My disabilities are not obvious at first glance. I do not wear a cast on an injured body part, nor do I normally use a mobility device like a cane, walker, or wheelchair. When you look at me, you are likely to miss or repeatedly forget the fact that I am disabled. I, on the other hand, get constant reminders. Multiple well-regarded medical specialists in Toronto, Boston, and elsewhere have concluded that my chronic pain originating in sporting traumas after the age of 30 (mostly this skiing accident) has every likelihood of being permanent. So in conversation, it is best to avoid telling me that you hope I feel better soon.
My chronic pain has a baseline level set by my injury history. How much I suffer from pain on top of that on a day-to-day basis depends on how non-disabled people treat me, along with other external factors. After a large number and variety of experiments, I have learned that I can be a lot more productive as a theoretical physicist when others around me at work are being actively anti-ableist and making barriers to participation vanish. The basic underlying principle is simple: to treat a disabled person in academia (or anywhere else) with dignity, regardless of either person's level of talent or job description. For further perspective on specifics for my case, please consult the table at the bottom of this page.
In academia we tend to be judged harshly if we show any form of weakness. Colleagues and students routinely assume that if we have a physical or emotional disability or illness, we must somehow be less able as intellectuals. This kind of inference is wrong on many levels and deserves to be challenged. Disabled and sick people are valid, important, and valued members of society and of universities (see e.g. Stephen Hawking). So, what can abled people do to become more anti-ableist? A good place to start is to do some basic reading on the subject, such as this pamphlet on Disability Etiquette and this article on how to avoid everyday ableism.
Asking for disability accommodations is inherently hard: we have to not only advocate for ourselves but also manage non-disabled people's clumsy feelings about our disabilities. I never ask for unnecessary accommodations, so if I do ask for some, please do deliver them on the timescales requested. Logistical planning is significantly more complicated when managing disabilities and thus requires longer lead time. Please do not impose your own ideas of what accommodations disabled/sick people deserve -- listen to them instead.
The following information on my difficulty metric is provided to help others discern how to work with me most efficiently.
|computer use||5 hours/day||all day and all evening|
|task allocation||steady workload||variable, peaky workload|
|deadline management||extra advance notice||sudden short-notice work|
|supporting students||talking live||typing asynchronously|
|classroom modes||lecturing via iPad + projector||lecturing only on the blackboard|
|sitting||my specific office chair||any normal chair|
|decibels||quiet environments||noisy environments|
|physical loads||carrying nothing||carrying over 1kg|