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In February 2007, I was fresh out of college and eager to join the workforce. It seemed like the next chapter of my life was ready to begin, but before I became a professional adult, I needed to find a job.
After countless interviews and mountains of job applications, I finally landed my first real job at an online high school in Phoenix. I felt so proud to finally be able to say I had an actual job.
With a new job, I was eager to get my career underway. But before I started working, there was one important thing I needed to square away: making sure my workplace was accessible.
As a quadriplegic, I required a few modifications to my workspace so I could use the computer effectively at the office. To make sure my wheelchair fit comfortably under my desk, I needed to use a desk with an adjustable height. For the computer, I also needed access to an on-screen keyboard. This allowed me to type with the aid of a mouse instead of typing on a physical keyboard.
For anyone who knows me, speaking up was never my strong suit. Asking for help was always difficult for me. But in this new environment, I had to overcome my shyness and anxiety to become my own advocate.
I eventually learned to effectively communicate my needs and worked with my employers to make sure I had everything I needed to be successful in my position. I have since moved into different positions with a variety of organizations and learned a lot about ensuring what is needed for me to do my job efficiently and effectively.
With that in mind, here are a few things I learned about asking for accommodations and accessibility in the workplace.
You don’t have to disclose everything: When requesting your accommodations, you do not need to reveal specific details about your disability if you do not want to. If documentation of your disability is needed, it's recommended that you speak with the human resources department or direct supervisor during this process.
Start the process early: Your top priority should be to make sure you have everything you need for the office. This means letting your boss or human resources department know about your needs. According to adata.org, requests for reasonable accommodation don’t need to be in writing and can be requested in a face-to-face conversation or using any other method of communication.
Get it in writing: Once you get your job, I recommend putting any needed accommodations in writing. It should detail that the requested accommodations at the office are due to a medical condition. This note will help solidify your ability to get accommodations approved. I have yet to encounter any issues in getting accommodations, but it’s better to be over-prepared. It may be good to have the request in writing even if your job doesn’t require it. Having a written request could come in handy if there is a dispute about whether or when the accommodation was requested.
Think past your desk: If you need accommodations, make sure you don’t forget about other areas in your office beyond your desk. For example, make sure meeting rooms are wheelchair accessible and all computers have the appropriate programs if you’re going to use multiple machines.
Keep the communication open: I’m naturally a shy person, but if I was going to be successful in my job I needed to overcome my fear and communicate better to be an advocate for my needs. So I quickly realized that I needed to let my bosses know what I needed for me to do my job. With that in mind, make sure you’re meeting regularly with your boss and Human Resources department to make sure everything is in order. And if your needs change, make sure you let them know.
Getting a new job can be an exciting time for anyone. And when you have to juggle a number of things, including your disability, making sure you are set up for success can be stressful. But hopefully, with these tips, your new job and career as a professional will be a little bit easier.