my employee uses a wheelchair … but I found out he doesn’t really need one

A reader writes:

I’m a manager in charge of a division at my company. “Drew,” one of the people I manage, uses a wheelchair. When first hired, Drew was told to ask if any accommodation was needed. He has never asked for any. Our area is on the first floor of our building. Our building has elevators and all the doorways are wide enough for his wheelchair. When Drew first began working here, he used public transit. There is a bus stop a few feet outside our front door. Now Drew has a car with hand controls and no one else parks in the space closest to the door. The space has been reserved for him.

Drew has mentioned being a paraplegic but to my knowledge has not elaborated or said anything about how and when it happened. Drew is outgoing and popular, gets along with everyone, and is one of those people who has the gift of being able to talk to anyone. He has an active life and participates in many clubs and athletics. Drew’s work has always been good and I have never had a problem with him or anything he has done.

Why I am writing in to you: Not long ago, I saw a short film online about people who believe they are disabled but are actually not. Drew was in it. He is not a paraplegic and does not need a wheelchair. In the film, Drew walks and is clear that he is not paralyzed and has no actual need for a wheelchair but uses it because he feels as though he was meant to be a paraplegic. It is for sure Drew and it was recently made. At least one of the other people I manage has also seen it. She discreetly came to my office and mentioned it to me.

I’m not sure if I can or should do anything. This doesn’t affect our work, and Drew has never asked for any accommodation and hasn’t tried to defraud anyone out of money, gifts, or anything else. He does not constantly mention being paralyzed or the chair and barely talks about it. I think the lie is abhorrent and awful, but because it is his personal life I am not even sure if I can do anything.

I normally would never say anything about the private lives of the people I manage, but Drew comes to work in the chair and uses it full-time and does mention being paralyzed. I am concerned the company may look bad if anyone finds out and says something. Is this even something I can talk to Drew about?

Well, this is sticky.

Here’s where I ultimately end up, and I’ll say up-front that I’m a little out of my depth here so ultimately I’m going to recommend that you consult with someone who isn’t. But based on a quick Google search, it seems plausible that Drew does have a medical condition — just a different one than you thought. Apparently there’s something called body integrity identity disorder that can cause this.

Given that it’s reasonably likely that there’s a mental health disorder at play here, and given that it doesn’t sound like it’s impacting anyone’s work, I’d leave it alone. Yes, Drew is getting a parking space that he might not be entitled to, but it sounds like that might just be an accommodation for a different condition than the one you thought it was for.

If other employees ask you about it, you can say something like, “I want to respect other people’s privacy when it comes to medical issues, but we’ll always try to accommodate people based on what they tell us they need, if we can.” (Of course, if you say that, it needs to be true — you can’t say that and then turn around and make someone provide reams of medical paperwork to get a chair they can comfortably sit in, or so forth.)

But I do think you need to make your HR team aware of the situation — not in a “we must act on this” way, but in a “this seems like something you should be aware of in case I should be handling it differently, or in case it comes up in the future” way. I tend to recommend heading to HR less frequently than many people do, but you do need to keep them in the loop on anything that raises questions about accommodations or disability protections. And in this case, they should be able to help guide you — or consult with lawyers who can, if they think that’s needed.

I think you’re thinking “I’m his manager so I have to figure out how to handle this,” but this is outside of the typical management stuff that you should handle on your own.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 1,066 comments… read them below }

  1. rosenstock*

    whoa. definitely agree with Alison who gave great advice as usual. if i were the OP i guess my biggest fear would be another employee finding out/seeing the doc and handling it less well than the 1st employee who saw it. like spreading it around the office or something. not sure how i personally would handle that :\

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t touch this either. Mental health issues are tricky, and if the illness isn’t negatively impacting his performance, then there’s not really much the manager can do. Alison’s advice to loop in HR is a good one because if the company ends up hiring someone who legitimately needs his parking space, I do think they’ll need to ask him to move, but again, that would be a very tricky conversation to have.

    2. fposte*

      Yes, I think this is a valid concern. There are definitely people of the “let’s see how paralyzed he is if the fire alarm goes off” school.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve seen folks with this condition, and it can absolutely be a medical condition (I.e., a mental health condition with psychosomatic effects). I don’t think OP should probe the issue, but it could make sense to ask Drew how he’s like OP to address any concerns from coworkers who see the doc.

      Of course, OP shouldn’t armchair diagnose Drew, but I think it may be reasonable, after speaking with Drew, to help reframe the issue for coworkers so that they don’t incorrectly perceive Drew to be “gaming” the system.

      1. Anonymoose*

        I agree with this. My first stance was DO NOT TOUCH IT/do no harm, etc. But I think since he’s gone public with his disorder I think it would behoove both the LW and Drew to come to terms of how to communicate his needs SHOULD it ever come up.

