View Full Version : Coping Strategies at work

22-02-14, 11:17

I'm new to being disabled and still getting used to it. I was diagnosed in 2012 but only really started to 'feel' disabled in the last 6 months or so. I'm struggling to develop coping strategies at work and was hoping someone else could offer advice? Sorry, I have 3 main issues at the moment I could do with some help on!

I've worked for the same company for 7 years and now work mostly from home. When I am in the office, people I haven’t seen in ages will give me a funny look and ask "are you alright?" when they see me walking with a crutch. I don’t want to go in to the whole "yeah great thanks, today is actually a good day!". How do you deal with that kind of conversation? With someone you know on a professional basis only?

In the last 3 months my hands have deteriorated and I no longer have the strength or dexterity to hold a pen and write notes in meetings. On top of that, I have moved office to a new building that does not have Wi-Fi, so can't use my laptop in meeting rooms to take notes. Wi-Fi is planned but is 6 months away. I know I could use a Dictaphone or even the voice recorder on my mobile phone, but feel really self-conscious. How do other people manage with note-taking? Or do I need to just get over it and use a voice recorder? How do you build the confidence to just do it your way?

Finally, because of the condition with my hands, I have to limit the amount of time I spend on a keyboard. I use some voice-recognition software but not for tasks on Excel, it just takes too long. If I have some work to do on spreadsheets, that is 4 hours of work, I will break it up in too 30 mins chunks over 2 weeks, and do it in between other pieces of work that are less painful. How should I handle the conversation/confrontation when someone more senior pushes me to 'understand the barriers to competing this task sooner' in public? Someone who is not my line manager, and does not know about my disability. This has happened a few times with different people and has led to *Awkward* conversations where a senior manager is just doing their job by challenging anything that is slowing down a project, but I am left sounding like I'm making excuses because I don’t want to discuss my disability in front of 10 other people. Equally, if I don’t work with someone regularly and closely, then I don’t want to discuss my disability with them, senior or not. What do other people do to deflect this kind of conversation so that you can pick it up privately? Who do you do it and maintain credibility in the workplace?

Thanks for taking the time to read this! :)

23-02-14, 13:56
You have a newly acquired impairment that is progressive. Your manager and I assume HR are aware that you have impairments that can impact on your productivity. Your manager is supportive and offers flexible working arrangements so you can work from home which is progressive.

The disabling working barriers you face

LACK OF DISABILITY AWARENESS from work colleagues and other managers -
ACTION - this is a disability awareness training issue for managers. Discuss with HR - suggest you ask if someone from ‘Access to Work’ gives briefing to managers - a compulsory course!

WI-FI ISSUE. You have a smartphone which has access to the internet.
ACTION. You might be able to link your smartphone web access to your laptop through ‘bluetooth’so your laptop uses your smartphones web access.

ACTION -your laptop will use microsoft office and you should still be able to use ‘Word’ and save to the computers hard drive unless all work software is held in the ‘cloud’ i.e. not loaded on your actual laptop.

- there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use your mobile to record the meetings but sometimes people object as they may say something that wasn’t meant to be minuted. You could also use a digital voice recorder set for ‘conference’ to record voices a distance away. Access to Work could supply that.

ACTION - When attending a meeting tell the chair what your intentions are ask if anyone has a problem with that.
NOTE - you need a person who is a good ‘Chair’ - get people to speak one at a time. Just ask the chair prior to the meeting to summarise action points for each task. Your minutes of the meeting will be concise and on just one side of A4.

CONFRONTATION - A RIGHT TO PRIVACY - You have a right to confidentiality and your other managers are in the wrong to publicly humiliate you in front of colleagues. This is a form of bullying and harassment which is mainly due to ignorance about your health condition. You need to approach these managers but not with problems but solutions about work issues.
You’re also protected in law by the Equality Acts but only if your colleagues are aware that you are a disabled person. Presently other managers are questioning your capability to do this area of work in a timely manner.
ACTION - Ask to go on a Assertiveness course. Ask for a one-to-one with your line manager to raise the disabling issue. Have solutions ready at meeting.

