Throughout my life, I’ve noticed there’s been a stigma regarding individuals who have disabilities in the workplace. I’m very thankful to work with a company that manufactures mobility products, so my co-workers and the other employees understand disabilities. They understand the need for complex rehab and how it impacts the lives of disabled individuals. In a way, I have been kind of spoiled because I’ve never had co-workers look at me differently because I’m in a wheelchair. I have always been treated as an equal.
In talking with some friends that use complex rehab products, I learned that they have not received the same type of treatment in the workplace. My buddy has a spinal cord injury and he works for a major company with over 1,000 employees. He told me that he is the only person in a wheelchair that works there and even though he has a physical disability, some co-workers treat him like he has some sort of cognitive disability. Honestly, I can relate to this.
When I used to travel across the country attending tradeshows and giving public speeches, I met a lot of different people from all walks of life, both able-bodied and disabled. Sometimes, able-bodied people would come up to me and talk to me as if I were a child or had a cognitive disability and couldn’t think for myself. I realized this could be used as a teachable moment.
I’ve always been a big proponent of education and teaching people about disabilities. If you have a disability, you know that every person’s abilities are different. I feel it is my duty in life to educate the public about living with a disability, so it’s not awkward in the future. I notice that the more time that I spend with someone, the more comfortable they become with me. As a result, they become more understanding and don’t even notice that I have a disability. So, sometimes you just need to give people time to understand. People will eventually see the real you if you have a physical disability and recognize your cognitive ability.
If you have a cognitive disability, it’s important to let your co-workers know ahead of time. I know this might be a challenge and you might have to step out of your comfort zone to let your co-workers know. In the long run, this can benefit you substantially to build trust between you and the people you work with.
Use your disability as a tool to educate. Now more than ever, both individuals who use power wheelchairs and individuals with intellectual disabilities are in the workplace. Remember to be open and honest about your disability, even though it may be uncomfortable. By doing this, you may change the way others in your workplace see you and your abilities.
About Josh McDermott: Josh is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab®. He is a public speaker and has served as a goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Josh lives in New York and loves to travel. Click here to learn more about Josh.