disabilities impact the entire workforce, including aging workers, injured workers, at-risk youth, women, people of color, and unemployed and underemployed workers,” said Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.
I’ve written more than one post on this blog describing my disability journey, from “something’s wrong with my shoulder” to surgery, into chronic pain, to my diagnosis with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome two years later, through my struggles to continue working and mothering and keeping house with increasing pain and disability, through bankruptcy, through losing the house I’d worked so hard to buy on my very own, to admitting to maplestar that I could not handle living on my own any more, and up to the present where I’m on medical leave from work, my initial short-term disability claim denied (in appeal!) so that I’m working a fraction of my time and earning a fraction of my salary.
What may not always be clear when I write here is how much my employer has done to help me keep working. I am a professional woman, nearing 40 years old, who has been working full-time since I was 20. I am a Little Person. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, osteoarthritis, and an autistic spectrum disorder. My employer has given me a desk that is short enough for me, while I use my own custom chair to keep my feet flat on the floor, my elbows at that perfect 90-degree angle, and my back against the back of the chair. I see you with that confused look on your face, wondering why this is even worth mentioning. Well, until I had my custom chair and my custom desk, I had never experienced the feeling of sitting at a desk with my feet flat on the floor and my work surface at the proper height. It was so empowering, so wonderful! And you’ve probably taken it for granted for most of your career. My employer has also issued me an ergonomic keyboard, which I use with my own professional-model touchpad (not those nasty things that come on laptops), and voice recognition software. My employer even allows me to telework, so that when pain or fatigue flare, I’m mere steps away from ice packs, heating pads, medications, and rest.
I have a good job, a good salary, and good insurance. Every year I have the maximum $5,000 deducted from my pay (pre-tax) for healthcare expenses, and every year I exhaust these funds months before the deductions are finished. I will need physical therapy and pain management care for the rest of my life. EDS does not have a cure, and treatment is to try to keep the connective tissue from getting too much worse. EDS is not itself a progressive condition, but it causes conditions that are, like osteoarthritis. When I’m invited to a meeting, a movie, a picnic, an afternoon of bowling, I don’t know how I’m going to feel that day. It could be an okay day, or it could be a horrible day; good days have become quite rare for me.
Through this all, my employer has stood up for me, kept me working, and given me a place where my perspective is invited and valued. Some days I may feel this less than others, but I am grateful and appreciative for this opportunity.