The Thread: Working as a PWD

Sheryl Burgstahler

DO-IT hosts rich discussions on the Internet. Some get started as DO-IT Mentors share their experiences with younger participants in hopes that they will benefit from their successes as well as their more painful learning experiences. Below, we share a partial and slightly-edited discussion which began with the following e-mail message from a DO-IT Mentor who has arthritis.

  • Recently I graduated with a Master's of Social Work. Since then I have been working 40 hours a week. I have never worked that much before. I also have rheumatoid arthritis. My point here is that it took me a while to balance the three - confidence in my skills and education, having arthritis, and the conflict the two had on my work and personal life. Training my body to be effective for 40 hours a week, and more importantly to not exacerbate arthritis-related fatigue/soreness which then detracted from my mind, was tricky. I think I've sorta figured it out.

I thought it would be helpful if people shared their opinions/ideas on working as a PWD - here are a few of mine.

Picture of Katie at Summer Session
Katie, a '93 Scholar, returned to DO-IT Summer Study 2000 as a staff member.
  • Do not underestimate the power of sleep. Get a good night's sleep!
  • Try to be aware of what activities at work exacerbate your disability. Work to work around them. Don't be afraid to ask your employer to restructure your job or add accommodations, but be sure they are necessary and actually help.
  • If you have health care benefits (insurance), use them! I personally went through a whole series of checkups I ignored for years because I didn't have the insurance!
  • One last one - I'm sure people will add more. Make sure that your unemployed, able-bodied friends understand you will be tired Friday night and don't wish to be out until 2am. Trust me on this one, I know of what I speak!

A few of the responses to this message follow.

  • I agree with you except for the part about Friday nights. I am an adjunct professor with severe neurological disabilities and if it were not for my late nights of dancing and karaoke, my disabilities would be WORSE. Those late nights keep me mobile and from having to use assistive tech to get around. Thank God for those late nights.
  • My situation is a little different - fatigue is a bigger problem, I think. I also have a friend who would keep me out till 3 am if he had the chance! And, I can't sing to save my life!
  • Thanks for the encouragement. Well, I will have to listen to you sing and make my own judgment. (big smile)
  • I remember that the first time I worked in an office all day (at a summer job after my freshman year in college), I came home with a headache and thought I couldn't stand doing it. I got used to it fairly quickly though. My point is that working 40 hours a week takes some getting used to even if disability is not a factor. I don't mean to scare anybody away from working, but I think it's good to be aware of these things when you start your first fulltime job.
  • What exactly is a PWD?
  • Oops. A PWD is a "person with a disability." Sorry I wasn't clear. Last year, in typing my thesis I used the phrase "person with a disability" so many times I finally used Auto Correct to have PWD spell it out for me!