My “New Normal” Help Me

On the radio, the news, and the Internet and at the watercooler, I hear the words ‘the new normal’ a lot. What does it look like? Will this be working at home, our laptops on the end table only inches from our heads? After being inside our homes for a while, just like the rest of the world, our lives have changed, including how we work and interact with each other. Our new normal has made me think much about how I will learn and move forward as a designer. After trying to understand how the new normal will be, I am more confident to write this article because I have to change my learning style.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review, ‘Why People Hide Their Disabilities at Work’ by Pooja Jain-Link and Julia Taylor Kennedy. I thought this was something I could relate to, specifically this passage:

Work is stressful. If you’re hiding a disability, the daily grind of early mornings, deadlines, and office politics is compounded into a far heavier burden. You live in fear of being discovered. You work overtime to mask your authentic self. But you aren’t alone.

This is how I feel every day about having to keep a secret and being afraid someone will discover it and throw me under the bus. Well, someone did just that, and yes, the bus ran me over multiple times at my previous workplaces. I could have told someone, but I did not. I moved on like I always do. If they burn me, I moved on. If they pushed me out, I went and continued like I’m doing even now. I kept silent because if you think about it all the time, it will eat you up. I told myself that I could not do anything about it and that it was just easier to let it go. I learn and always look at the positive angles.

As I read the article, it did not surprise me at all that when they ran tests for the Center for Talent Innovation’s Disabilities and Inclusion study, they discovered that 30% of the workforce has a disability. Most of them were keeping it secret. This got me thinking even more, just like the statement below:

You live in fear of being discovered. You work overtime to mask your authentic self.

Further, in the article, they mention that about 13% of employees said that they had a disability, and they identified that as how they see the world or even how they identified themselves. What got me as I continued to read the article was that more than half of working employees, around 62%, reported that their disability is invisible, like mine. After reading that, I did not feel as bad. As crazy as that might sound, I have lived with it all my life, and I know what my strengths are. I know what I need to do to fill in the gaps. 62% really blew me away and got me thinking to myself what is an invisible disability, what did it look like?

Here are a few examples:

• Psychiatric Disabilities — depression, anxiety disorders, stress disorder

• Traumatic Brain Injury

• Epilepsy

• HIV/AIDS

• Autism

• Diabetes

• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

• Cystic Fibrosis

• Attention Deficit-Disorder or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

• Learning Disabilities (LD)

•Medical conditions associated with hidden disabilities

(List mention above: http://www.ist.hawaii.edu/training/hiddendisabilities/05_hidden_disabilities.php)

Some challenges for a person with a hidden disability could be many things, for example, when someone gets into a car accident and they can not sit down for long hours. Another challenge might be for someone who was in the military and came home with post-traumatic stress disorder. It could be a kid at school who stutters or even someone at your work that might need extra time to understand that project. No matter what the hidden disability is the bottom line, most people don’t see it, nor they even think about it. Plus, there are no ‘visible’ signs to support that disability. Just because you don’t see it, that means it is not there. It can be a consistent reminder all the time, and when they choose to disclose the information, a lot of people are not sure how to handle it. Most people have a lack of not understanding, and it can view as weak or antisocial, and it can potentially lead to lower self-esteem. I can give you a tip, treat them as you did before. I can assure you they are the same person and nothing has changed. They learn a different way, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

We talk about accessibility in our industry. A designer’s job is to design products and environments for people with disabilities. This includes hardware and software designed to help those who experience disabilities.

Remember that number again from the article — 62%. Well, if we are designers and we’re doing usability testing, some of our participants might have an invisible disability. How do we know if our experiment is correct? Are we getting the right data? Maybe they don’t feel comfortable enough to mention it. This just got me thinking a bit more about it. Are we flawed? Perhaps this is a question better suited for a qualified UX researcher. If you are out there, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Let’s talk about ‘disclosure’ for a minute. This is the act of revealing personal information about a disability to receive accommodations for school, job training, or even the workplace. These accommodations create an environment that makes it possible for people to participate equally. To disclose a disability is a personal decision, people have to make themselves. They should decide to whom they choose to disclose this information at any time. There are no standardized reactions when anyone gets the news, but they might surprise you. When I do decide to disclose, 100% of the time, the answer is ‘Wow, I could never tell’ or, this is a good one, ‘Wow, you act so normal.’ Surprisingly that is more normal than you know. Yeah, that is my favorite. I guess people are shocked.

I want to encourage others to have confidence in themselves and be mindful of others around you. Just because you don’t see that invisible disability, it does not mean that it is not there. Just remember when a coworker or a classmate asks you to help take notes. I can promise you there is an excellent reason.

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