Since the pandemic, I’ve worked from home. And we are now transitioning back to being in the office full time…..
And as the parent of a little girl with a disability and also having a chronic disease like Type One Diabetes myself—this transition is HARD.
I think the pandemic reinforced for a lot of people the general lack of accessibility and inclusion within the workplace for people with disabilities and chronic illness.
In the past, most companies had some hesitancy around how remote working might operate and lacked experience in seeing it in practice among employees—which created a huge barrier for people with disabilities and chronic illness to overcome. In many ways, the pandemic accelerated and mainstreamed a shift in corporate mindset regarding remote work. Suddenly, it wasn’t just people with disabilities who were faced with the obstacle of being able to make it into the office every day—now it was the entire world who was challenged to work from home. We had to make the shift to be more modern, innovative, flexible, and diverse and the prime beneficiaries of that mindset change were families like my own.
Over the course of the last three years, I’ve been able to experience a level of flexibility that I never could have dreamed of when it comes to being a parent of a little girl with a disability.
Simply by removing the 2+ hours I used to spend in traffic, I’m able to take my daughter to her physical therapy sessions and add in additional sessions with an inclusive sporting team where she participates in archery, running, and horseback riding. The extra money we save from working from home also allows us to purchase accessibility aids for her, chiropractic sessions, and extra supplies for her prosthetic leg.
I can drop her off and pick her up from school each day. I know that to most, it’s hard to understand how this could be such a significant item. But we live close enough to the elementary school that the busses don’t run in our neighborhood. There’s absolutely no way that Callie could walk the 2+ miles to school AND back each day safely or comfortably with her prosthetic leg and now that I work from home—it’s a 5 minute trip for us to the school to do drop off. That was near to impossible to do pre pandemic with my work schedule and commute each morning—a constant schedule juggling between my husband and myself that left us both stressed out and upset. It was near impossible to do because that type of “flexibility” needed for families like my own are not generally covered under any type of protection. I could apply for an accommodation but flexibility to pick up and drop off my daughter, flexibility to be able to set my own hours so I can take her to physical therapy, and flexibility for the hundreds of other scenarios that pop up regarding my Type One are not generally covered with an accommodation. There are countless families in similar situations–forced to decide between making a job change, quitting their job, or going on government assistance so they can juggle the daily responsibilities of parenting a child with a physical disability, chronic disease, or learning/neurological disability.
Working from home in such a close proximity to her school let’s me be available in the instances where a pin falls out of her leg, she gets fatigued, or she simply gets sick and needs to be picked up from school. It’s not a huge disruption to my day for those things to happen and I’m able to quickly resolve them and be back to work in a very short time frame—where as before, I would have to take a personal day and miss work to handle those type of “routine” things that a caretaker of a disabled child has to manage. There are so many small nuances of being a parent, let alone being a parent of a disabled child, that working from home has given me the freedom and autonomy to manage successfully.
Working from home has also benefited my Type One Diabetes. I’m not being constantly exposed to flus, cold, and random viruses that impact me more harshly than someone else with a normal immune system. I’m able to work out or take a walk on my lunch break which has improved my overall health in the last three years and improved my A1C. I’m not forced to make questionable decisions—driving to work immediately after having a low blood glucose reading because I’m worried about potentially losing my job if I’m late to work or postponing lunch because I’m in a very important meeting. I’m able to better control my stress levels at home which keeps my glucose levels more stable. Working from home, I’m 900% more productive and I actually end up working more hours that I did when I worked in office—those extra hours are just during times that work best for my schedule. I can do the extra time because I’m not wiped out at the end of the day like I used to be when I worked in the office.
In reality, the pandemic helped my family make our “disabilities” less predominant. I could handle the intricacies, the hundreds of nuances, and the constant juggling that it entails quietly. No one was the wiser. No one on the Zoom call knew I was treating a low blood glucose level–no one on that Zoom call even realized I had diabetes. No one on the Zoom call knew I had a kid at home because she developed a sore and couldn’t wear her prosthetic leg. I could mange through those things quietly, with dignity, and still show up in my position at work well.
And so I wonder—as many companies are navigating return to office, what about work life balance?
What about people with physical disabilities? What about those that are immune compromised? Shouldn’t we do a better job to protect them and offer them options to safely, comfortable, and peacefully work from home if they need to? We were making such great strides and now I fear we’ve taken two steps backwards.
If I’m more worried about the potential strain this is going to put on me physically again—does that mean my company could think I’m not a good leader?
If I raise my hand and say that I’m worried about returning to work and losing that flexibility, does that make me look like I’m not a team player?
Am I a risk because I do have someone at home that needs me to be more readily available? Will people think my priorities aren’t clear if I do have to miss work for her?
Or am I the only one that’s worried about this?