Think Beyond the Label: Accepting ADHD as a Disability

Anyone affected by this disease knows that ADD/ADHD is a real and legally recognized disability, but we also know the benefits of “hiding” our symptoms and our condition. When others -- such as the new “Think Beyond the Label” public service ads -- ignore or belittle our disability how should we react?
Confessions of an ADDiva | posted by Linda Roggli, PCC

Smart employers don’t mention the term “ADD/ADHD” in a (poor) performance review, but will cite other troubling problems: Persistent tardiness. Failure to meet deadlines. Inappropriate communication with clients. Takes too much overtime. Not a team player.

Linda Roggli, ADDiva Blogger

Don’t get me wrong. From the moment I saw the clever commercial on TV for “Think Beyond the Label,” a new initiative to promote hiring people with disabilities, I was filled with optimism.

After all, given the unemployment statistics from March 2010, the disabled workforce is decidedly affected -- coming in at a 13.9 percent unemployment rate compared with the 10.1 percent rate for the overall non-disabled population. And that doesn't take into consideration the nearly 21 million differently abled people, or 70.2 percent, who are not in the workforce at all. It seems hard to believe that many people are not working by choice.

The Think Beyond the Label public service announcement (PSA) was light-hearted, with a sense of humor absent from previous somber reminders to “hire the handicapped.” I was eager to find out more at the website. But when I arrived, I was disappointed to find that clutter control, one of the primary problems for most people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) had been treated as a “silly quirk” in their collection of e-cards. They called it being “Clearing Impaired.” Ha-ha.

You and I know that ADD/ADHD is not only real, it’s a disability acknowledged by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Legally, we are entitled to accommodations in the workplace and elsewhere. Yet ADD/ADHD remains still a stepchild to disabilities that are easy to identify like paralysis or visual impairment. After losing her job in a round of layoffs last year, ADDitude's adult ADD/ADHD blogger Jane D. wrote, "The thought still haunts me: Does ADHD lead to unemployment?" And in a recent survey, 65 percent of ADD/ADHD adults reported feeling like they have to work harder than their co-workers to succeed on the job.

Things will change, trust me. Although I detest the slow machinery of the U.S. court system and, even more, its absolute control over interpretation of laws such as the ADA, eventually we will see ADD/ADHD successfully defended as a true disability. Those of us on the inside of ADD/ADHD are far too familiar with its insidious snare. I try hard to stay positive when staring into the dark hole of ADD/ADHD but the effects can be devastating.

How many of us are under-employed (or, these days, unemployed)? How many of us are frustrated that we have never quite reached our full potential? How many of us struggle to stay ahead of that monster known as Low-Self Esteem? How many of us simply give up the fight, go back to bed for a few hours, cry a little more over those many instances of spilled milk?

More importantly, how many of us hide our ADD/ADHD because we don’t want to be pigeonholed as “deficient” or “defective?” Or, out of fear that if we let our employers in on the secret, we might be fired.

Smart employers don’t mention the term “ADD/ADHD” in a (poor) performance review, but will cite other troubling problems: Persistent tardiness. Failure to meet deadlines. Inappropriate communication with clients. Takes too much overtime. Not a team player. All of which can be the result of classic symptoms of ADD/ADHD, a disability “protected” by the ADA.

So the questions remain: “Should I tell my employer about my ADD/ADHD?” “Do I mention my ADD/ADHD on my grad school application?” “Can I ask for a quiet room to complete my notes on patients?”

But maybe the most important questions are: “Are we all willing to accept the label of ADD/ADHD (and the accompanying, real, if troubling, symptoms)? Or not?”

I hope the folks at Think Beyond the Label will give some thought to their “Clearing Impaired” e-card. I sent them an e-mail to let them know how much it hurts those of us who hate clutter but are literally powerless to control it.

I’m sure the creative team at the ad agency who dreamed up the card thought it was quite cute. As the former owner of an ad agency myself, I’m willing to bet that more than one member of that creative team has ADD/ADHD. But they’re not telling; after all, who wants to be labeled?

 
 
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