I Performed Better at Work Because No One Could See My Wheelchair

I spent the first fifteen years of my professional career always striving towards my next

promotion. I wore the nicest of clothes I could find – suits, ironed shirts, and shoes that

didn’t fit my feet because of my permanent disability. I was acutely aware that I was a

disabled woman and the majority of the people I went to meetings with were able-bodied


At every meeting – internal or external – I always thought about how I would address the

questions that inevitably came. ‘What happened to you? Should I move that chair for

you? Are you able to use the restroom here?’ I would spend hours, sometimes days or

weeks, leading up to important meetings and thinking about my responses, all of this

emotional time that could have been focused on my work. I would think about the

responses to questions that probed into the deepest parts of my life, knowing that as soon

as the words were uttered, my performance was secondary to what everyone saw of me

(or at least that’s how it felt).

About two years before the pandemic, I had an opportunity to move to full-time remote

work. I was beside myself. No more uncomfortable shoes; I could wear shoes that fit my

feet comfortably without standing out. No more inaccessible bathrooms; I could use my

own bathroom comfortably and at ease. No more awkward questions from clients,

vendors, or other employees; I could focus on my work instead of how I was going to

respond to personal questions.

At first, I spent much of my time doing heads down work, not involved in many meetings.

I was thriving, simply performing so well and dedicating all of my energy to the work at

hand. I received a promotion within a few months. I started to have a few more

meetings, but they were all virtual, and the only thing about me that others could see

looked very much like everyone else. They saw everything from my shoulders up, but

never saw my wheelchair.

Over the next five years, I received two more promotions, each of them with bigger

responsibilities and more virtual meetings. My confidence soared as I grew into each role,

and I no longer had to face the uncomfortable situation of educating someone on what a

disability was or how they should respond to it. I was able to educate them on my job,

their responsibilities, or whatever project I was working on.

I was a people leader and I was someone’s employee. I understand both sides of in-

person work and remote work, and for me – and many, many others – remote work is

exactly what an employee needs to thrive. Remote work is more than a comfort issue.

It’s more than a benefit. It’s more than flexibility. It’s a radically important option for

your employees. If they are able to remove the barriers of dealing with their challenges

and focus fully on their work, you and your company will also reap those benefits.

If you woke up tomorrow and found yourself with a physical impairment, would you be

ready to attend that meeting and answer the questions about what happened to you?

Would you be prepared to enter a new building and not know if you will be able to use the

restroom? Would you be thinking about your job or thinking about how you’ll physically

navigate your new world?

Subscribe to Culture is King

Other posts