29 Forms Of Ableism People Experienced While At Work That Will Make Your Blood Boil
“‘I know she has digestion problems, but can’t she actually do her job?’ —An actual comment made about me for having to call off work because of my Crohn's disease.”
We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about a time they experienced ableism, and there were hundreds of infuriating, heartbreaking, and equally important responses. But because ableism so often happens in a professional and school setting, we decided to specifically highlight cases of workplace ableism in this piece.
It's important to be able to recognize and prevent different forms of ableism, and that starts with awareness. So without further ado, here are 29 experiences people have had with ableism while at work or in school:
1. "My old boss pulled me into the office and told me that I made a 'pain face' when my pain was bad, and that I needed to keep that in check. At the time, my knees were giving out to the point where I would almost fall. It was painful."
2. "'It must be nice to have a medical excuse to not do something,' my coworkers said while rolling their eyes."
3. "I've been told by coworkers or friends that I 'look fine,' so how can I be so sick? I have been told by my own mother that I am faking it for attention so that I don't have to work. It makes me feel alone and misunderstood and makes me question everything, even though I know my body and what I go through."
4. “‘I know she has digestion problems, but can’t she actually do her job?’ —An actual comment made about me for having to call off work because of my Crohn's disease.”
5. "Once, a coworker of mine made a joke about how he wished that he could go home when he was sad...after I'd had a PTSD-induced panic attack and couldn't do anything productive or be around others."
6. "I once had a colleague who pointed to my walking stick and said, 'Is that just for show, like a prop?'"
7. "I confided in my (ex) boss that my mental illness was getting worse, and he took that as me saying I couldn't do my job and said, 'If you can't handle it, leave.'"
8. "I was complaining about having Crohn's disease to a coworker, and she told me, 'Just remember, it could be worse.' I acknowledge and am thankful that my case is relatively moderate and that I have found medicine that works well for me. But you know what would be even better than that? NOT HAVING CROHN'S DISEASE IN THE FIRST DAMN PLACE."
9. "I have chronic lower back problems that started during firefighting training for the Navy. After I was removed from a ship on medical grounds, I was told by my supervisor and senior supervisor that I was faking it to get out of going to sea."
10. "I have chronic back pain due to degenerative disk disease. When I was in grad school, I injured my back so badly that I literally couldn't sit or stand. I had to slide out of bed and crawl anywhere I had to go for weeks. I reached out to a professor for an extension on a paper, only to be told that as long as my hands were working to type, I'd be fine and no extension was necessary."
11. "My boss told me that if I felt ill, to come into work, and if I still wasn't well, to then go home after that. I have photophobic migraines! I lose my sight, I vomit, I have muscle weakness and disorientation. Yeah, see you at the office!"
12. "I applied for a seasonal job. They asked me the days I couldn’t work, and I only told them one day because I had to see my cardiologist that day (I’m a transplant patient). They told me I wasn’t accepted. Meanwhile, they let college students skip workdays to study or take tests, while my heart cath literally depended on whether or not I was going to die."
13. "When I told a colleague that I had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome (autism), he thought about it for a while and then chimed in with, 'But you don't look autistic. You seem normal.'"
14. "'I don’t understand how you haven’t figured out how to manage it yet.' —My boss, two weeks before he fired me, the day after I admitted my ADHD diagnosis, after becoming pregnant and having to reduce my ADHD meds."
15. "While I was in high school, my English teacher told me she was 'happy' she didn’t have me anymore so she wouldn’t have to put up with any more of me 'faking it.' I’ve had a 504 plan for my HIDDEN physical disability since I entered public middle school, and that was also the year I was out for five weeks with TWO (not one) broken arms at the same time due to my genetic, physical disability. Eleven years later, I am still astounded that she was allowed to be around kids!"
16. "I was ill for most of my teenage years, so I missed years of high school. I’ve had people say they’re jealous that I could just stay in bed all day and not go to school. I wanted nothing more than to be able to go to school and be a normal kid."
17. "'Oh, you’re serious? I thought you were joking!' —My professor to me after I asked about ACCOMMODATIONS."
18. "I get chronic migraines almost every day. They can last for days and get so intense that I get nauseous and have to call off work. A lot of people have called me weak and lazy for actually not being able to work because of them. They say things like, 'I get headaches, they’re not that bad. Just take an Advil and suck it up.' They do not understand how painful and debilitating my migraines can be."
19. "While speaking to my professor after missing a few days of class due to my invisible illness, I was told, 'You know, one of my TAs got in a skiing accident last term and broke his leg, and he still made it to his classes.'"
20. "I have so many, I can't even begin to list them all, but here is one I've experienced as a college student with invisible illnesses and disabilities. In reference to those with registered disabilities getting priority on the rooming assignment list so that they don't run out of accessible-friendly rooms, I was told, 'It's room assignment time, which means it's time for everyone to start registering their fake disabilities just so they can get better rooms than the rest of us.'"
21. "I was diagnosed with dysautonomia/POTS in early September of 2020. Before this, I was a super-active competitive dancer training to audition for the collegiate level. Once I got sick, a lot of people told me I was just deconditioned and that I needed to 'just jump back in.' If only they knew how badly I want to jump back in and keep training because I miss it so much! It’s just not that easy, and the pain it takes to try is extreme. That’s ableist to me."
22. "I broke down in front of my professor once because after weeks of struggling with my ADHD, I didn't think I could catch up. They didn't offer any help and just told me it was actually a superpower and that I wasn't using it right."
23. "There was one time I told my manager I was depressed that day. She turned around and said, 'You're young. What do you have to be depressed about?'"
24. "I have multiple sclerosis (specifically, RRMS), and if I do too much, my vision gets blurry and it’s hard to think of the words I need to say until I rest for like 30 minutes. I am a nurse, so that sucked. I had one old manager say, 'If you don’t want to do your job, just get another one. We can’t be picking up your slack.' I had only been diagnosed two months prior and was learning how to function properly. Fun stuff."
25. "My brother and I have juvenile arthritis, and because of that, we had specialized education plans in place to help us when we had flares. One time, a substitute didn’t believe my brother about having arthritis and wouldn’t let him walk around the classroom because he 'wasn’t deformed enough' to have arthritis."
26. "I have Crohn's disease and ended up dropping a lot of weight very rapidly when it first flared up — about 80 pounds in four months. I had a coworker look me dead in the eyes and say, 'You're lucky! You didn't have to do anything for it!'"
27. "I have severe rheumatoid arthritis and hEDS. My old supervisor was never supportive when I had to miss work due to pain or the effects of my infusions (nausea, dizziness, fatigue). One day, I overheard two of my coworkers discussing how I 'should just go on disability.' When I complained to my supervisor, she just said, 'Well, I can't help how they feel. You let us down a lot.' I eventually left that job."
28. "I have fibromyalgia, which causes chronic fatigue and chronic pain; costochondritis, which feels like you're being stabbed by a thousand knives every time you breathe; and also mental health problems (depression, anxiety, BPD). There's the typical 'You don't look ill,' but I've also heard the whole 'I know someone with fibro who works full time' thing."
29. "I was once told by a disability adviser, 'You're a bit young to be so ill. What, are you just never going to work again?' To which I replied, 'I want to work — that's why I'm here talking to you!'"
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.