Thursday, June 24, 2010

Disability as an Asset?

One of the many pieces of advice we’ve received from friends of AAPD (I think it was Mat McCollough of the Washington D.C. Office of Disability Rights?) is that oftentimes, many of us can’t hide our disability in the workplace. So instead of thinking of it as an obstacle, we need to examine how we can use it to our advantage. In the past, I’ve engaged in previous work environments with an assumption that I could indeed hide my disability. Yet until now, I haven’t been able to admit to myself that this is often just not possible. To be completely honest, I’ve had some frustrating personal ups & downs around my disability in my work environment. There have been moments where I’ve been (perhaps excessively) self-critical.

Let me make it clear: the vast majority of the time, I'm happy with my performance. Though with this new piece of advice about disability in the workplace, I’ve been questioning whether trying to completely hide mine is even desirable. Even though I certainly believe I have a very positive sense of self as someone with a disability, I can’t say I ever imagined how it could also be an asset in the workplace. For this entry, I think it might useful to list some ways I think my disability can be an asset during my internship:

1) People with autism often thrive on routine. The fact that I prefer to start my day whenever possible by performing a particular task & ending it performing another ensures they’re consistently checked off my to-do list.

2) My tendencies to be detail-oriented & highly organized are often related to my autism. While someone else might rush through something, I am more apt to examine a project much more closely before I complete it. This is particularly important for the current project I’m working on.

3) An ability to memorize & recall quickly can certainly be an asset- it’s not too difficult for me to recall what was said during a hearing or briefing when I may not have been able to write it all down. Not to mention storing all the information for Capitol tours! Or navigating the mazes of the tunnels connecting congressional buildings when I need to get somewhere quickly!

4) When I’m feeling balanced, I can “get in a zone” & become incredibly focused.

5) With a focus on process, I develop a concrete sense of the steps I need to take to accomplish a given goal.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have skills to work on. Some of which are certainly related to my disability. But because of my disability, I do have several specific strengths I can use to improve upon my weaknesses. Which is extremely important to remember.

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