July marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights legislation that has positively impacted the lives of millions of people with disabilities in the United States. It’s always a good time to hear the perspectives of others, and this time presents a unique opportunity to learn more about the experiences of folks with disabilities.
There are many types of disabilities, including physical disabilities, intellectual or learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, neurological disabilities and visual or hearing impairments. Some disabilities are permanent, others are temporary. In the US, 1 in 4 adults have a disability that impacts a major part of their lives.
At SAS, we have a multidimensional culture that blends our different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives from employees all over the world. We’re committed to being a great place to work for all, and we value the unique skills that individuals of all abilities bring to our teams and company.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the ADA, our own Lindsay Whitfield is sharing her journey as an individual with a disability. Read on to hear Lindsay’s story, what she’s learned along the way and why she loves working at SAS!
“You never know what life is going to throw at you.” I grew up hearing it, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I had it all – my family, happiness, my career and my health. Growing up, I was a USA competitive swimmer, with daily practices before and after school. After retiring from swimming, I ran nearly 10 miles a day as a student at NC State. I was fit and healthy, and always had been.
Everything seemed perfect, until it wasn’t. Following a divorce, I started all over again on my own. I returned to North Carolina for my dream job – launching a campus outreach program at SAS! I hit the ground running, visiting colleges and universities across the United States to recruit top students for our internship and early career opportunities. Jumping from plane to plane and living out of hotel rooms was exhausting, but I loved every minute of it. Then, in 2016 in my early thirties, my life took a turn I couldn’t have expected.
An Unexpected Turn
After a stint of back-to-back campus visits, I experienced excruciating pain in my lower back and knee. I started feeling achy all the time and standing for hours at events and career fairs began taking a toll on my body. It became unbearable, and after seeing several specialists, I was diagnosed with a torn labrum and capsular defect in my hip, with extensive cartilage damage from (genetic) hyper-mobility and overuse throughout my life. I also found out that I’d need surgery to repair it.
After my first surgery, complications continued to arise. Permanent nerve damage. Reconstructive repairs. Reinjury. A second surgery was scheduled, and then a third. I recently had my fourth hip surgery. Over the last four years, I’ve spent 120+ days on crutches and many more in hip braces.
Supported by SAS
Throughout this trial, I wasn’t alone. I had a tremendous support system of friends, family, an amazing trainer and physical therapist, and SAS colleagues who cheered me on and lifted me up when it became unbearable.
SAS has been much more than an employer to me – it’s been the place where I met some of my greatest friends and cheerleaders. When it became clear that my previous lifestyle just wouldn’t be possible with my hip issues, I was devastated. My manager was empathetic and supported my development into a new role that I love, with less travel and more internal engagement.
I was also able to flex my hours to accommodate for a slew of doctor’s appointments and physical therapy sessions, many of which were scheduled during typical working hours.
- Our ergonomics team outfitted me with a seat cushion, a sit-to-stand desk, and helped me modify my office to work more comfortably and minimize pain.
- Our benefits team helped me set up my medical leave and alleviated confusion.
- Our onsite Healthcare Center allowed for easy access and timely medical advice. They went above and beyond to check on me after my surgeries, and the accessibility of the on-campus services alleviated a lot of stress, time and cost savings.
- Our travel department above and beyond to make sure I was able to get an aisle seat and needed travel accommodations after each of my surgeries.
- Our lovely café chefs would prepare meals-to-go so I could stock my freezer while I was out
While these benefits are wonderful, my experience has gone far beyond HR and benefits. Throughout this journey, my SAS family has rallied around me, checking in on me after surgeries and sending flowers, DVDs, books and TV show recommendations. Some co-workers even drove me to appointments and visited and delivered meals to my house when my mobility was limited.
What I Want People to Know
Disabilities can happen to anyone, at any time, at any age. 62% of employees with disabilities have “invisible disabilities” – you can’t tell by looking at them. Over the last four years, I’ve experienced firsthand the stigma and bias that too often come with having a (sometimes invisible) disability. After taking an elevator one floor up, I’ve noticed the stares and snarky comments of those who don’t “see” my disability. Don’t make assumptions.
I’ve had a few other life takeaways from this journey, too:
- Life gets hard. It can happen at any time. The people you surround yourself with (including your employer) make the journey worthwhile.
- It’s OK to grieve and feel the pain you're experiencing – it makes you stronger.
- Take time out of your day to check in on the people around you.
- If you need a handicap parking pass, use it. Your body will thank you later!
My disability has changed my outlook on life. My life’s purpose has changed over time to be more empathetic, and I want to help those around me benefit from what I’ve learned. I’ve already been able to give back to my SAS family by sharing my experience with a new employee facing a similar journey, which has been so rewarding. I’m thankful to work for a company that values everything I bring to the table – crutches included!
Thanks, Lindsay, for sharing your story! We’re proud to be a great place to work for all abilities and look forward to continuing the conversation on ability inclusion.
Curious about what we’re doing to embrace all abilities at SAS? Check out our webpage.