When is Enough, Enough?

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When is enough, enough? Recently, I wrote about my intolerance for intolerance and my new approach of working in the context of three strikes before writing off someone, a group, or an organization, or employer. I recently worked in a health care organization from January this year to early August this year. My tenure should tell you something disturbing, during my employment with this health provider I’ve gone through some surprising experiences.

For a person with disabilities, loyalty to an employment role is tied directly to a couple of things. A champion, to survive in an employment context an advocate is mandatory, if you don’t have one, get one, or get a new job where you have one. Without an advocate, you won’t last in a job. An advocate needs to be at a minimum your direct manager; your advocate cannot be a peer or someone lower than you in the organization. Otherwise, your advocate is a cheering fan or a supporter with no real ability to advocate for you. Ideally your advocate will be someone who is senior to your manager, better yet your advocate is at least two management levels above your direct manager. In my experience the more senior your champion the less discrimination you’ll have to deal with and you’ll be better accommodated in your role. If you lose your advocate, they get promoted or change roles, you’re screwed unless you get a new advocate. If you piss your advocate off and lose them, you’re an idiot, grow up and find a new job. Regardless if you can’t find a new advocate you’re screwed and you’ll end up having to find a new job. Get really good at finding work, it’s always helpful to have a plan B cooking just if you end up in the fire. I never, never stop looking for a new job.

Besides having a champion you need to be accommodated. Accommodation is a complex topic ranging from technical accommodation to cultural and including process accommodation. In its most derogatory application, accommodation could be contextualized to show that you’re incompetent, losing your job and forcing you to find a new one. After all, if you can’t work as we do, you must be incompetent? I’m being sarcastic as I’ve been thrown under this bus too often lately. Accommodation is directly tied to your advocate and their placement in the organization. If your advocate is senior enough, you’ll have no problems. If your advocate is your manager only you’re in for some rough rides or a rapidly accelerated trip to your next opportunity. Usually, some kind of unceremonious kick in the ass out the door.

Technical accommodation is necessary to provide you with the technologies your use to get work done. Notice the language, “use” not “need,” these are the tools I use to work. It’s a very different conversation to be enabled with the things you use as apposed to being “helped” with the things you need. Accommodation can be a negative thing, if your “helped” its positioning you as “unable” instead of “enabling” you to “perform”. Being, “helped” can position you for failure later in the tenure of your job. You live with your disability, and I’m assuming you’ve lived with it long enough to know what works for you and what doesn’t. If you don’t find out, NOW! If you do, politely request what you use. If your needs change do the research and find out will provide you with the technical accommodations you use to work and ask for them, politely. In these tough economic times be prepared to pay for part or all your technical accommodations.

Process accommodation is necessary to account for your differences in work style. If you, with your technical accommodations, can work and function just like everyone else you’re very lucky. If not your advocate will help you to work around the things you’re great at and can do and the things you suck at and can’t do. There are a few things I don’t do well: collaboration around a laptop, reading paper based documents of any kind, doing expenses, and reporting time. I am aware of my learning style, spend an hour with me and talk to me about a subject, draw a picture with me and I’ll be a global industry leader in weeks. Make me read about it, I’ll go find a new gig, reading is physically painful for me. How much do you do things that you know will hurt you, badly? Get to know what you can and can’t do, be honest. Hiding your disability or the effects of your disability will come back and haunt you later. Ending with your integrity or credibility damaged is a bigger hole to dig out of then disclosing your needs up front and taking the time to find a job and employer that will work with you. Given the economic bad times currently employers can hire and retain people who precisely fit their way of working and their culture, without an advocate it’s purely FIFO, “Fit In Or Fuck Off”. You’ll have to continue working harder providing better results than your “TAB” colleagues, keep at it, you’ll be fine.

Cultural accommodation is necessary to feel part of the team. If your team is into base jumping as a team activity, you might have some problems. Or if your team goes to the pub and sings and dances all night, and that’s not your thing, you will have problems. An advocate is necessary for an organizations culture to accept you. Again, the more senior your advocate the better as their sphere of influence is larger. You can help yourself here by being clean presentable and perky. A nasty word, perky, provides some resentment in the disabled community but if you have a smile on your face say hello and can have a conversation it will take you a long way on the road to being accommodated. I remind you of FIFO.

Everyone that I’ve ever met wants to live, wants to contribute to society, to human kind, wants to work. In touch economic times it’s easy to fall into the negative thinking, of accepting conditions in your life that are abusive and unhealthy. It’s easy to hear the works of perpetrators and abusers as they tell you that your nothing without them, and you’ll never find anything better, or that there is nothing else out there for you. Who would want you anyway? It’s easy to hear these voices of the past or present when things go sideways with an organization that you’re supposed to be working at. I struggle not to fall into the trap of blaming everything on my disability when times are tough. Stay in the present, breath, and keep moving forward.

Applying three strikes to an organization is easy, three events of disenfranchisement or discrimination and your outta there, your fired organization. If the character of an organization is bad it’s generally safe to assume that the leaders are bad, or suck as leaders. The followers although they might sympathize with you are in no position to help you. If you’ve worked openly with senior management and nothing happens you know the old saying. You can keep banging your head on the brick wall, but what are you going to get? A sore and bloody head. If you’ve been open and transparent and nothing happens it’s a sure sign its time to move on.

