October is observed as Disability Employment Awareness Month in the US, so I decided to write about one of my experiences with employment as a disabled person.
So here’s the thing: the corporate world does not want to hire people with disabilities.
The scenario is the same whether it’s India or the US. How do I know this? Because I am one of them. My disability—clinical depression—is invisible, but it still qualifies as a disability. I have been living with clinical depression since the age of 13, and I have learned to handle it reasonably well. Plus, I have medium-functioning depression, which means it impacts me moderately. As a result, even though I have been chronically depressed, I completed my postgraduation in my chosen fields of study. In fact, I have been able to make quite a few life choices despite the presence of depression.
A few years after graduating college, I thought I found a manager who got me.
So I confided in her and told her about my struggles with depression, thinking that I was finally going to get some much-needed mental health support at work. At first, she was supportive in the sense that she made time to listen to what I had to say. If I felt a depressive episode coming on, she encouraged me to tell her about it so that my workload could be rescheduled accordingly. But just a month or so later, I noticed that she grew tired of being supportive. It was as if she expected me to snap out of my depression for a while, even though I had told her it was a chronic condition. I don’t know what got into her but she began gaslighting as well as talking down to me.
The supportive manager soon turned into an ableist micromanager.
Our supportive talks ended abruptly and were replaced by weekly one-on-one grillings, where she compared my productivity levels with neurotypical peers and asked for explanations. When I told her why my pace of work was slower, I was told off for making excuses and not trying hard enough. I was also asked to turn in daily reports that accounted for how I was spending every minute of my time at work.
Needless to say, this was demeaning and ableist on her part and made me both anxious and angry. So I quit as soon as I could because I had never felt so othered at any other place of work in my life. Even though I was doing the best I could, and my coworkers had no complaints, my manager’s mistreatment made me feel incompetent. It took me a couple of years to build up my self-confidence, for she had crushed mine.
It’s 2023 and the corporate world still does not make accommodations for a person with depression and many other disabilities.
In fact, she is one of the primary reasons why I turned to freelancing. Now that I have written about depression for platforms like HealthyPlace, TheSpill, Metro, and my blog, I have made it harder for myself to secure a full-time job in the future. The D-word turns off a lot of employers, and like most disabilities, makes them think of people with depression as liabilities. What will it take for this attitude to change? People with disabilities have rights at work. But when will we get them? It is very easy to indulge in practices like wellbeing washing. When will companies actually start caring about the wellness of their employees?