27 May 2016

ADA. Success. Almost. Updated.

I received a decision on my ADA accommodations request at work today; it was actually modified from the original request. I'm going to recap quite a bit here in case you haven't seen the rest of the posts I've written about all of this.

I have two positions where I work: general help desk quality assurance, and software developer. I have set hours for each role, but at work they wanted to be able to task switch me in and out of being a software developer to fill in doing help desk tasks whenever they wanted to do so. I have a disability-- PTSD-- which makes concentrating on things difficult, especially in an open office (as well as classrooms and other places). It happened enough times that I filed a formal request under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for scheduling accommodations that would state that I would only work one role at a time in a given day. If I'm scheduled for software development work, don't interrupt that time with meetings or training or moving me to other help desk duties because doing so completely breaks my concentration.

That part of the request, the initial one, was approved. YAY.

During the course of talking to human resources (who actually handled the formal ADA accommodations request) and my mental health provider at the VA hospital, the subject of noise canceling headphones came up. HR mentioned it first, and my person at the VA agreed, that this would be a way to mitigate the amount of noise that's present where I work. It's an open office, and a help desk call center at that, so it's a noisy place.

That part of the request, which is a modification to my initial request, was approved. My employer is going to buy a set of noise canceling headphones for me to use at work. YAY.

The final part of the request, which I've discussed with human resources, my supervisor, and with the VA, was that I be able to always get a workstation in what amounts to the corner farthest away from the call center portion of the room where I work. It's also important to note that in this corner of the room there is one workstation with a wall behind and to the left, and one with a wall behind.

The VA agreed with this idea and said so in writing in their response to the accommodations request, saying that it would be helpful for me to be able to have a place to work that is on the perimeter of the room. Again, this is an open office with no assigned desks.

This part of the request was denied. The reason given was that it would be impossible to have a particular workstation reserved because (this is a direct quote from the decision letter) "we can't promise a different student wouldn't sit there without drawing attention to your disability needs."

What. The. Fuck.

I've sent an email response; chances are I'll have to go through the formal process of appealing this part of the accommodations decision. I'm not going to paste my response here verbatim, but I'll give you the gist of what I wrote.

I honestly feel insulted by this response and I said so. It's like saying "hush, child, we don't want anyone to know you have a disability, now do we?"  I'm a combat veteran. I've an abuse survivor. I've been married, I've been divorced. I've been homeless. I have, or suffer from, or whatever you want to call it, PTSD and depression and social anxiety. I don't advertise these things to people face to face at work because it's nunya and because I want people to evaluate me based on my skills and not on my disability.

On the other hand, I am most certainly not ashamed to say I am a combat veteran, and a software developer, who has PTSD and depression and social anxiety. It's not a secret to be held and guarded. I face this shit every day. It's in my head. I can't escape it. The only way to deal with it is acknowledge it, accept it, and still do cool shit with my life anyway. 

I'm also not afraid, any more, of asking for ADA accommodations for work or for classes. I once was. I was totally intimidated by the process. I totally thought that people would think I was some sort of defective person. Honestly, after the academic troubles I've had, I don't blame myself for thinking that. I've had enough experiences now where standing up for myself was the only choice I had available to survive that I am not afraid of asking for what I need. Or demanding it via official channels.

My response to the answer I received also says that yes, it is in fact possible to reserve a workstation without drawing attention to my disability. You're the boss. Put a sign on the workstation in question that says "This workstation is reserved during these times and days. Contact a team lead if you have questions." Nothing there about the disability, or even a requirement that you explain the reason to anyone. At the time when I arrive for work (1700), there's both a quality assurance person and a floor supervisor here that could remind people in advance if they're sitting in the reserved chair just like we remind people about other things. Done.

To quote a now retired USAF master sergeant who I once worked for (and who I greatly respect), "this is in accordance with Air Force Regulation I SAID SO."

One more thing about the answer I received that matters; I included this in my response, too: at various times while I've worked here, certain workstations (sometimes groups of workstations) have been reserved for certain people from other teams. This happened even during hours when those people weren't scheduled to work. I know this because it was part of my job to make sure no one sat at those workstations. There were no, as far as I could tell, adverse affects.

If someone asks me about why I have an assigned place to sit (I'm assuming that management is expecting to hear "why does he get special snowflake treatment?" if this were approved), I'll be honest. I'll explain that I have a disability that affects my concentration and so I need to sit where I have a minimum of people and noise. Which a supervisor could also explain, without revealing any actual details, and which I'd have no problem with if it meant that I could actually concentrate on the code I'm trying to write.
So that's essentially going to be my appeal. Different words. Same meaning. Don't poke the bear with the stick. Honestly: if they hadn't given that answer I might have been willing to claim victory and let the deal about where I sit just slide. And, actually, if back in November 2015 the same supervisor had simply said "Okay, I see this is important to your productivity and so we won't make you task switch", none of this would have happened, but that doesn't matter now.

I don't know my supervisors personally or that closely; they work during the day, and I work at night, so we don't interact much. I don't know exactly what they think. Do they think I'm just some lunatic who thinks of himself as a special snowflake, and damn that guy if he he thinks he's going to make us accommodate his needs? Do they think this is me vs. them, that they needed to "salvage some points" out of a "game" that they "lost" because I was granted some of the accommodations I asked for?

Remember, I first argued against being asked to task switch last November and was essentially told to just suck it up. It wasn't until it happened again this spring that I made a formal ADA accommodations request. So maybe it's actually personal now, or maybe it's my PTSD giving my brain messed up emotional signals, or maybe it's both. I'm still going to appeal that part of the decision.

When I'm coding and I'm not interrupted, when the algorithms take the place of the demons, when my brain is dialed into that zone or place or whatever it is, I am at peace with the universe. That's all I  want. Peace.

It's not a game to be won or lost.


An update: I received a reply to the letter I emailed in response to the modified accommodations described above. The accommodations were modified again, this time to include that there will be a workstation reserved for me in the location I chose on the days when I'm working software development.

Never settle.

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