Disability Disclosure and Accommodations


I define accommodation as any change that helps a person overcome or work around their disability. The change can be physical (e.g. moving to a different location, making additional space, or moving furniture or equipment to clear an aisle). The change can also be programmatic (e.g. giving a person more time or providing equipment to assist in task completion). In the context of fitness environments, accommodation can mean moving activities to a different room or moving portable equipment like mats, balls, hand weights, etc. out of an aisle. Programmatically, accommodation can mean allowing a person to work 1:1 with professional or using adapted equipment (e.g. a ball with audible bells, guide ropes for running, or larger equipment).

Within this piece, I am not addressing legal requirements for accommodations, accessibility, or similar mandates. I am raising opinions and considerations about practical accommodations and requests.  As a person with visible walking issues, more than anything I just want to fit in with my colleagues, co-workers, and peers in any and all environments. I recently attended a class which was held in a three story building with no elevator.

I wrestled with the question before physically attending the class, “Do I announce myself and the presence of my walking issues?” I wanted to participate in the class and activities without my walking issues being excessively highlighted, put in a spotlight, or over-emphasized. When I disclose my walking issues or a need for an accommodation, a spotlight frequently can be turned on which screams “Kerry has needs which are not typical of others”.

This issue of accommodation and when to raise it can be difficult. When does a person remain silent and when does one speak up about their accommodation needs? The considerations and meter that I use for accommodation requests are:

◦When does the request interfere with general business?
◦When does the request interfere with the needs or activities of other people?
◦Does the request create a circumstance which over-isolates me or embarrassingly singles me out?

I advocate for accommodations when the request does not require extraordinary measures. If what I am asking for is something simple like moving equipment out of an aisle, I will work with and/or repeatedly raise the issue with appropriate personnel to get the equipment moved. I also try to make sure the change I am asking for will benefit more than one person.

In the case of the new class, I made the decision to acquaint with myself with the instructor. I introduced myself by phone, inquired about the class structure, and I inserted the following statement in my conversation. “By the way, you need to know that I walk with walking poles, and that I intend to join this class.”

There is a slight pause. The instructor said, “We currently hold the class in a room that would require you to walk up three flights of stairs.” I could hear the silent dialog happening in their head.

“What kind of accommodations will this woman need?”

I replied, “I am able to climb up and down stairs, but can have difficulty.”

The instructor continued, “We would be happy to explore getting an alternate room.” It was refreshing to not have the “disability spotlight” flashed on me.

In the exchange:
◦Disclosure of my walking issues had to happen to make my needs known.
◦A willingness existed on the part of the instructor to change the class location once my difficulty was known.
◦A physical adjustment to space was made which would allow me to fully participate with my peers.

I hope more people with disabilities can have encounters like the one I had with this instructor.  I also hope that professionals can be inspired by my encounter and see that providing an accommodation can be simple, reasonable, and feasible and can be done without the “disability spotlight”.

This article was originally published on March 12, 2012,  in the “Endless CapABILITIES Blog”, and National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, sponsored by The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (www.nchpad.org). NCHPAD is part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative and supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000906 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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