At Work, Are You Just One of the Workers — or ‘Special’?

For most of us, work is the key to independence and self-worth. Our jobs get us out of bed every day allowing us to share our skills and talents. From 9 to 5, we’d like to believe we’re just one of many workers getting paid to be productive. Or, are we fooling ourselves?

workplace

Our jobs give us a sense of self-worth, but are we always accepted in the workplace?

The syndicated newspaper advice columnist, Miss Manners, recently addressed this issue when she received this question from a reader: “I was wondering if there were any clear-cut rules for encountering, working with or confronting a person with disabilities?”

Before we get to Miss Manners’ answer, let’s explore the question. Does the letter writer believe that coworkers who also happen to be people with disabilities must be treated with kid gloves? Is she worried about discrimination lawsuits or hurting feelings? Or is her discomfort working with people who have disabilities so intense, she can’t behave as she would with any other co-worker?

The letter writer’s question makes me wonder if we’ve made any progress being accepted in the workplace or are we still those “special” employees?

I’ve had my share of awkward situations at the office — like the time an inner tube in one of my big tires popped as I entered the office, and all my coworkers ducked under their desks thinking they were being shot.

Or, when the company ordered 50 new desks but only 49 new desk chairs because “I brought my own.” I just happened to resign a few months later and they had to buy that 50th chair.

Another employer admitted there wasn’t an accessible rest room on the floor where I worked, but one on a different floor might suit my needs. But when ADA became law, company officials asked me to consult on what changes were necessary to make the building more accessible — not for me, but the visiting public.

It seems the longer I stay at a job, the more integrated I felt with my coworkers, but some bosses never could get beyond labeling me as “that minority hire” who needed special accommodation.

How about you: Do you feel accepted on the job, or are you treated as the “special” hire? How do you handle such attitudes?

If employers followed the advice Miss Manners gave to the letter writer, we’d all be a lot happier in our work cubicles: “You deal only with the person. Unless you have been hired to deal with the disabilities, Miss Manners assures you that they are none of your concern.”

Amen to that.

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  1. JP says:

    As far as I can tell I am accepted at work. I try to keep an iron skin/project confidence and competence. Works for me. I am an attorney and am working as an administrative law judge for a state agency. I manage 3 other attorneys and 5 paralegals. My interactions with co-workers, staff, and parties appearing in front of the agency are all very professional. The couple of site visits to not terribly accessible construction sites and power generation plants have been very matter of fact in how they are handled as far as what is reachable by wheelchair and what isn’t. Travel has been very professionally handled as well. All in all work has been about being able to do the job and not about being “special.”

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