If the last year has taught me anything, it is that in-person work and education can be exhausting. I didn’t notice how mentally, physically, and socially drained I was until I was allowed to take a metaphorical breath and work from home for a year. Historically, neurodiverse people have been forced to conform to a neurotypical world that was not designed with them in mind. COVID has certainly brought its own challenges and discomfort, but it has also given us a glimpse of how the world can be made more accessible.
I consider myself to be one of the many people that has benefited from this work paradigm shift. Some of the issues that arise for me in an in-person work environment have been avoided entirely this past year, saving me a significant amount of mental and emotional energy that could then be channeled into something more productive. I am lucky to be completing my practicum with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a leader in reproductive rights that I have long admired. I was able to hit the ground running on my first day, and my productivity and dedication are both well ahead of where they may be if the work had been in-person.
Despite only being a few weeks into my practicum, I have already been able to utilize many of my different skills, such as GIS, design, systems thinking, and systematic searches. My preceptor is an incredible supervisor and has been so supportive with helping me prioritize my academic and professional interests. I believe that the combination of a great preceptor, a multi-faceted organization, and the remote work setting has allowed me the flexibility to create my own path and utilize my strengths for the best possible practicum experience.
You may be saying to yourself, “but, Abby, don’t you think you would’ve had all those things if you’d been working in-person?” My answer would be yes; I do not think that the quality of the organization or the leadership skills of my preceptor would magically take a hit from returning to the office. What would take a hit, however, would be my own personal comfort and mental capacity for change. By avoiding work in a shared office setting, I also avoid the issue of adjusting to new sensory stimuli and the challenge of adapting to a new workplace social scene.
I am aware that my experience may not be typical (even amongst neurodiverse folks), and I recognize the fact that many of my classmates prefer the in-person setting. However, that is exactly why I believe it is important to avoid putting a monolithic description on remote work. People with disabilities have been deterred from traditional work settings for decades, with companies citing communication issues and fairness concerns as reasons for rebuffing work-from-home requests and office accommodations. COVID forced many companies to make adjustments for their entire staff quite quickly, often proving what their employees with disabilities have been saying for years: alternative workspaces and communication tools can be effective if we give them the chance. As the world begins to return to normal, I hope we can remember that Zoom fatigue is a very real thing, but the many types of fatigue afflicting people with disabilities are just as valid.
Cheers to diverse work settings for diverse people.