Scared to Ask

This post is part of Blogging Against Disablism Day:

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012

It started when they moved the faculty lounge to the second floor. The faculty lounge is important for two reasons. Not because anyone lounges there but because our mailboxes, which we are required to check daily, live there. Also, they contain the only bathrooms on campus furnished with the luxury of a spare roll of toilet paper in case the first runs out. When there are only five minutes between classes, I don’t exactly have time to drip dry.

Unfortunately, when there are only five minutes between classes, peeing in the faculty bathroom is nothing but a far-off dream. More to the point, though, on a bad pain day, I can’t really get up the stairs in any meaningful time frame. Additionally, with a bleeding disorder, sometimes getting to the bathroom, any bathroom, launches itself from convenience to immediate necessity. In short, moving the faculty lounge upstairs meant I could no longer handle some facets of my job — checking my mailbox daily, inability to go 3.5 hours between bathroom visits — without accommodation.

And I was scared to ask.

First, in terms of claiming I can’t always do stairs, I fit the standard definition of “but you don’t look sick.” That is, I appear mobile on stationary, level surfaces. In fact, sometimes, I even enjoy — and talk about — being pretty active and athletic on those types of surfaces. (Trufax: On bad pain days, hill running is optional. Changing my cup at work, not so much.) Second, part of my need for accommodation has to do with “wimmin’s things” and also blood. There are all kinds of reasons a supervisor at work could react to my concerns as if they’re fabricated, exaggerated, silly, or plain gross. I was worried about those not only as personal reactions from people, but also as reactions that could result in ungood professional consequences for me.

I’m good at my job. How fast I can climb stairs or how often I end up filling my menstrual cup is unrelated to what makes me a good teacher.

Fortunately, when I asked, the people who responded were understanding, professional, and responsive. I received both key access to the building’s elevator as well as an arranged system with my neighboring teacher, who also happened to be my department chair for how to handle emergency gushing sessions. Dealing with my endo continued to be supremely unfun, but at least I wasn’t worried about work logistics complicating the issue.

But. Time passed. Employee assignments shuffled. I’m in a different department. Both the department chair and the assistant principal I’d originally come to with my concerns have moved on to positions at different schools. (Relatively up the employment ladder for both of them, perhaps as a result of them also being damn good at their own jobs.) The people who had been looking out for me — in fact, the only people who had known about my endo — are gone.

And now I’m moving too. Same school, but a different program and different building. I don’t know where my room will be next year, or what it will mean in relation to my mobility and blood-gushing needs. Part of me thinks I should speak up. My current supervisor is, by my own experience, as fair and understanding as the one who came before. If everyone is open and reasonable, odds are pretty strong that we could come up with a new set of workable accommodations.

Once again, though, I am scared to ask. For all of the same reasons — fear I will be ignored, fear I will be belittled. And most of all, fear that people will think I am somehow incompetent or unable — and a lot of times, people conflate the two — at my job. Regardless of what should happen, what does happen is that I worry that people will confuse “I need help with the logistics” — which are, after all, really arbitrary here — with me being a fundamentally inadequate teacher.

It is, perhaps, ableism at its most efficient. I’ve internalized the anticipated negative responses so well that no one even has to tell me “no.” I’m scared to ask… and so I don’t.

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13 comments on “Scared to Ask
  1. I hope that you will! It seems to me that it could only help others in the future. In other words, if these people learn that people that look “fine” to them can also have issues, it could make them more open minded about people’s needs in the future. If no one speaks up, those prejudices continue. Although I know it’s hard to ask you to be the one to speak up :-/

    • Tori says:

      I may yet. I’m largely banking on the — founded by experience — assumption that my principal is basically an understanding person who wants to help and, quite frankly, wants to keep me on board. ;) (Even then, the “scared to ask” comes from working for people in the past who were Not This Way at all.) And then this sort of frustrates me because I’m psyching myself up to ask on the basis that I’m a “good enough” employee (basically, one who has already proven herself at this exact job) for my supervisor to want to accommodate my needs out of the goodness of his heart. Like I’m receiving these things as special favors rather than as the part of the right to an accessible workplace. (Which is not the fault of me or my supervisor but rather is a product of society-wide ableism.)

  2. Siobhan says:

    I think this illustrates a key point of disablism – you shouldn’t *have* to ask for accomodation, it should be assumed that accomodation is the default.

    I got into a fight at work over a policy that somebody arbitrarily decided upon that staff should have to tell their manager if they need access to the disabled washroom. As an able-bodied person I don’t have to clear my toilet use with my boss, and neither should anybody else.

  3. NTE says:

    I definitely understand, I’m uncomfortable asking for necessary accomodations even among groups that I KNOW will be understanding. (Just now, tweeting that maybe captchas could be turned off for BADD, I debated for a good half hour and five blogs worth of not being able to comment before I finally said something.) And when I was job interviewing, my anxiety was definitely at 11 about asking for what I would need in order to be able to work there. I hope everything works out for you!

  4. I always anticipate the “no’s” too. It’s an unfortunate way of thinking. Asking for the most minor accommodation can seem mentally monumental.

  5. I hope that you ask. As Siobhan said, accommodation should be the default. I definitely understand the apprehension, though. Great post!

  6. Christine. says:

    I do feel for you. I am in a similar situation as you, Tori, I went from being able to do everything to being unable to do most things in a school due to Rheumatoid arthritis, but other staff members think I’m not as ‘bad’ enough as to need any help.They can’t see my condition or how much pain I’m in so I’m OK to them. I don’t expect special treatment but am afraid to ask for help as I will be seen as not being able to do my job properly. Climbing stairs is excruciating at times so I know how you must feel. I hope things work out for you and you can carry on working for as long as you need to,

  7. nadinefawell says:

    Oh, honey. I hope you ask. You must. And people must help you. They must. The world is so sucky sometimes.

    • Tori says:

      I think I’m going to at least try to make an appointment to see the layout of the new building and ask about things like elevators/stairs, restrooms, faculty spaces, etc. Then at least I will have a better idea of the various risks/benefits in terms of asking for accommodations.

  8. It’s sad that we, as people with a disability, should be afraid to ask a question that helps alleviate worries, concerns and physical difficulties.

    As a man, I honestly don’t understand what you must feel in this situation but, as someone with my own disability, I can only send a *hug*.

  9. Tara Geever says:

    Ask! In fact, I would simply tell them your need and expect that it be met. They don’t need to know the exact condition or reason behind it, but i you feel comfortable, share it. I have endo, and it causes severe cystitis and irritable bowl syndrome as well as womanly pain. I’ve shared with my supervisor, next door teacher, the deans office, anyone willing to cover my class for 5 minutes while I use the facilities. It was worse when I had first prep and first lunch-which meant 5 hours with no break because we are expected to stand out in the hallway between classes. Advocate for yourself, and know that these are not accommodations, they are REQUIREMENTS.

    • Tori says:

      Given that district is cutting 9 positions from my grade level (across 2 schools) for the upcoming year, I think now may not be the most strategic time. ;)

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