We all have good days and bad days, and by “we all” I mean all people. Some days, usually when I am overtired, I carry an internal attitude of “if you think your day is bad, try living with <insert disability here>.” The problem with actually saying such momentary reflections out loud is how it reinforces exactly the “woe is me” attitude stereotypically expected from individuals with disabilities. It is most certainly true that my disabilities make it more difficult to complete tasks using exactly the same processes as individuals without my disabilities, but I am also certainly capable of coming up with creative solutions to complete those tasks anyway. Nevertheless, I do have moments when I genuinely feel like it would just be easier if I was not disabled, which should be obvious.
The disability platform is an obvious one, and few people without disabilities need to be reminded of how dreadful it must be to meet each day with such tremendous disadvantage. I mean, why else would individuals with disabilities have acquired popular praises such as “You’re not disabled. You’re just special.” I am not special and I am most definitely living with a disability. Come on, though, what can people without disabilities really say? No one wished our disabilities upon us. We simply are the way we are and sometimes we have bad days when we are not in the mood to find creative solutions to complete those tasks anyway.
In the workplace, some people might care, but a majority of people are doing all they can to keep up in life themselves. Everyone has a problem of some kind (whether acknowledgement is present or not). Living professional lifestyles as individuals with disabilities requires a great deal of resiliency. We are never wrong to think or feel the way we do about ourselves, but we need to remain conscious of what we say, how we say it, and our audience. Remember, a majority of other people are already expecting us to think and feel like life is harder for us. We cannot expect employers and colleagues to trust in us and treat us as equals if we are contributing to negativity in the workplace around living with disabilities. We do not need to waste any time emphasizing the negatives. No one needs help thinking of the negatives! We need to demonstrate how effective we can be, even on bad days, even when we are thinking and feeling negatively about ourselves. We must take actions that reflect a positive attitude towards individuals with disabilities in the workplace by keeping the negative thoughts and feelings about our disabilities out of the workplace.
However, one instance when sharing with employers or colleagues about the trials and woes of living with a disability might be useful would be during a meeting, conference, or training when you have been asked to share specifically on that topic. Another instance might be if you consider a particular colleague to be a confidant. Of course, you would want to be perceptive to any point in time when your confidant expresses feeling inadequate to provide effective feedback regarding living with a disability. Furthermore, sometimes a colleague or employer might initiate the conversation, and in that case, it would also be appropriate for you to engage in explaining the common barriers to living with a disability. Although, in both the first and third case, you would want to be extra careful about emphasizing the small number of things you cannot do when you could be sharing about the things you can do.
Sometimes it would be nice to be able to just talk about it openly and not feel like we have to just deal. Professionals have to just deal with a lot of issues and we need to know when it is appropriate to share and when we should rely on our internal coping skills to get us through bad days. If we cannot rely on our own internal coping skills, then we should seek appropriate supports, ideally outside of the workplace. Turn to friends, family, counselors, mentors, and the internet before you bring those problems no colleague can solve to work.
Finally, and I cannot say this enough, INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES NEED TO DEMONSTRATE AND EMPHASIZE THE POSITIVES AT WORK. Disability rights have made significant improvements over the past 25 years, but there is still work to be done and we are all responsible.