SPREADSHEETS - A reasonable adjustment would be to ask someone else to do this area of work and you do some of their tasks in return. Alternatively as your condition is deteriating get in touch with JobcentrePlus ‘Access to Work’ and ask for an assessment. They might suggest that you are assigned a ’support worker’ to carry out tasks you cannot do.

DISCUSSING YOUR IMPAIRMENT - People are naturally curious but equally helpful. Don’t think it is a weakness to admit that you have an impairment that can lead to disabling work issues.
ACTION - You are a person like anyone else. Your new motto - ’Treat people the way you want to be treated’. Be yourself - if you need assistance ask for it. I never discuss my impairment.Check out info about 'the social model of disability' as it will make you realise that you aren't the problem!

Be proactive. About 15% of your workforce will have a visible or invisible disability and will face similar barriers in the workplace.
ACTION Suggest to HR that you wish to form a disabled officers group to tackle issues in the workplace. Ask for a meeting with the CEO/Director to get backing from the top - you won’t regret it!

23-02-14, 19:20
That's a fantastic set of suggestions, Lighttouch.

It is possible to use voice activated software for anything if you have patience and motivation - I know a quadriplegic software developer who uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking to write code. As a former software engineer and current Dragon user, I admire his tenacity. He is a Dragon expert, with much of his programming work being Dragon related, but even so Dragon must be very cumbersome for certain tasks that are straightforward with a keyboard.

Depending on the condition with your hands, Kaff79, an adapted keyboard might help or it could be completely useless to you. I have a neuromuscular condition that makes repeated muscle movements difficult. Though I'm still about a 90wpm typist on a normal QWERTY keyboard, I soon find a normal keyboard unbearably painful and it can even put my hands into spasm.

I now use a Maltron keyboard with trackball (http://www.maltron.com/keyboard-info/dual-hand-fully-ergonomic-3d-keyboards) in the Maltron layout, which is more ergonomically arranged and minimises micro-movements of the fingers. It takes motivation to switch - you can go through a short adaptation process to use a Maltron keyboard in a QWERTY layout or a rather longer process of learning to type again using the more efficient Maltron layout. I went straight for the second option and have no regrets as it ultimately made the transition easier. My typing automatically adjusts layout when I go between the different types of keyboard.

Maltron hire keyboards at a relatively low rate of £10 per week plus VAT if you and your employer want to see whether this will help before spending the considerable sum involved in a purchase. The current price for the keyboard I'm using, including VAT, is £435 plus VAT. They are bulky things to carry around, but if you need to move a Maltron keyboard I recommend the carrying case they sell (at another £119 plus VAT, I'm afraid). The expense is because they are low volume hand built products.

23-02-14, 20:01

Thanks do much for your advice. I will look in to some of the suggestions. I am waiting for Dragon to be installed on my work laptop and also for an access to work assesment. I work for a very large organisation, that just means I'm wading through treacle a lot of the time. I have been back to work 15 months since becoming disabled and still trying to negotiate the minimum reasonable adjustments. Within all of this, I'm trying to maintain my performance and a descent amount of credibility, which is really tough!!

I've also found it really difficult to find help on the internet from other people in my sitiuation. Are there any forums that are work-based that also cover disability? Without meaning to sound rude, when I type in to google what I am looking for, I am confronted with pages upon pages of help for how to claim out of work benefits; not help for coping strategies to stay in work. If you see what I mean?

Many thanks


23-02-14, 20:30
Possibly Access to Work could help.

24-02-14, 00:34
I think you are very wise to keep working rather than claim out of work benefits if possible, Kathy.

When I first fell ill, I was an undergraduate. I did my best to remain at university, then, when it was clear the year was lost, I used my contacts to get a job. I went back to university without a full understanding of what was wrong and what triggered it, which turned out to be a nasty mistake, as I incapacitated myself for a very long period. After many years of climbing back up the proverbial greasy pole, I am now back studying at university part time, and hope to return to work one day.

