Progress — Not Perfection — When Working with a Disability
What role do you play in your company? How has your Cerebral Palsy informed the type of work that you do?
I work as an Accessibility Consultant for Equal Entry. Most of my time is spent testing software with my hands, ears, and eyes. I’m laser-focused on identifying which tasks can’t be easily completed on our client’s websites without a mouse and a GUI (graphical user interface). I make sure every element on a web page or mobile application can be operated by a keyboard and screen reader and that all essential text is announced by the screen reader. It’s important that everyone can access the same information and features.
Occasionally, I write articles and blog posts about digital and physical accessibility. This is my favorite part of the job.
When I got my first smartphone, I experienced a newfound sense of freedom and confidence as I moved about the world. The connectedness that so many people loathe these days (myself included at times) is actually what makes me so passionate about technology. Being able to access people, information, and a digital map that updates in real-time has been a boon for my independence. I became obsessed with it, writing multiple papers about technology throughout college. After college, I decided that I wanted to share this passion with other people who may be in a similar position. I began volunteering at a day program for young adults with developmental disabilities and developed my own computer literacy course to teach the participants there.
To take my tech skills to the next level, I participated in a vocational rehabilitation program in Brooklyn which sponsored my participation in a web development boot camp. The career outcomes manager understood where I wanted to take my career and introduced me to the person who would eventually become my boss.
Describe your day-to-day experience managing Cerebral Palsy at work.
The nature of my cerebral palsy leaves me with extremely limited fine and gross motor skills in my right arm and hand, which means that I am a one-handed typist. This presents me with a unique challenge while conducting web accessibility testing.
Since attending the boot camp, I’ve used an app called Mirror-QWERTY that allows me to flip the keys on the right side of the keyboard to the left side when I hold down the space bar, vastly improving my typing speed. Unfortunately, the space bar is commonly used as a mechanism to interact with content on a web page, so, in a tragic twist of irony, I can’t use the application while testing. For this reason, I am slower at entering data in the spreadsheets I use to track accessibility issues. It takes me more time to do the same amount of work as my coworkers.
Have you ever requested accommodations from your workplace? What was that experience like?
It never occurred to me to request accommodations at work until it was suggested to me. Since my cerebral palsy is relatively mild, I’ve struggled with asking for help. It makes me feel like I’m inconveniencing other people and I worry that others will think I’m overreacting or exaggerating. But all of my coworkers have been extremely supportive.
The accommodation I was given is extra time to complete client assignments — I now have 6 hours to complete each task rather than 4. While this has been helpful, I am finding it is still not enough. As I become increasingly independent, I’m not always sure what my limitations and needs are. Discovering what kinds of adjustments need to be made to improve my productivity and efficiency is a process.
When I was a kid, I felt discouraged from exploring these types of things on my own terms. I think my parents thought that talking about it would hurt me because I didn’t look disabled and there is stigma attached to disability. Although I know they always did their best, not talking about disability as a young person has made it more difficult for me to talk about it now. I’m working to develop a deeper practical understanding of my disability. I also continue to work through my own doubts, fears, and insecurities so I can assert myself with confidence.
Sam Berman is an Accessibility Consultant based in Brooklyn, NY whose mission is to make technology easier to use for everyone. Outside of technology and Disability Advocacy, his interests include writing and music.
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