I’m so excited to introduce you to our friend, Jen.  She has been reading our blog for awhile now, and we’ve been chatting about our lives as young moms with RP for a couple years.  We are also part of the same online community of visually impaired women on Facebook, called Room With a View, and Jen is always posting the most thought-provoking questions, like the one she shares here today. It’s one I wish I’d read back when I was teaching and constantly afraid I’d lose my job because of my vision.  I know Jen’s post will be an encouragement for many out there in the workplace!  

To tell or not to tell in the workplace?

That is the {insert your salary} dollar question.

RP is a funny thing. For years you can go about your daily life; driving, hiking, working, raising a family…and WHAM. Life changes in an instant. Kinda.

I was doing fine despite having RP. I was driving, raising my daughter, earning my Master’s, teaching in an elementary school for 6 years. And then in the course of 6 months, I lost a lot of vision, stopped driving, and began to struggle within my work setting.

I knew I couldn’t quit.  I couldn’t afford it.  I couldn’t stand by my convictions as a teacher and quit when something got hard, and I couldn’t stay home all day, googling about RP and worrying about the future (again).

It was time.  I had to tell my boss and my colleagues.  I was terrified. Why was I so scared? Where do I start?

Will I get fired?
Should I just quit?
Will I get moved into a different position?
How will I get to work?
Will I get in trouble for not telling?
Will my colleagues treat me differently? Like a weak teacher?
Will my students’ parents think I am not good enough?
Did I mention….will I get fired?

Over many months of seeking out ADA laws, American Association of Blind Teachers of America, RP support group, fellow colleagues, and administration….I have some clear answers now.

Will I get fired?
NO. You cannot get fired thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read it. They have covered everything. You can even chat with a disability lawyer if necessary. When I knew I couldn’t get fired, I felt much better. You cannot get fired if you can perform the essential functions of the job. If you are flying a plane, then no, you cannot perform the essential functions with RP. If you are a teacher and can’t do recess duty because of the sun, can’t read your emails because of small font, can’t get around without a cane, THAT IS OK. Those are NOT essential functions of the job.

Should I just quit?
NO. Many of my visually impaired friends quit right away after diagnosis. And I understand why. Finding rides, handling the stress, the stigma of a disability…all of this is awful. But, I felt a calling to show the world that I am not worthless and I can contribute to society and not feel that I have to melt away into isolation. This took me two years to realize. I am no different intelligence-wise before or after my vision loss. The more I prove this to people, the more people will not see a disability, but simply an inconvenience.

Will I get moved into a different position?
NO. See my ADA description in the first question. YOU can ask to be moved or do less hours, but they cannot make you. And if they do, and they say it’s not based on your eyesight…I would still look into getting a lawyer. I had this happen to me with a former boss. I told them about my disability in the fall, and was told I was being moved whether I liked it or not. Know your rights.

How will I get to work?
I have to admit, it hasn’t been too bad getting to work. The day I talked to my principal he told me he’d find a way to get me here. He told me there are many people that can’t drive or don’t have a car, and they can still get to work. So here’s what I have found out. You can post on your city’s Facebook page or on CARE.com and let people know you are looking for a driver to and from work. Treat it like a business, not a favor. You may be surprised how many people are willing to help. I have a good friend that takes me to and from school, but if she is sick or has a meeting, I have a back up friend that goes near my house, as well as my parents in a pinch. Someday I want to try UBER on my late days at work or when I am in a pickle. It’s scary to take the leap, but I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to find a way to and from work.

Will I get in trouble for not telling?
NO. You are not required to share any medical history unless there is a HUGE safety concern, not just an elevated one. It is your body, you do not have to tell anyone, and that is ok, too. The only downside is you won’t get accommodations unless you tell them you need them because your boss can’t just guess what you need.

Will my colleagues treat me differently? Like a weak teacher?
NO. And the one’s that do will have a rough life, rougher than having bad eyes. In my experience, I made a point to tell my story quick, without tears, to the point, and at the end said that I want to be treated as I was treated 5 minutes ago, before they knew. You don’t need to give them your specific diagnosis because they don’t need to be Googling either.

Will my student’s parents think I am not good enough?
I haven’t told my students’ parents yet. My newest boss said it’s my story to tell and I don’t have to tell it unless I want to. I am still deciding. I want to tell so I can be like, “Look you had no idea, see…visually impaired people are capable”.

I did ask my principal about those parents that would say, “I don’t want that for my child,” and he responded in a funny and snarky tone, “Then I’ll take care of it, you won’t have to,”

Will they say behind my back, “She can’t possibly be a good teacher if she can’t see well.”?
NO. Because I’ve scored the highest level that a teacher can on evaluations and make it my purpose to go above and beyond to showcase what I can do. I have the best class management system because I have to be organized so I don’t trip or miss something. Win/Win.

Did I mention….will I get fired?
NO. Again. But, consider telling your boss and colleagues. That way you get better lighting, equipment, no one looks at you funny when you miss a handshake, and you feel like you have your own army backing you up. Don’t let this disease make you afraid. Let it make you BRAVE.

Stay tuned, later this week  for Jen’s brave story on how she shared her story at work!

 

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