Monday, January 9, 2012

The Letter

Last week, I submitted my request for accommodation and a letter from my therapist.  So far, I haven't gotten a response.  I sent everything to corporate in addition to giving it to my manager.  I thought I'd post my letter here for posterity.  I'm proud of what I've written and that I chose to stand up for myself.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter to request a job accommodation, under provisions established by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. I have tried to explain my disability, but I still feel that I am not being taken seriously, possibly because I have such difficulty expressing myself in conversation and my anxiety makes me timid. This is not about resisting change or my “comfort zone”. It is entirely about me being able to continue to do the excellent job I do for "----" and for my customers that I have done for so long. My Rheumatoid Arthritis may one day go into remission, but Autism Spectrum Disorders, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, don’t go away. Quiet and solitude are not “preferences” for me. They are necessities as much as a wheelchair is to a person who cannot walk. I can’t “get used” to living without something that is necessary for me to function, particularly when attempting to do so causes me so much anxiety.

I have been with "----" since May of 2001, first as a temp and later as a full time employee. My official hire date was January 27, 2003, at which time I was told that I would be listed as “inside sales” under payroll because there was “no other job code available”. Over the last ten years, my job has involved 3rd party rentals of portalets and scaffolding, but it is primarily research, reporting and billing. I bill (customer) an average of $116,637.61 a week, deal directly with the (customer's) finance department regarding the creation of detailed reports and changes to billing codes. I also follow up with accounts receivable and resubmit unpaid invoice lines on a 90 day cycle. Throughout the week, I receive many calls and emails from customers requesting reports related to billing, charge codes, equipment types, etc. In August and September, much of my time is spent on (customer’s) fiscal year end. This is an enormous task, for which I spend the entire year preparing. My job requires a great deal of focus and concentration. Because I have always had my own office here, with a door I can close, that has never been a problem.

My health has been in decline for the last several years, in which time I have struggled with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Aortic Valve Insufficiency, Depression, Asperger’s Syndrome and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (for which I am in treatment) caused primarily by the sensory sensitivities related to AS. Each of these brings its own unique challenges, often compounded by the medications I am required to take as part of my treatment. I have never made a formal request for special accommodation because I have previously been allowed the space and quiet I need to function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: A type of chronic arthritis that typically occurs in joints on both sides of the body (such as hands, wrists, or knees). This symmetry helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis. In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, and nerves.

Aortic Valve Insufficiency: Also known as Aortic Valve Regurgitation; a problem with the aortic valve in which the aortic valve does not close as it should. With each heartbeat, some of the blood leaks back (regurgitates) through the aortic valve into the left ventricle. The body does not get enough blood, so the heart has to work harder to make up for it.

Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million American adults age 18 years and older (about 18%) in a given year, causing them to be filled with fearfulness and uncertainty. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated. Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical illnesses.

Depression: According to the DSM-IV, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, depression occurs when you have at least five of the following nine symptoms at the same time:

• A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning

• Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day

• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day

• Impaired concentration, indecisiveness

• Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day

• Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day

• Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)

• A sense of restlessness -- known as psychomotor agitation -- or being slowed down -- retardation

• Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

Asperger’s Syndrome: An Autism spectrum disorder; a neurological variation that occurs in about 1 in 150 people and is classified as a developmental disability. Symptoms include,

• Different sensory experiences. For example, heightened sensitivity to light, difficulty interpreting internal physical sensations, hearing loud sounds as soft and soft sounds as loud, or synesthesia.

• Non-standard ways of learning and approaching problem solving. For example, learning "difficult" tasks (e.g. calculus) before "simple" tasks (e.g. addition), difficulty with "executive functions," or being simultaneously gifted at tasks requiring fluid intelligence and intellectually disabled at tasks requiring verbal skills.

• Deeply focused thinking and passionate interests in specific subjects. "Narrow but deep," these "special interests" could be anything from mathematics to ballet, from doorknobs to physics, and from politics to bits of shiny paper.

• Atypical, sometimes repetitive, movement. This includes "stereotyped" and "self-stimulatory" behavior such as rocking or flapping, and also the difficulties with motor skills and motor planning associated with apraxia or dyspraxia.

• Need for consistency, routine, and order. For example, holidays may be experienced more with anxiety than pleasure, as they mean time off from school and the disruption of the usual order of things. People on the autistic spectrum may take great pleasure in organizing and arranging items.

