‘My Boss Called Me a Hypochondriac’ – Your Stories of Working with Disabilities

It is wonderful to work and forget my disability

In 2015 I lost both my legs below the knees, the hearing in my right ear, and all the muscles in my hands due to sepsis, so I’m still figuring out my new life. Work-wise, I’m aware how privileged I am. For one, I have been able to return to my job – albeit with huge amounts of support. The university has also adapted the main building I work in and is starting to adapt two others, and I have been given specialised computer equipment. Through Access to Work (ATW) I have taxis and support workers, which enable me to get to work and do my job when I’m there. ATW is complicated and stressful to set up, but it is working for me, although the bureaucracy is a constant headache. Because I have to regularly reapply, I have this nagging anxiety that it will stop. I could not do my job without support workers so I live in fear that I will lose them.

Although I have returned to some aspects of my work, others remain a challenge and some I will never be able to do, which means I need to rethink substantial parts of my job. I love my job, and I am so happy to be back, but I grieve for the many aspects of it that I have lost. My colleagues and students have been awesome. Sometimes I even forget about this messed up body of mine when I’m teaching or working with colleagues – I can’t describe how wonderful it is to forget.
Liz, Oxford, associate professor of Egyptology

My manager refused to recognise my disability

I suffered a back injury at work, helping to move an ill patient in bed while we were understaffed. I slipped a disk that required surgery, effectively disabling me and I had to take more than a year off work.

The bullying started before my return to work. The occupational health department expected me to go back to work post-operation, with no restrictions in my duties. They refused to acknowledge any disability despite me telling them I could not even lift a mug of tea or walk up a flight of stairs. I was told if I did not go back I would not have a job.

I went back to work and was bullied for the next few years. I would be allocated the heaviest patient in the ward, or the most agitated patient – basically I felt I was being set up to fail. I struggled on for two years with my manager refusing to recognise my disability.

Eventually, after continually complaining to HR, I was assessed and medically suspended from work, before being made redundant. I wanted to take them to court and see a union solicitor, but I received no response from them. Then I effectively had a nervous breakdown and did not leave the house for the next six months. I have changed because of this experience – I find it difficult to be happy and I have not stepped foot back in the hospital where it all happened.
Anonymous nurse in Scotland

I’ve always found it difficult to pass job interviews

Although I can’t say for sure that it’s because of my disability, throughout my working life I have found it difficult to pass interviews. I can only use one hand and walk with a distinctive limp because of being paralysed down one side from a head injury as a child. I only apply for jobs that I can do with one hand, but I can’t help but notice that potential employers don’t want to employ me when they see my disability.

I pride myself in not requiring any support from my employer. I always push myself to demonstrate that I’m as capable as my able-bodied colleagues. I work unpaid overtime to make sure that I get as much done as everyone else. This isn’t required by my employer – it’s a matter of personal pride.

My former manager admitted that after they had interviewed me, the panel had a discussion about whether I would be able to carry equipment. They decided to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I have been with the company for over a decade.

I wonder how many other prospective employers I’d applied to before had the same discussion and decided not to risk it.
Anonymous, 50, Nottingham

Co-workers called me a hypochondriac

I work for the NHS and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in recent years. It was aggressive and I went from having a few aches to struggling to move. The combination of pain and side effects from the medication means that I am now off work until my symptoms can be controlled.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a hidden disability. It is often mistaken for osteoarthritis, which most elderly people will get, but it is in fact an autoimmune disease. It causes intense pain in the joints but also affects the heart, lungs, bowel and other organs. Treatments are targeted at reducing the effectiveness of the immune system – using toxic drugs such as those used for chemotherapy, so people like myself face the pain of the disease combined with the side effects of the medication.

I look completely normal and healthy – which is a problem. When I chose to disclose my condition at work, colleagues said: “Yes I’ve got aches and pains too”. I have been told by co-workers that I am a hypochondriac, that I’m having time off for what everyone has to put up with as they get older. I’ve been told “the side effects can’t be that bad, and if I wanted to work I could”. I often feel I am being blamed by people for my own illness.

My employer asked that I be seen by an occupational health consultant. They immediately signed me off work, wondering how I had managed to struggle on. They wrote a letter to my employer reminding them my condition is classed as a disability and also pointing out that in his opinion they should have been grateful I had struggled on despite them. It was the last thing I expected but I cried because I felt someone finally believed me. I had always gone above and beyond for my employer in the past, and I felt they went out of their way to make my disability feel shameful.
Anonymous

Since I revealed my disability, my career hasn’t progressed

I am a regional manager with multiple sclerosis, and it’s invisible. In my current company I was told I had great potential, however I recently confided in my boss about my disability. Since then they’ve instructed me to complete risk assessments and have talked about my health at every review. My career progression has also halted. I’ve not had a day off sick in 10 years because of my MS. But I will not make the mistake of telling anyone again.
Anonymous

I was suspended when I asked to start using a wheelchair

I became disabled a few years ago due to a progressive illness. I had been in my role for seven years, but my disability came at a time of change within the company. I needed software that cost around £100 – it was never provided so I under-performed, and as a result was made redundant.

I found another job within two weeks. I then asked for reasonable adjustments but was again denied. I struggled to perform and was managed out after 10 months. I was out of work again for just a few weeks. Despite not having a sick day since diagnosis, I was suspended when I asked to start using a wheelchair. I was then offered money to leave, making it clear there was no place for a wheelchair user in their office.
Anonymous, north-west England

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/feb/25/working-with-disabilities