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I am a physician with MS. I recently returned to work in a wheelchair, eager to see my patients. When I announced my date of return to work, I was suddenly inundated with paperwork starting with the phrase "You have requested accomodations under the ADA", even though I had made no such request. The tone was legalistic and the papers sent by certified mail. Unable to drive, I worried intensely about the mysterious certified mail I couldn't pick up. When I received the mail, my relationship with my employer changed. The tone implied interest in the legal protection of the company rather than an interest to help me work with my disability. For the first time I felt threatened I could LOSE my job; I had to outline in exquisite detail exactly what accomodations I would need, which was virtually impossible without being back in the workplace to know what I needed. And it was made clear that I only "had to be accomodated" for 3 months.
The ADA made it possible for me to get on any bus, train, or streetcar in Portland to get to my job. It provided curb cuts at most (but not all!) street corners so I could get across the street. Unfortunately, it did not, and does not, encourage empathy. Those of us with disabilities work at 150% to perform our jobs at or above the level of our peers. However, we still face discrimination in job promotion, pay, and attitude. We are seen by employers as potential legal liabilities instead of individuals who overcome amazing obstacles every day. They should be proud to have us in the workplace because we bring perspective, grit, diversity and an incredible work ethic.
I'm sad to say that physicians are not compassionate about disabilities in their peers. For years I hid my MS because of my fear it would have prevented me from getting into medical school, residency, and fellowship. Unfortunately, that was a good decision on my part. There is a still an "us/them" mentality, the healthy whole doctor vs. the disabled patient. A disabled doctor upsets that dynamic. But who bettter to interact with patients then someone who has experienced the personal struggles of overcoming a disability?
posted 2 years, 9 months ago
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