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Reflecting on Advocating for Accommodations

Shelly Christensen smiling headshot

Shelly Christensen

Discovering that I live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was a relief! Managing the lives of three kids in three different schools who were involved in different outside of school activities, learning to navigate the special education system and advocacy, and working full time in an outside sales job created such chaos! Trying to keep on top of everything was simply overwhelming.

I read the book, “Driven to Distraction,” by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey at the request of one of my son’s teachers. My son was diagnosed with ADHD, and his teacher thought it was important that we were on the same page. I appreciated her willingness to work with my son so much that I immediately picked up the book and read it between loads of wash and running carpools.

As I read, I thought, “this is me.” The book described a way of operating in the world that felt so familiar to me. It was familiar not so much because of my son, but because of me. I immediately felt that I wasn’t alone, and that I had been living with ADHD for as long as I could remember. What a gift!

Several years later, I left sales work and joined a nonprofit to create a program to advance disability inclusion in faith community organizations. I loved the work, the creativity and innovation involved. This was “heart-sing” work and launched a new career.

My cubicle was at the intersection of two well-used paths, making it convenient for colleagues to stop and chat with each other. The co-worker in the cube next to me was a loud-talker who was on the phone constantly. Often people would pop in to visit with me.

I couldn’t concentrate. All of the noise and activity distracted me, especially when I was working on a project that involved a lot of writing and organizing. I knew I couldn’t continue in that location and do my job.

I asked and received a doctor’s letter detailing my disability and accommodations that my employer needed to consider making. I had to choose between disclosing my disability or struggling with an environment that was an obstacle to doing my job. I asked for an accommodation.

The accommodation was to move to a different space-an office or even a cubicle that was off the beaten track so there wouldn’t be a lot of activity. My supervisor took my doctor’s letter and said they’d let me know if they could move me. I thought, “IF???”

Months passed without a word. I continued to struggle as I began writing a guidebook on inclusion for faith communities. I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t get organized.

Six months passed and finally my request for an accommodation was honored. I was moved to another floor to a cubicle surrounded on two sides by large windows, and one co-worker. It was more than I hoped for. It was quiet, and the windows provided lots of light during the winter months. I lined the windowsill with plants. Every so often, I would sit back and appreciate how much this space fit my needs. I’m glad I advocated for an accommodation that made it possible for me to flourish at work.

Meet the Author

Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion and Belonging at RespectAbility.

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