Being idle or dependent is not in my nature, though sometimes it is forced upon me. I think there are relatively few people who are content to claim out of work benefits rather than work. I would much rather be in work, not least for the added independence it would give me, but also because I'd rather give back than take. There's someone I love very much who also has health problems, but without one of us finding a way back to work, we can't see any way to access the care and housing we would need to be together.

I think Lighttouch's points under "Discussing your impairment" are particularly helpful. You are not your impairment and certainly not your disability (read up on the social model of disability if you don't appreciate the difference). Your impairment is an indivisible part of you, but does not define you. You have the same right to dignity and respect as everyone else.

A lot of what appears to be intrusive is curiosity mixed with a desire to help. People often deal with what they perceive as abnormal by wanting it to go away, which means they express a desire for you to "get better" not realising that you likely will not. It is rare in my experience for people to act with ill intent - most of the time they simply want to help you integrate. The times things have gone wrong for me is when necessary conversations either did not happen, or happened in an environment where the other party failed to realise that every disability is unique. You can take ten people with the same diagnosis and each one will be affected differently.

One topic that leaps out of your posts is a desire to work efficiently. I found when I got back to studying that efficiency is a mixture of experience and seeking out ideas.

To take one example, you suggest audio recording meetings for later attention, but unless you need to prepare a verbatim transcript, working from audio recordings is often a fairly inefficient way of working. Voice recognition software cannot deal with recordings with multiple speakers, so you are likely forced to listen to the entire meeting again unless you use a recorder that can flag certain sections for later attention (such as by inserting an index mark) or you keep some sort of notes during the meeting.

I do record some meetings and seminars (using a good quality pair of omnidirectional microphones and a digital audio recorder with index mark support), but always make some sort of notes during the meeting. The recording then becomes a secondary source when I need go back over certain passages later.

If you do a lot of audio based work, it can be worth using digital notebook software such as Audio Notetaker (http://www.sonocent.com/en/the_software/audio_notetaker) or even foot pedal or thumb button driven digital transcription software. When it comes to digital dictation and transcription products, there's several good options. You're usually best picking one of the major manufacturers and sticking with their ecosystem. I use Olympus, but Philips also have excellent products.

Efficiency is key to productivity when using voice recognition. If you're experienced with Dragon, most of what follows may well come as no surprise, but it represents the distilled wisdom of many expert Dragon users and trainers I have spoken to.

Recognition errors are a particular block to efficient use of Dragon, as it can take twenty seconds to correct a single error. Most people's attention focuses straight on the microphone, as the microphones supplied with even the expensive editions of Dragon are pretty awful, but the biggest barriers to efficient use of Dragon are dictation style.

The most important thing is always to speak in phrases. Dragon uses context to improve its word choice, so dictating a word or two at a time leads to a massive drop in productivity as your error rate shoots up. It is far better to think of an entire phrase, then say it.

The way you speak is also important. A good dictation style is often described as somewhat akin to reading the news. In ordinary everyday speech, people typically run words together, clip off trailing consonantal sounds and mumble to some extent. Dragon works best when you speak crisply, enunciate every syllable and possibly leave the hint of a gap between each word. However, unlike reading the news, it is best to avoid too great a range of tone - speech recognition is one application where somewhat monotonous delivery can be beneficial. There is no harm in speaking quickly if you follow these rules - most people can achieve over 150 words per minute with 99%+ accuracy given the right training, practice and experience. Trying to dictate faster than you are comfortable with overemphasises the errors I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph and accuracy plummets as a result.

If you use any specialist vocabulary, you should add it to Dragon using the vocabulary editor. The vocabulary editor is also helpful for giving Dragon a helping hand by adding a phonetically based spoken form to a written form, also for deleting any common misrecognitions that are words and phrases you don't use.

