Peek into my Cubicle: When I am vs. When I am not

I feel strange about writing a post about the comparisons between working in an office where I *am* the sole wheelchair-user vs. working in an office where I am *not* the sole wheelchair-user.. because y'know like a shit ton of people don't have jobs right now.
Before I go any further though I have to admit that as someone who is going into public interest work as a career, what's going on at the federal level is equal parts devastating and motivating. The situation at hand says only this to me: things are a mess, there is work to be done - good work, and I am grateful for the educational and professional opportunities I've been granted because instead of throwing my hands up in the air I find myself wanting to participate even more in what is going on.

So, there's that. Now ... back to my cubicle. For each of these observations I'm listing I am going to have scenario A: when I *am* the sole wheelchair-user in the office vs scenario B: when I am *not* the sole wheelchair-user in the office. Let's get started.

1. Accommodations.
Scenario A: I have noticed that typically in these work environments (which I have had more years of experience with) for about the first two weeks to a month, my other colleagues around me will repeatedly ask "is there anything else we can do for you? Is this desk set-up working for you? Will you let me know if there's anything else that you need? Can you reach everything okay?" They check-in about this with me repeatedly. Do I need anything from them? No, usually I don't. Are they aware of me as an employee whose day-to-day job might be easier if ... say..I didn't need to stand on top of my wheelchair to get my mail from my mailbox? The jury is still out on that one.
Scenario B: I vaguely remember being asked if the desk was at the right height, or if anything needed to be lowered. But for the most part there was an understanding that the other staff around me could already tell/knew what accommodations I would require - and therefore pre-arranged it, or they knew that I would just ask for it myself. I will admit that it wasn't until I had the experience of working in Scenario B that I felt comfortable finally telling my officemates "for the love of god do not yell to me over the cubicle wall because I don't know what you're saying, and I will just ignore you. I lip read." 
Conclusion: In one instance it appears (from my experience) that the mentality remains as -- what else does Sandy *need* in order to do her job? In the other instance the mentality is -- we see you as an employee working for us with skills and talents, here is your space that is equipped to meet that expectation.

2. The other chairs on wheels.
Scenario A: Why is it not universally understood that office chairs made for today's working world are made in factories that put wheels on them? I do not want to drag chairs out of the way for each weekly staff meeting Every. Single. Time. Did anyone learn anything in Kindergarten? Do we not remember that rule of pushing your chair in after you get up? Should it be amusing to my colleagues when I need to play "bulldozer" as I push furniture out of the way? No. Apparently not. And definitely not.
Scenario B: There are enough chairs on wheels (excluding actual wheelchair users) to form an adaptive conga line. I might suggest that as a bonding activity for our board retreat this winter. But seriously, this minor detail makes the simple act of *being* in the office a more accessible experience. If there is a chair in my way I push it aside and off it rolls! If someone else is joining in a conference call at my cubicle, they just roll right in.
Conclusion: Yes this is a pet peeve of mine that might be mine alone, but believe me asking someone to move the chair or adjust furniture for you repeatedly is like playing musical chairs for the 100th time when you're the babysitter and the toddlers look up at you in awed delight. ..And you pretend to be just as excited.

3. Travel logistics.
Scenario A: I am responsible for my own logistics. "Sandy the staff are taking a cab to meet the client we weren't sure if--" before they had even finished I said "I'll take the subway and I'll meet you guys there." Who is calling to see if the client meeting place is accessible? Me. "Yelp said that it was accessible Sandy." "Okay cool.. let me just.. actually now go and find the accessible entrance.." Is it necessary that they'd paid for first class? Not really because .. umm.. leg room isn't really an issue for me. And calling the attention of the flight attendant sure as hell isn't a problem when you're the first person on the plane to begin with! But of course sometimes there are perks, and this girl never complained about it!
Scenario B: First of all -- I have gone to parts of the city with my supervisor when meeting people that I never knew existed. Down the public alley to avoid construction sites, or taking the subway to the next stop because it is a smoother wheelchair ride, or clambering in to someone's car knowing I will not need to suggest "you might need to fold your seats down.." because they've already done it without instruction. Secondly, because there is a companion during such adventures I am always learning something new that, when the next time I'm out and about alone, am able to put in to play!
Conclusion: Birds of a feather fly better together! There isn't much else that needs to be said.

4. Dropping things.
Scenario A: Wheelchair users usually have at least one hand preoccupied with propelling themselves in motion whether it is manual chair, or power chair. With the other hand we are creatively jamming things between fingers while pushing, or stuffing things between our legs, hanging things off of handlebars etc etc. The whole ensemble means that dropping things is going to happen, maybe more likely than it is for our bipedal cubicle mates. But when I drop something in Scenario A's office it is almost instantaneously picked up, or someone has rushed to my side to pick it up for me. It's like I have a personal picker-upper in my back pocket that just detects when something has landed near me. "Oh let me get that for you!" "Here ya go." "Oh I've got that." "It's okay I can pick it up." As I sit there, probably already looking to see what is next on my check list of things I need to do.
Scenario B: When things drop either I am picking it up (by hopping out of my chair and then climbing back in), or it gets left there until the cleaning crew comes by to place it back on our desk, or dumps it. Of course I'm not saying that no one is picking anything up, but it's less of a frantic urgent moment in this environment. Things are going to drop, if we don't need it right this second it will get left there or until we ask someone to get it for us. I have dropped copies by the copy machine before, looked at it on the ground and shrugged because in my head I think yeah, I've got enough copies already someone else can use that for scrap paper. Or if my colleague who uses a wheelchair has dropped something I might ask "want me to get that for you?" And sometimes she has said "nah it's okay." Or she'll say "yeah actually if you can reach it that'd be helpful."
Conclusion: In one setting the assumption is that when something is out of line or has gone awry, it needs to be set back in place by someone who can do it in a blink-of-an-eye. In the other scenario it's an understanding that comes with being in a wheelchair, and being around others who are also wheelchair users.

Do I have a preference for which work environment I like better? No I don't. I like the one that doesn't block social media sites, the one that has free coffee, the one that has a clean fridge, the one that lets me tack a picture of Ryan Gosling to my cubicle wall, the one with the giant aquarium of tropical fish in the lobby, the one with the nap cots, the one with the break area filled with candy and then beer on Fridays, the one that has cubicle nerf gun wars, the one with post-it notes in every color... I prefer the work environment that appreciates what I do and is willing to work with me in figuring out how to do it best.

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One Response to Peek into my Cubicle: When I am vs. When I am not

  1. This cracked me up! Can so relate...and umm...your ideal workspace sounds AWESOME!


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