The Abled Barricade

Photo by  Mitch Lensink

Photo by Mitch Lensink

The Abled Barricade

By: N.T. Herrgott

I dislike the term ‘disability’. Especially as it applies to psychological conditions, and that’s what I’m talking about here. These are the differently-abled who, on the surface, can appear to be like everyone else, but who think and do things a little bit differently. For people like these, sitting at a job interview can seem more like trying to convince a gatekeeper that you are 'normal' enough to work for a living.

When you talk about normal people, you're talking about presentable, extroverted, confident people who can communicate by hand-shaking. Everyone who isn't normal like this has some kind of disability. Normal people decided this. And normal people decided that any kind of change to what makes normal people comfortable is an 'accommodation'. Normal people don't like making accommodations — especially when it costs time or money. So if you want to work, you have to do your best to pretend to be normal.

A lot of people aren't as lucky, and “can't fake it 'till they make it.” If this is you, you can't even slip past the first barrier because making eye contact is difficult, or because fidgeting helps you think, or because humming to yourself keeps you on track, or because you do anything that normal folks are very put off by. I'm not sure we can rightfully call ourselves civilized while we exclude a very wide group of people for reasons that have nothing to do with what they can contribute to society.

But for those of us who can 'pass', it takes a great deal of energy, patience, and effort to be that kind of normal person that everyone expects you to be. This is energy that we could spend on, you know, doing our jobs. Instead, we have to work two jobs: our official employment for which we receive a wage, and trying to convince everyone that we are normal enough to be a part of the team.

No matter what employers, managers, or supervisors offer to accommodate, I assume they’re talking about standing desks and headsets with two earpieces. Asking for any meaningful improvement to your work environment is usually a point where you're too much of a hassle.

I'm speaking from experience. So I always keep it secret.

I have known people with disabilities who were able to lead perfectly fulfilling, gainfully employed lives. Because they had a clinical diagnosis, and because this diagnoses did not impact their work performance, they were the ideal candidate. The employer had the benefits of an 'abled' employee, but the benefit of being an accessible workplace. But there is a point where a disability is just too darn inconvenient. And there is a point where ablest employers won’t consider anyone who they think is strange or different.

A friend of mine worked for a company that very proudly proclaimed how much they loved being able to hire disabled employees. The problem was there was no way to get to that office without going up two flights of stairs.

Even now, I’m a little mortified that I’m ‘outing’ myself like this. What if a potential employer happens across this and learns that I actually really hate smiling for no reason? Or that I don’t actually make eye contact — I look at the arms of someone’s glasses or, earrings, or a necklace, or the top button of a collar. And if I'm feeling even less social than I normally do, interviewers mistake my lack of eye contact for being disinterested and assume that I’m not more excited for this job than anything else in the world because I’m not Barbie-smiling.

But the thing is, these barriers we face to employment are not our ‘disabilities’. These barriers are prejudices that have no bearing on what we can do and how well we can do it. They are put up by individuals who are unwilling to believe that others who are not like them can function as well as them.