During the interview process with my healthcare provider employer, I was asked for a list of technical accommodations that I use to do my job. Naturally knowing what I needed I provided them straight away with the information requested. As the interview process turned into a job offer then into a job, I never again heard about my request for technical accommodations. So I asked, and I was informed that there was a process but it would be too humiliating for me. Knowing that times are tough and good jobs few and far between I accommodated myself. My manager signed off on my accommodations, but it didn’t end there. I was told that I didn’t need the gear that I provided for myself.

I’d just finished spending several thousand dollars and had inadvertently induced a case of penis envy. I don’t know what it is about computer monitors but size matters. My 46” monitor caused a cock fight. Because I’m blind, I was told, I needed technology with much lower and inferior capabilities. I didn’t need the technology I had provided at my own cost to enable me to work. It is my own technology, my possession, I am providing the benefit to you so I can work so blow, but the issue didn’t go away; I had to escalate the issue to my manager several times. The noise still wouldn’t go away, “that technology isn’t allowed here,” “you don’t need that qualities of technology you’re blind, what difference will it make for you anyway?” So I escalated the issue further, I even capitulated and was willing to go through the humiliating process of a needs assessment. The needs assessment done by people who learn about disability from a textbook and a lecture.

As an aside I don’t understand how you can learn about being anything unless you’re that thing. You can learn empathy for that state of being, but you can never know what it is to experience life from that state of being, unless you live in that context. I’ve been told that I don’t know anything about being blind or disabled because I don’t have a degree in being blind or disabled.

The noise at work didn’t stop, and I had to escalate to senior management. Finally the noise stopped, but senior management didn’t think that the organization could behave that way so nothing was ever done about it. I was as ever on my own, now isolated, now outcast. Worse the teams and the people discriminating against me and giving me grief about my technology that I provided to accommodate myself was supposed to be my customers. The ones I was supposed to be working with to get my job done. Initially, I retained the same healthcare provider employer, but I bet you can guess how this story ends. The penis envy was so bad the senior director of the team that was giving me grief bought a 50” monitor, to make sure they had a bigger monitor than I did.

I was supposed to change teams. I never officially changed managers or changed teams, I never received an email or a letter or a directive saying that now I was on the new team. I was told by my manger, whom I thought was my advocate, that I had one deliverable I had to get done with the customer who was discriminating against me and my technology. This deliverable needed to get done before I would be allowed to transition to a new team. What a pickle I was in, I’d identified a poisoned workplace, having management agree that the workplace is poisoned by agreeing to move me but not letting me move. I was very hurt by this point.

Before I escalated the issues of discrimination, I was promised a new role with more responsibility. The offer went away with all this noise about my technical accommodations that I provided so I could do my job. Its so twisted I couldn’t have thought about this silly scenario beforehand. Advocating had not only landed me stuck with the people who were actively discriminating against me in a poisoned work environment. I was also being held back, punished for advocating. I never ask God if things can be worse because whomever God is they can always find something else to make life worse.

Ultimately being the enterprising person that I am I found a way to get my one thing done, and start thinking about changing teams. Remember no notification no formality that I was to be on a new team, only the standard operating procedure for incompetent organizations. I know had two jobs to do. I was introduced to my new customer by a consultant, an insultant in this case. The time I spent with this person was nothing but distasteful. The blind jokes and disabled jokes never stopped, and to top it all off the insultant asked me point blank. “Being Blind what good are you?, What can you do?” To this day I don’t know whether the insultant was protecting a revenue stream or if they were indeed that much of an asshole. Topping things off the person from the healthcare entity who was with me, who was supposed to be my new manager, in the meeting when I was asked by the insultant what can I do being disabled and all, didn’t think the comment was a big deal, My new supposed manager didn’t get it, clearly not an advocate, clearly not capable of being an empathetic people manager. I did some investigation, and it turns out that employee’s of the healthcare entity had indeed expressed significant concern at my professional abilities in the context of my disability. The insultant was such an unprofessional uncouth individual with no character decided to take the issue into their own hands and ask me directly. Idiot. With escalations to senior management again, I had hoped to stay on my original team and be assigned to new work. No such luck I was told I had to move teams and work for the disgusting discriminating customer and the insultant.

It’s always the negative stuff that is hardest to leave; I am a passionate person I was so excited about this opportunity. I don’t know why abusive situations are always hardest to step out of, I personally get trapped by thinking of what could be or what could have been. Leaving negative situations requires grieving. Its easy to rationalize that a medical organization will always look at disabled people as something to fix, and finding you unfixable abandon you. It’s a hard thing to believe there are not only small minded people out there but people who are mean enough and desperate enough to protect revenue streams by disenfranchising a professional person, let alone a professional with a disability. There are mean people out there, who will consciously hurt you. Prepare yourself for the eventuality and deal with it.

When is enough, enough? It depends on how you count. Do you consider the instances in isolation and the people involved in the incident of discrimination in isolation? Do you consider the types of incidents, accommodation, poisoned workplace? Or do you just consider each incident as an indicator of the character of the organization as a whole. I chose the latter, the organization clearly wasn’t interested in accommodating me, fine. The organization clearly wasn’t interested in doing anything about discrimination, fine. The organization clearly was intent on putting me back into a poisoned work environment, again. Three strikes, guess what I fired them. Enough was enough.

About the Author:

Kyle has ocular albinism and has been legally blind since birth. Kyle leads a very active live and is besides his professional career involved in many projects for persons who are different.

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