Most people find it best to turn off auto-punctuation. It makes educated guesses, and often guesses incorrectly. cap it is far better in my experience to dictate all your punctuation when using cap dragon cap naturally no-space cap speaking comma otherwise you can find yourself with redundant punctuation marks when you stop to think full-stop :) (Dragon would have got the capital letter at the beginning of that sentence and would probably have got Dragon NaturallySpeaking right without help, but when you're used to saying the relevant commands they trip off the tongue easily enough).

Learn the Dragon commands and how they behave. Judicious use of a handful of commands can make a great difference to productivity. "Resume with", "Scratch that" and "Undo that" are particularly useful. "Go back" can be a massive productivity boost when you've just corrected or edited something. Experiment with the differences between using "Select ..." followed by speaking a replacement phrase and "Correct ..." - both approaches are valid but have different strengths and weaknesses. Dragon 12 allows you to use the keyboard for corrections when that is more efficient.

If you make any use of "Spell that", it's worth learning and using the NATO/ICAO phonetic alphabet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet). You can rattle out spellings quickly using the phonetic alphabet whereas it is a slow and miserable experience spelling out letter by letter, pausing between each letter, and correcting the horrific number of errors that result. If you use the phonetic alphabet, everyday pronunciation is fine - there's no need to adopt the slightly unusual pronunciations used in radiotelephony work.

Don't waste too much time training Dragon on individual words or globally, as training makes very little difference to accuracy unless you have a heavy accent or a speech impediment. Even then, Dragon's efficiency typically peaks a couple of hours after you create a new user profile before trailing off somewhat thereafter. Training used to be important to the versions of Dragon we had years ago, but its utility has faded now. Training individual words is a particular waste of time in Dragon 12, which seems to forget the trained pronunciation quickly, sometimes in as little as a day or two.

It can be worth exporting your user commands and vocabulary changes periodically before starting a new user profile (keep the old one around for a while, just in case) and importing that exported data. Most of the time spent in creating a good Dragon user profile is in creating the user commands and vocabulary changes. Upgraded user profiles tend to be sub-optimal - if you upgrade to a new version of Dragon, upgrade your user profile, export the user commands and vocabulary, then start a new user profile and import this data.

Pause before voice commands, otherwise they will not be recognised as commands.

Automate repetitive tasks by creating your own voice commands. You have the most flexibility with Advanced Scripting, which is only found in a professional edition of Dragon (Professional, Legal or Medical), but there's no point having Advanced Scripting if even simple programming would bring you out in a rash. (Advanced Scripting is very similar to Visual Basic, by the way).

I hope there's something in this lot that helps, even if it's just the acknowledgement that others have faced similar challenges.

25-02-14, 20:58
Hi Flymo

Thanks so much for all the advice. I'm just at the point where Dragon is going to be installed on my laptop so this advice is invaluable. The most frustrating thing is that my employer has one other person who uses it, but because of confidentiality, they won’t tell me who it is or somehow put me in contact with them. I just wanted some tips, so thank you!

I've also know that all of my work-based problems I can solve by myself, through coaching etc. I don’t expect anyone else to solve my problems for me, but it’s always useful to draw on others experience. I have now made an appointment through my Employee assistance Programme for some guided coaching sessions, from someone outside of my organisation, to help me sort out how to move forward.

I've worked really hard over my life (although I'm only 35!) to overcome a lot of other difficulties and am really proud of my achievements and education. Becoming disabled is not the biggest challenge I have faced so far and I'm confident that with the right support, equipment and attitude I can carry on as before.

I really hope that you can make your dreams come true and that you are able to get back to work and be with the one you love. For me, I overcome a number of health issues and lost a massive 8st in weight so that I could fulfil my dream of having a baby. Then giving birth actually made me disabled! The irony never leaves me as this is the life I always dreamed of, and wouldn’t change it for the world. :)

Best of luck to you, we all deserve what we want in life, but rarely get what we deserve.