07 July 2016

Accommodations and Respect

Last week, I got a letter from human resources asking how my ADA accommodations at work were working out. My response was that, other than some initial hiccups, things were okay. Not perfect by any means, but okay. In my response I mentioned the times I'd come to work to find that the accommodations weren't in place (I keep an electronic version of a notebook, and I log all of this stuff). I didn't name names. The omission was intentional, because I'm willing to grant that dealing with accommodations is something that most people in a shop of student employees aren't used to dealing with.

Tuesday I arrived at work to find someone sitting at the workstation that's reserved as one of my accommodations. The sign indicating that the workstation was supposed to be reserved was nowhere to be found (I did find it later, taped to and flipped over the back of one of the monitors).

There are several people here who are student team leads. On Tuesday, four of them were at the office-- one was the person who first scheduled me to flip flop between jobs in the same night, which kicked off the entire me asking for ADA accommodations process. One was the person who earlier this summer was planted at said reserved workstation one day, that I had to chase out. One was the lead on my software development team. I know it's hard to picture an org chart without an org chart, but all three were people that I've encountered in the process of asking for and being granted accommodations. The fourth and I hadn't really met-- yet--  on anything related to my accommodations.

Calmly (counting to 10 under my breath the entire way) I moved over to where the student leads have desks and announced that someone was sitting at the workstation that was supposed to be reserved for me, and that something needed to be done about it.

The three students leads (see above) quite literally said nothing, looked like they'd been caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar, and looked down at the floor before grabbing their stuff and leaving for the day. Not a single word. The fourth actually went and talked to the person who had unknowingly sat down to work at the reserved workstation and let them know that they'd need to move ASAP. Which they did.

I wrote all of this in an email to human resources, but this time I wasn't shy about naming names. There were a total of four people who could have looked over, seen that the sign wasn't there, and flipped the sign so people could see it. Technically, the workstation is reserved from 1630- and I get here at 1700, so someone should have noticed and done something about it before I arrived. No one did.

The letter I sent to human resources was forwarded (verbatim) to my actual (full time staff, not students) team leads today. HR actually asked my permission before forwarding it-- my immediate supervisors and I don't discuss my accommodations except through HR. When I got to work today, there was a new sign that had been printed and put in a document protector and taped quite firmly to the desk indicating that the workstation is reserved every day from 1630 onward.

There was no direct response to the email from my supervisors. None of the student leads said a word to me today when I came to work. (Actually, no one really said anything to me today at work.)

This is not how to handle people with disabilities in the workplace.

I can't say enough about how having a particular workstation reserved that's off in the corner, where people aren't walking past or behind me, helps my ability to concentrate and do meaningful work. My supervisors (one or the other or both) initially argued against this accommodation, saying that it would be impossible to reserve a workstation without revealing the nature of my disability. They directly disagreed with my provider from the VA-- I had to argue and fight to get it approved over my supervisors objections. 

Honestly, unless it's a time of year when it's really busy around here, most people don't want to sit in the corner of the office away from everyone else. On Tuesday the person sat down at the reserved workstation because it was the only one open, but because no one was paying attention, they were still sitting there when I arrived.

This obviously causes a problem for me, because now I have to wait for that person to finish what they're in the middle of. I'm triggered as fuck, because I'm always on edge when I get to work because I'm expecting exactly this to happen and now it has.

It's not just me though. The poor support agent who unknowingly sat in the wrong place now has a team lead and a pissed off veteran that want them to HTFU and finish the call, so they're rushing through an answer and probably not taking care of the customer on the other end as well as they should be. Now we've got a pissed off and triggered vet, a scared shitless support agent, a student lead who's just trying to make this situation over, and probably a confused customer. HR now has to deal with a letter from me. My supervisors have to deal with a letter from me with HR also asking WTF the problem is.

All of this because someone-- out of at least four different people-- couldn't be bothered to take 30 seconds during the day to make sure that no one was sitting at a particular workstation. Well, okay, maybe longer than 30 seconds if they do what I do, and set up a reminder on my phone for these kinds of things.

Because of the gag order (I don't know what else to call it) that prevents me from direct communication with my supervisors about anything dealing with accommodations, I'm in the dark. Putting PTSD and silence together solves nothing. The only things I have to use to form a basis for how I feel at work are that my supervisors didn't think I should get this accommodation and that they're not going to give it to me unless I raise holy hell about it.

There's a shiny new sign on the desk saying that you'd better make sure you're out of this space by 1630-- I know I'm reading into this a little bit, but to me that says that random person sitting at the reserved workstation is now responsible for getting up and moving on time. I can't see how this is right. It's up to supervisors to make sure accommodations are available. Isn't that one of the kinds of things supervisors get paid more money to do?

I hope that at some point, some person who is a supervisor of a person who needs ADA accommodations reads this. I can't tell my own supervisors directly, so I'll tell you.

If I'm asking for an accommodation that's covered by the ADA and I've submitted medical paperwork to prove I have the disability I say I have, it's because on my own I've looked at my job in terms of my disability and figured out a way to do my job well. I didn't quit and leave you without an employee. I put a lot of time and effort into finding a way to stay and be a productive employee in your organization.

ADA accommodations are not even remotely the same as a lawsuit. There is no "winner" or "loser". I ask for accommodations, you're entitled to ask me for medical documentation, and once an accommodation is granted you're on the hook to provide it. I didn't "win" anything. You might have to spend some money, or do something, to make sure the accommodation is available. You don't "lose" anything by providing accommodations, especially when they're something simple like reserving a workstation. You gain a more productive employee.

You can, and should, ask me about my disability and how it relates to work. I'll be happy to explain why sitting at a particular workstation helps me develop better software, faster. I live with my disability every minute of every day. I overcome it just as often. It means a great deal to me that I'm able to lift my ass out of bed every day and carry it to work to write software for you.

If you're not willing to do even simple things like putting a sign on a workstation, and checking to see if I'm working today and will need that workstation, when I'm busting my ass to beat PTSD every day, why am I here?

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