Coming Out as Disabled at Work

I have been meaning to write for months, because as the time passed, my self-love grew stronger, however the difficulties in living as a disabled woman in an able world grew even faster. For the first time, I stepped outside the boundaries of a close-knit campus in the middle of Staffordshire countryside and moved to London.

London has always been the beaming light in my life, the first step towards mental healing. I was a very sick seventeen year old, in pain every minute yet without a diagnosis, honestly starting to feel like maybe it was all in my head, when I first saw London. I remember the overwhelming excitment, the staggering fear, but especially the internal calmness the first time in a long period of uncertainty and pain. I remember standing in front of the Tower Bridge in the typical late morning fogness of London. It was beautiful, enriched with history and with the flavours of a foreign, yet multicultural country. In that moment, as I stood there, I knew there was more for me than a small village populated by 7.000 people in the borders of Bergamo, Italy. London was my more, as it felt like the ‘home’ I never had. This summer, nearly 8 years after I first stepped in front of the Tower Bridge, I officially moved there. There was finally something more waiting in my future.

However, as I stepped out of the comfort zone that is a university campus, everything became hard. There was not an office in which I could ask for disability accomodations in every aspect of my life. My disability status was something I had to ask, demand back from society. As I started my first full-time adult job, I learnt fast what I needed to be: not disabled. As I limped across the hallway, and entered the able scene of my life, I discovered I was not ready to integrate, because denying my disabled self would have meant hiding away my disabled identity, which it’s the most integral part of who I am. I remember the first few days, just a few days before my birthday.

‘Oh, you’re gonna go out? Celebrate?” The smirk across my colleague’s resembled a probable image of clubbing, alcohol, a night out. But I knew my birthday was probably going to be spent in bed.

I had to make a choice. I could have smiled, mumbled something along the lines of ‘Yeah, probably’, but what came out of my lips were the words “I actually can’t go out. I’m disabled. I have chronic pain.” I made a choice that day of coming out as disabled. It’s a choice I make most days, not hiding, always defining myself as disabled, a label I’m not afraid to use. Whenever I can’t do something, whenever I need accomodations or I need to explain why I do things differently, I always identify myself as disabled, and every single time, someone around me becomes uncomfortable, an awkward silence follows, as if I had just said something truly embarassing, instead of simple admitting I don’t have an able body.

The other week I bought the most beautiful crutch. It has a purple plastic handle, and the cane part is satin black with silver and pink flowers. It’s one the prettiest things I have, but especially, it’s something that saves my life everyday. It’s not a fashion statement, it’s a mobility aid, but I especially it’s my third, only functioning leg. Yet, seven months into this job, I still get asked everyday:

“Oh my god, what did you did? Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m just disabled”.

Every day I come out of the disabled closet.

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