• Difficulties in understanding and expressing language as used in typical communication, both verbal and non-verbal. This may manifest similarly to semantic-pragmatic language disorder. It's often because a young child does not seem to be developing language that a parent first seeks to have a child evaluated. As adults, people with an autism spectrum diagnosis often continue to struggle to use language to explain their emotions and internal state, and to articulate concepts (which is not to say they do not experience and understand these).

• Difficulties in understanding and expressing typical social interaction. For example, preferring parallel interaction, having delayed responses to social stimulus, or behaving in an "inappropriate" manner to the norms of a given social context (for example, not saying "hi" immediately after another person says "hi").

In some cases, ADHD medication may help patients with AS but, because of my Aortic Valve defect, I am unable to take those types of medications. My medications for RA cause my immune system to work less effectively, putting me at great risk for serious and sometimes life-threatening infections. I often must walk with the help of a cane, due to inflammation in my knees, hips, ankles and feet. My current office space is ideal, as I am close to the restroom and kitchen and away from distractions. I understand that it is the current management’s intent to move me from my office into the front area of the store. I was willing to compromise on a three walled cubicle and a binaural telephone headset that is rated to block out sound. When the headset that arrived only covered one ear, I had hoped that wearing an earplug in the other would make it workable. It did not. The headphone blocks NO noise from my ear and the combination of that AND having my door open makes the noise level and distractions unbearable. The one good thing I’ve found about the headset is that it aggravates my arthritis less when I have to answer the phone. I am grateful for this, as well as finally having a handicap parking space and a chair that does not exacerbate my joint pain, though I expressed that these items were not necessary, while accommodations for AS are. Without them, the stress compounds my anxiety and leaves my work and personal life severely limited. Both my depression and anxiety were showing improvement until the recent changes to my work accommodations. They have now both taken a sharp turn for the worse.

My situation can be accommodated with relative ease and little expense, meeting the definition of reasonable accommodation as required by law, without causing undue hardship, as I am already positioned in a small office with a closeable door and would only need to stay where I am and be allowed to keep the door closed as I have done before. Additionally, the "----" Employee Handbook lists “restructuring job duties” as a reasonable accommodation. As the job I actually do has never been that of an inside salesperson, the only restructuring necessary would be to allow me to continue to do the job I have done for so long in the manner that has always worked. Additionally, I have also offered to telecommute. Information about this from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is attached as are copies of the Accommodation and Compliance Series’ for Arthritis and Asperger’s Syndrome provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.

I am aware that I am often seen as unfriendly, though this is not the case. I have a great deal of fondness and respect for my co-workers. Sensitivity training for all staff would also be helpful, as it seems there is little to no understanding of my conditions. There have, in fact, been multiple situations in which jokes about my sensitivity to light, sound and need for personal space have been made. I am not without a sense of humor, but harassing a disabled employee is unacceptable.

I am and always have been a dedicated, hard-working member of the "----" team. I would like to resolve my situation and return to my previous performance level as soon as possible.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

And Now, A Letter To ME From My Entirely Fictional Alter Ego

I think you have to live life in 4 wheel drive.  Maybe things get rough and you can try to just take an easier path, but that’s just surviving, not living.  You have to go through things to call yourself a survivor.  It’s not easy and it’s not pretty, but you have to do it.  Maybe you’re scared.  Maybe you think you’ll never make it.  Maybe you think you’re a failure.  Maybe you’re wrong.

You’ve got a bully at work?  Deal with it.  No one is going to fix it for you.  Stand up and demand to be treated right.  You want to be walked on?  Fine.  Lie down and take it.  Don’t just bitch about it and expect it to get better.  Take some fucking action.  That bully will just keep on until someone makes him stop.  He thinks being a dick means he’s hard.  Bullshit.  He’s just a limp little man-child who never learned that the world doesn’t revolve around him.

Hate your life?  Well, fucking fix it then.  Take a stand and make some changes.  If doing what you’ve been doing gets you the same pathetic results, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  Everyone has shit to deal with.  You’re not the only one.  No one has a perfect life.  Get over it.  You’re miserable.  You don’t have to stay miserable.

Show the world you’re done being everyone’s bitch.  Tell them you’re not going to take it anymore.  You’re strong, you’re smart and you’re beautiful.  Own it.

Things I Am Not...Things I Am

Things I Am Not
I am not going through a phase.
I am not a “late bloomer”.
I am not anti-social.
I am not unfriendly.
I am not a snob.
I am not unfeeling.

Things I Am
I am on the Autism Spectrum.
I am exactly who I was meant to be.
I am a fiercely loyal friend.
I am funny as hell when you get to know me.
I am dangerously empathetic.
I am more like you than you think.