In my personal experience working with people with invisible disabilities, I find environment is especially important. During career planning I find it’s an area that many people fail to take into consideration.
The question is simple. What’s your preference? Many employers described their workplaces as “fast-paced” but that doesn’t jive if you start your day in the afternoon or your medication makes you drowsy.
Preferred Working Environment
“With an invisible disability (epilepsy, diabetes), it is important to be mindful of what self-care regimens need to be upheld (e.g. regular mealtimes, adequate sleep, medication dosages); and what working conditions can aggravate your condition (e.g. overnight work, irregular hours, heights or high altitudes), says Denise Feltham of DICE Assessments. “This is particularly important when applying for “safety sensitive” positions (e.g. air traffic controller, bus driver, machinist) where there is a risk of injury to yourself or others. In terms of workplace communication, you may experience prejudice by coworkers who misjudge your access to accommodations as preferential treatment given that you show no outward signs of a disability. If the position is not safety sensitive, a deciding factor in whether or not to disclose is the degree to which your condition affects the duties of the job you are applying for.”
Work environments can generally be divided into four areas: location, physical conditions, hours of work and yes, your colleagues.
The first question is where do you want to work? How far are you willing to travel? Consider how much time you’re willing to travel back and forth. Shortly after graduating college years ago, I was offered a job in a small non-profit that helped people with disabilities. I lived in Toronto but the job was in Richmond Hill, in York Region, just north of the city. A decision had to be made. Do I settle on someplace smaller where I’ll have opportunities to bring my creativity and ideas to the workplace, or consider a larger place in the city that might be more structured?
I opted for small. And for the next four years, I travelled back and forth, 90 minutes each way. For a time it was worth it because I got to implement all kinds of ideas some of them successful, so me not, with the blessing of a supportive supervisor.
After several years however, the novelty wore off, and travelling 60 hours a month to and from work lost its appeal, Still, a lot of experience had been accumulated, skills developed and this improved my employability.
There’s many variables to consider here. Are you a parent want perhaps want your work to be close to services like hospitals and shopping? Do you perhaps need to work from home as an accommodation?
The next question to consider is what kind of physical conditions are important to you? Is the environment busy? Cold? Hot? Safe? Is it noisy? If you have auditory processing issues, perhaps you might need a quiet place in the office. Do you like a busy environment? Do you value privacy or shared spaces?
Next, what are the requirements of the job? Is there a lot of bending? Lifting? Are you standing for long periods of time? Are you sitting at a desk all day? Are you required to balance on a ladder or engage in climbing? What accommodations might be required under circumstances like this?
Following this, you should be considering work hours? Is the job full-time or part time? Are you required to work shifts? Weekends? Holidays? Are you required to travel? Some people with mental health issues feel they can’t function very well because of the sedative qualities created by their meds. Likewise, some folks with epilepsy are required to take medication at specific times and so a dependable time frame is important to them. On the other hand, some people living with ADHD however, might thrive in an environment where shift work is required.
Your colleagues are also an important consideration. What kind of people do you want to work with? Do you prefer to work with folks who are creative? Helpful? By the book? Liberal or conservative? If you want to enter a helping profession, what kind of community would you like to work with? Don’t forget your colleagues are also part of the people you serve. “Inside and outside customers”
Agile Work Environments
During the last decade, agile work environments have been gaining a lot of traction. Simply put, an agile work environment is about optimizing the use of space by adopting a non-assigned seating model.
It means transitioning from dedicated workstations for each employee to shared spaces that workers use on an as-needed basis. Pundits suggest that as much as 60 percent of traditional office space goes unused on any given day, the agile work environment provides the means for an organization to optimize the utilization of workplace and significantly reduce cost.
Many companies are moving to activity-based working (ABW) at the same time as they implement the agile work environment. ABW gives people the freedom to choose the type of space they want to work in based upon the type of work they need to do that day. ABW spaces are designed for efficiency, productivity and collaboration. The current thinking is that these spaces are catalysts for creative thinking and stimulating ideas because they provide comfortable areas for people to interact.
This idea sounds great in theory, but again, may not be conducive to the needs of people with invisible disabilities, especially if cognitive processing is expected to be quick. It could have quite the opposite impact on productivity.
Think carefully about these variables and add them to your list of considerations when mapping out your career.
Carter Hammett is currently the manager of employment services with Epilepsy Toronto.