I wrote in this post (When I Am Lost, Remind Me Of What I Am Good At) that I was doubting whether I still had the skills and knowledge after a long period of time not being able to work. It felt like I had put all my work skills away in a box in my mind and just had to dust them off to start using them again as they were.
Now that I am working again, I’ve noticed that it isn’t just that old box of work skills and knowledge that are helping me flourish. It’s the skills, knowledge and experience that I have gained while being unable to work, and having to manage my health in a full-time capacity. In fact, I feel that I have learnt and gained a more useful, stronger skill set through my experience of living with disability and chronic medical conditions. Having a disability or chronic medical conditions gives you really solid life skills.
So, what do you do with all of this experience and skills that society and workplaces don’t acknowledge, let alone consider it to be a strength?
There is so much stigma and rejection in the workplace about employing and including people with disabilities, as if they are not going to be able to perform as well as someone who is non-disabled. Sure, there are accommodations to be made for individuals, but accessibility applies to everyone at some stage in their working arrangements, whether it be personal leave or parental leave, adjustments to their desk or workspace, and flexibility for caring for loved ones and life balance. Disability can happen to anyone at any time in their life – temporarily or permanently – and no one is excluded from that likelihood.
Disability and chronic medical conditions should not be a deterrent for employers. In fact, you would probably get more bang for your buck by hiring people who have experienced it.
Here are just a few examples of skills that come from managing a disability or chronic medical condition – and the list could go on for miles… but I will keep it to a blog post and not a novel:
Organising and planning – Managing our daily medical requirements of medications, physical therapy, medical appointments, and all the prescribed actions that will benefit our wellbeing, with the normal activities of cooking, cleaning and self care? That’s a lot to manage. We are the masters of pacing ourselves so that we get what we need done without burning out. We know how and when to ask for help when we need it because we know that we can’t always do it all and don’t let our ego and pride get in the way. You can bet that our schedules run like well-oiled machines, and if there is a hiccup, it barely even flusters us and we work out a solution. Which leads to…
Problem solving – The obvious example for problem solving is how many people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions have had to turn into MI5 level investigators to help their medical practitioners reach a diagnosis. We have knowledge of our body, and doctors have a body of knowledge. It’s teamwork. But in the day to day, we are constantly barraged with problems that we have to address which don’t come with an instruction manual because they are so specific to us. We don’t have our doctors on speed dial for every single issue we face. We can get tips and tricks from people in the disability community, but we still have to solve what works for us and our combination of conditions. How to manage your day and your energy? How to manage a situation that is not accessible for your needs? How to plan a holiday with all these extra requirements?
Resilience – Throw anything at us and we survive it. Because almost all of the time, we have had no other choice but to deal with it.
Patience and tolerance – There are so many days and weeks of waiting for medical answers, coping with pain and uncomfortable symptoms with no relief, and having the intense mental load of uncertainty. This amount of physical, emotional and mental heaviness really stretches the capacity for patience and tolerance. On the positive side, after a while, it can mean that we are not as affected by waiting or having to tolerate a situation that is out of our control. We know how to surrender to what is. But that is not the same as giving up…
Perseverance – Which leads us to perseverance. We continue no matter how hard it gets and we continue because we know what it is like to go through difficult circumstances or situations and get through it to the end. The result may not be the reward we are hoping for but the relief is worth it.
Perspective – Being in Australia’s largest minority group does give you a different perspective from the norm, and that is where the magic happens. Different perspectives bring varied ways of approaching issues, problem solving and creative ideas. Having a variety of perspectives in your workplace or organisation brings innovation – and who doesn’t want that?
These are valuable skills in any workplace.
People with disabilities want to be in the workplace. We have so much to offer and we fight hard to be able to contribute where we can. We have skills that can only be learnt through living in certain circumstances and they are transferable skills. We thrive in workplaces that support our needs and accessibility. We are a vital part of the community that when we are included makes the whole community stronger and grow. So why not give us a chance?
If you are reading this post and have been unable to work, you may not be able to put it on your resume, but you are still learning and developing. Just because you are off work, or taking leave for medical reasons, doesn’t mean you are not building your work skills or learning. When you are able to return to the workforce in whatever capacity, you may find that you have evolved more than you expected and may become a greater asset to the workforce.
Take good care, Readers. I’ll keep the light on.
Sometimes, we need someone to point us towards our north star – of what we are good at and enjoy – when we can’t see it through our own darkness. Today on the blog I’m talking about a different kind of support that got me through some hard days when I couldn’t do what I…
‘If it was adjusted just slightly, it would be so much more inclusive’.
Growing Up Disabled in Australia is a diverse anthology of the very best kind!
Matt Haig is a brilliant writer and human being who is constantly investigating and questioning the effect of modern life on our mental health. He is a huge advocate for mental health wellness, and has shared his experiences through his multiple fiction works and his non-fiction books.