“Invitation to Self-identify: During Disability Employment Awareness Month, I hope you will take a few minutes to report if you have a disability.”
This was the title and first introductory sentence of an email I recently received from my employer. I am not sure why it bothered me and provoked such a visceral reaction from me. The topic of disclosure to my employers has been something that I have struggled with in the past. I have had some jobs where I have been very open about my JRA and other jobs where I felt it was unnecessary to ever mention it. At my current job, I have told my supervisor and some co-workers and even though I am certainly not hiding it from anyone, I am also not shouting about it at the top of my lungs. All of this is ironic, considering that I work in healthcare as an occupational therapist and work with kids with many different disabilities every day. You would think that I would feel more open and honest about discussing my JRA, but honestly it is something that I always initially struggle with revealing.
I am often afraid to disclose my JRA at work because I do not want to be treated differently than any of the other employees. Although I know it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their disability, it is hard to not be worried about this. On the other hand sharing the impact my JRA has on my everyday life, may help if I have to ask for reduced hours or work accommodations. I continually struggle between these two thoughts.
I think one of the reasons this particular email caught me off guard is that it forced me to define whether or not I consider myself “disabled.” The email from my employer defined disability as:
You are considered to have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment or medical condition that substantially limits a major life activity, or if you have a history or record of such an impairment or medical condition.
They then listed a variety of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. Rheumatoid Arthritis was not listed. Typically on a day to day basis I do not consider my JRA as causing me to have a disability. I work over 40 hours a week and my JRA does not impact my ability to perform my job. However, I am usually exhausted after working and would not be able to keep up with my physically and emotionally demanding profession if I didn’t have my supportive husband. I also have to constantly juggle medical appointments in order to not miss too many work hours. Just managing my JRA on a daily basis requires extra effort and sacrifices so I am able to perform my job without any accommodations or concessions.
I am still undecided about whether or not I am going to “declare my disability” to my employer on their human resource website. Identifying myself as disabled will not change how I perform my job, nor will it automatically provide me with any job accommodations. In essence it will not change anything for my benefit. Instead, I believe there are other ways to improve awareness about disabilities in the workforce that will be more beneficial than just declaring it on website.