October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, when the UC Berkeley campus celebrates the accomplishments of people with disabilities. We’ve asked members of the Berkeley Public Health community–staff, students and faculty–who identify as having a disability to share their thoughts and experiences with us. Today, we feature Liam Chavez, public education specialist at the Labor Occupational Health Program.
Berkeley Public Health: Do you chose to hide your disability at work or school out of fear of discrimination, or are you “out and proud”, or somewhere in between?
Liam Chavez: I chose to be open about my disabilities at Berkeley Public Health. I felt comfortable doing that as my colleagues are incredibly thoughtful and accepting people! I can’t say this has always been the case: A former employer refused to provide reasonable accommodations when I requested them. In fact, they demoted me to part-time work when I reported their illegal actions to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for violating the ADA. I was a little nervous to share my disabilities [at UC Berkeley] at first because of this experience, but I’m happy to report that my coworkers at Berkeley Public Health have been nothing but supportive and kind!
How might your disability, or disability in general, be seen as a secret weapon?
I am a master planner! Because my migraines can be unpredictable, I have systems for prioritizing and completing work early in case one comes on. This gives me some security and peace knowing that I can cope when I have an attack. Additionally, my PTSD has fostered a deeply-rooted sense of empathy, patience, and compassion for others. I leverage these qualities at BPH as well as my second job where I work as a mental health counselor!
What is the most frustrating thing you encounter in regards to disability access?
I wish employers would change their attitudes around hiring and accommodating disabled employees: We are willing and able to work if given reasonable accommodations! We bring unique points of view and strengths to the workplace because of our disabilities.
How do you feel people with disabilities are perceived? Does it make a difference if the disability is visible vs. invisible?
Since I have invisible disabilities, I am often perceived as a fit and able-bodied young man. While this is a form of privilege, it also hurts me and others with invisible conditions because able-bodied people may not take our disabilities seriously since they cannot see them. Migraine and chronic pain are particularly stigmatized: far too many people believe that it’s “just a headache” or “just pain” when these conditions can be incredibly debilitating.