The Disabled Label

In applying to jobs today, I was filling in the information and clicking through the pages until I came upon a page asking if I had a verifiable disability because they worked with the government and as such they were required to try to employ more people with disabilities. They gave about fifteen examples—mainly physical—of conditions that are recognized as a bona fide disability.

One of the examples was OCD.

The Disabled Label

I was surprised that out of fifteen examples, all but one of which did not apply to me, OCD is what gets on the short list for disabilities recognized by the government.


I don’t know what to think about that. On one hand, hell yes, it’s not just a joke or snide moniker, but a real and agonizing condition. But on the other hand, how are we using the label “disability”? What gets counted and what doesn’t? What does it mean to those who are officially under the label and who aren’t? Is everyone with one of these conditions automatically disabled? In whose mind?

I used to dismiss disability in regards to my conditions as something that didn’t apply to me. I didn’t want to take away from people who were really disabled and clearly so. I thought people would judge me for being lazy or whiny. So I just shut up and found work arounds or avoided what situations that would require me to do something I could not.

Until last fall. For the first time I felt confident enough and pressured enough to reach out and ask to be labeled disabled.

I got jury duty.

And not just any jury duty, but grand jury duty. I would be on call for long days for months an hour and half’s bus ride away.

I was barely hanging on with my current schedule. I started to cry and panic. My mind went to its catastrophizing place thinking about how to get there on the bus, how early I would have to leave, how I would have to take the term off because I couldn’t teach or take classes with that kind of schedule, how I wouldn’t be paid, how I would have to find a way to make it through the whole day multiple days in a row, how I would lose my health care. I saw my dreams of working out and eating healthy fall apart. And so on and on and on.

Somewhere in all of this I told my now husband. He had to hug me and rub my back until I could calm down. He told me first thing to do was to postpone the duty as far out as I could which was about nine months to give me time to figure out what to do.

I looked it up and after learning more about the requirement, I decided to talk to my primary care doctor.

She looked at me and said, “Of course, I’ll write you a letter. There is no way you need to do this. The disability declaration is for people like you who can’t and shouldn’t have to suffer to do it.”

I’ve never been so relieved to be called disabled as when I got my official notice that the state found me permanently disabled. But I still don’t know how to categorize myself most of the time and in most situations.

So will I probably click the box on the job application? Yes. Do I fear that it might make me a less appealing candidate? Of course. Do I worry that working from home is not a reasonable accommodation for most employers? Certainly.

Do I still have hope at this stage that I will find someone happy to find someone like me and has no problem accommodating me? At least for now. Wish me luck.

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

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