The Working Life: Reasonable Accommodations, Part 2

  • Here now I'll continue my two-part blog entry about the ins and outs of working and having a psychiatric condition that could impact your ability to perform job functions in a traditional way. Before I quote observations made by the people interviewed, I'll list some possible benefits of self-disclosure, which include allowing a worker to request a reasonable accommodation, and to have a job coach come to the work site and communicate directly with the employer. Also, revealing your condition could make it easier to come to work during a period of heightened symptoms.

    The SAMHSA web site suggests, "From an advocacy and altruistic perspective, one person's disclosure may empower another."

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    On that note, I'll segue into some comments about invoking the reasonable accommodations rule. Roxanna disclosed, and one of her co-workers came forward with his bipolar disorder. She was told, "He feels much more confident because he sees you; you've out of the closet with your illness and . . . he feels more confident, he feels accepted . . . his work performance is going [sky-high]."

    Others aren't so rosy. Joe suggested, "You really have to evaluate it in terms of the stress you take on for the disclosure." It could start a cycle where others treat you differently because you're known to have a mental illness, and this could spiral into paranoia about how people perceive you. In the end, it might affect your job performance.

    As well, when you tell people about your disability, your career advancement opportunities may be limited. Lastly, others will be tempted to attribute all of your behavior to your psychiatric condition, and avoid giving you the feedback necessary so that you can improve your performance.

    Again, Joe nailed it: "You can become identified as the person with a disability, and that becomes your persona. It's very tough to get out of that. Things that are aberrant about you, that may have nothing to do with your illness, get put in the illness box." He makes "self-accommodations" that no one else is aware of to modify how he does his job.


    That's why my preference is not to disclose, because I decided to find employment so that I could get away from the SZ. Three years ago I skirted this because back in the Stelazine days, the drug made me fatigued in the morning and I could barely get out of bed, so that I was late for work. My boss brought this to my attention, and rather than say nothing and thus give the impression it was willful behavior, I wrote her an e-mail: "The reason for my lateness is that I'm taking medication which makes me fatigued in the morning." It was as simple as that. She took me aside, and told me that from now on, if I was going to be late, I had to call in advance instead of just arriving "whenever" without notice.

    Indeed, SAMHSA interviewees revealed that functional limitations resulting from psychotropic medications were common. Steve, a stock clerk for the shoe department of a large department store, arranged it with his boss so he could arrive in the afternoon instead of at 6 a.m. His flexible schedule allows him to call and say he's not coming in for any reason, provided he makes up the hours later in the same week. Steve considered these exceptions accommodations for his disability.


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    On the other hand, his boss, when asked, stated he wasn't making any accommodations. The supervisor was quoted: "We're very flexible with schedules for everybody. Because I myself go to school and I know how that is, working at the same time . . . And besides, Steve just moved, so it's sort of hard for him to come in the morning because buses don't run that early. And besides the truck, the people in receiving, don't usually have the shoes done until later in the afternoon, so it wouldn't make any sense to have him come in at 11 or 10 or even earlier because we would have nothing for him to do."


    Interestingly, most of the employers SAMHSA interviewed weren't aware that the ADA Act legally enforced reasonable accommodations, and said they heard about it on the news or read about it in a newspaper. These supervisors granted the exceptions for various reasons: because it made good business (i.e., financial) sense, because they made such modifications for any employee who needed them, because they had come to value the worker over time (e.g., for his skills or reliability), or because they had empathy for the worker's needs and considered the accommodation fair or humane.


    Obviously, if an accommodation enables a worker to be more productive, his performance would positively affect the bottom line.


    Where I work, my job as a YA librarian used to require me to chat up the teens sitting at the tables to talk about our programs and services geared specifically for them. This was part of the job description and one of my supervisors at the time expected me to do this. I just couldn't follow through because it wasn't in my nature to take initiative to approach the teens. I wasn't effective, and I was miserable. The solution was to change my age-level specialty to Adult. It's a better match. As a result, I feel hopeful about my prospects. So you see, there's proof that accommodations not necessarily linked to disability are possible to obtain and benefit everyone involved.

    Each of us has talents-and expresses them in different ways. We are individuals first, so to place all workers in the same box sets up an unrealistic standard. In that inflexible box, there is no room for personal growth. If some of us were given accommodations, we might actually exceed our employer's expectations.


    To work at a job where our abilities, strengths and modes of functioning are in synch with the type of work we do enables us to blossom. In the next blog entry in this series, I'll talk about finding this work, starting with self-exploration tools and including Internet resources.



Published On: November 20, 2008