Accessible Workplace

When the Return to Work is Very Accessible

If the saying that two is a team, three is a crowd, and four is a party holds true, than it is quite fitting that we have reached the “party phase” of my now four-part return to work accessibility series, because at the end of April I started a new long-term job at an international finance company here in the Twin Cities. To quickly recap, in Part 1 I broke down the number of things that I needed to do to make my return to the employment ranks work both inside and outside the office. In Part 2 I waxed enthusiastically about how when I returned to the same workplace a few months later I discovered that the accessible door opener that I requested as an accommodation had been installed-very cool! In part 3 I discussed a workplace that wasn’t so accessible that I had a bit of a tough time adapting to. And here I’m about to dive into what it’s like when a new job site has a lot of accessibility.

But first a little bit about the job interview. As I’ve written about in the past, one of the tricky things about doing job interviews with a disability is the issue of disability disclosure. As I mentioned, there are a number of ways to do that (click the link to see the PDF). In most instances in the past I chose to subtly wink at the notion by asking someone who set up the job interview about the nearby wheelchair accessible parking options-it gets the issue out there but doesn’t get into specifics. My resume also mentions my work with the Minnesota Spinal Cord Injury Association, my blog, and my work on this blog, so careful resume readers can get a likely head’s up before the interview starts.

However, recently I’ve decided to just show up for my job interviews as is, aka what I’ve described as “shock and awe.” My strategy is to just let my work history and interview skills speak for themselves without any pre-conceived notions. I felt like that strategy couldn’t have gone better on the interview for my current job. The structure of the interview was them starting off by telling me about the company, then me walking them through my resume, then them asking me follow-up questions from a pre-existing list. When the dust cleared they had hardly any questions for me because I covered all of the bases on my own. They told me that they had two more interviews to conduct for the same position, but I left feeling like it was mine to lose. When I found out that I got the job a shade over 24 hours later I was surprised that they had conducted the other interviews so fast. As it turned out, I crushed the interview so hard that they cancelled the other two interviews and hired me immediately. So that felt awesome.

Within minutes of my arrival on my first day it felt like accessibility kismet. Even though it was no big deal for me to wave my building security badge in front of the pad on the wall and then hit the automatic door opener button mere inches away, they had taken the preliminary steps to set my badge up so that when I waved it in front of the security pad the door immediately opened. It was a nice touch.

At first they had me set up in a cubicle that had desk tables on all three sides. I felt boxed in and had no room to turn around. So if someone dropped by to talk to me I would have had to back out into the aisle to face them. However, in a cool twist, and before I said anything, my new boss recognized that and immediately set off to ask someone in a much roomier cubicle if it was ok if we switched work stations, and he obliged. But I barely had to make due since I spent most of the day at a co-worker’s cubicle starting my training anyway.

The other change that needed to be made upon switching my work spots was to put my keyboard on the desktop. Making a wrong assumption about how I would want things set up they put the keyboard under the desk on a pop up tray. But the problem with that was two-fold: 1) my knees banged against it and 2) it was too low for me to type. It was a strange assumption that I would prefer such placement, but an easy fix.

The next day I was all set up in my new digs. It was so roomy that I could do a full 180 with my wheelchair. The only downside was that my desk space was cut in half by the time I threw my backpack and jacket on part of the desk. The day after that the company ergonomics guy dropped by to talk shop about making everything as functional as possible for me. He put risers under my computer monitor so that my view was more comfortable. We kicked around ideas about putting an extra table in there to increase my desk space, but in the end I decided that all I really needed was a chair in the corner to throw my backpack and jacket on. Boom: reclaimed extra desk space. Over the next few days a number of my supervisors dropped by to make sure that my work area was functional and accessible enough. Their desire to make sure that I was set up adequately was cool.

As for the rest of the place, there is wheelchair accessible parking right out in front of the building. So far I haven’t had a problem getting a spot each day. The main entrance has door openers, so getting into the building is never a problem. The doors to the bathroom and cafeteria don’t have access buttons, but they are light enough for me to handle fairly easily. The bathroom stall has a lot of open space so that is nice. The break room is pretty close to my work area and I can reach everything that I need.

All that being said, so far things are going great and this is the most accessible environment that I’ve ever worked in. And as far as I’m concerned, an accessible work environment makes for much more productive work.

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