      2. G*

        I have heard of people having something like this. In one documentary I saw, a woman tried to get surgery to make herself paraplegic and I’ve heard of people trying to perform self amputations.

    4. Reya*

      If I were the OP, I’d be tempted to take Drew aside and let him know that I’d seen the film.

      “Drew, I wanted to let you know that I’d seen [XXX]. I want to assure you that as far as I and the business are concerned this makes no difference to your employment here and your use of the chair, but as this is something that’s now in the public domain I wanted to give you a heads-up in case any of your co-workers bring it up. You are under no obligation to discuss your personal life and medical history with anyone, but is there anything you’d like me to say should anyone raise the subject with me?”

      1. katydid*

        Great approach.

        I think it’s also worth noting that Drew participated in the making of the documentary and therefore had to have some expectation that it would get into the public sphere and possibly be viewed by people who know him. It should not surprise him that people see it.

      2. Millennial Lawyer*

        I would discuss with HR and counsel before saying this. I think it’s a great script but you don’t want to be in a situation where it turns out what you are saying is not true. Anything you say should be backed up by HR and counsel before you make a go of it on your own.

      3. Another Human*

        It might seem the perfect way to discuss this, but I’d still go over it with HR, first. I’d want to know if there were any potential legal hurdles to saying ANYTHING to this guy.

      4. pinyata*

        I disagree! I’m not sure there’s any reason to mention anything to Drew. He believes he needs this chair. To me, it makes sense for OP to speak to other employees, using the script Alison provided above, and not to Drew directly about the film. I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has some family experience with this. The fact that Drew appears in this documentary able to walk and seems (I think?) to be aware of the disconnect between his ability to walk and use of a wheelchair changes things a little bit from my experience but I’m not sure speaking to Drew in this way would do anything besides feel like a “gotcha” confrontation. Even if it’s presented in this very accepting and understanding script.

        1. Zillah*

          I agree, especially since he’s presumably aware the documentary exists. What would the OP be telling him that he doesn’t already know?

        2. Perse's Mom*

          It’s not a ‘gotcha’ because the script is specifically telling him (assuming HR signs off on it) that yes, the company is aware BUT they’re *supportive* of him. They’re alerting him to the fact that if two employees saw the film, it’s very possible other employees have seen or will see it. That allows him to prepare his own scripts or decide if or how to address it if or when it comes up rather than being blind-sided by it if or when it’s raised by another coworker (who may not be as compassionate).

        1. Jesca*

          There are streaming channels that play all kinds of documentaries. I too sometimes watch docs like this just to know about it. But it must be front and center somewhere that two people in the office have watched it.

        2. LeRainDrop*

          I actually came across a short segment on this exact subject sometime within the last few months. I can’t even remember when or where, but I recall it as like a 5-minute clip on a news program, possibly. I don’t even have cable, so it must have been at someone else’s home or on an airplane, or possibly someone linked to it on Facebook.

        3. Frank Doyle*

          There’s a documentary on Netflix about composting, and a former co-worker of mine happens to be in it. (Our profession doesn’t have anything to do with composting or farming.) It’s a small world, that’s all. Are you implying that something nefarious is going on?

        4. Ego Chamber*

          The letter seems to put the timeline backwards, but it sounds to me like OP was alerted to the documentary by the other coworker who saw it.

      5. Stacy*

        Yes, Reya’s script is perfect! I have a couple of invisible physical illnesses, and many folks with either or both of those do use wheelchairs. Some all of the time, some part of the time, some of us none of the time *yet*, and you cannot tell by looking at any of us how sick we are at any given moment. Well, unless you find me laying down on the floor in the grocery store because my BP just dropped and my heart rate can’t compensate quickly enough, and I need to get down to the ground before I pass out and gravity takes care of it for me. You might notice then. Or you might just think I’m super-weird and like to lay down in the grocery store aisle. Many folks who have handicapped parking permits and/or use wheelchairs some of the time but not all of the time have had horrid interactions with folks who think because you *look* fine that you *are* fine, and have pointed to this film as part of what they see as evidence that makes it that much harder to us to exist out in the world because we look like we are “faking” also. Many of the rest of us are fearful that we will need mobility devices and visible disability accommodations in the future, and then will run into the same issues. So pretty much all of us have, at least at one point or another, done things that can dangerous for us to avoid a potential altercation with a stranger on a day when our bodies are already being extra challenging. Because when your body uses 3 times as much energy as most people’s just standing up and you have to go grocery shopping, you don’t have the energy to also argue with a stranger about how you look perfectly fine so you have no business using that handicapped parking space so you don’t have to walk all the way across the parking lot, wearing yourself out before you even get inside the store. Or you stood up from your chair to grab something off the shelf, so obviously you’re faking needing that wheelchair. I hope that if/when I get to that point myself of needing to regularly use mobility devices, or need workplace accommodations that my employer/supervisor will react in exactly the way that Reya suggests!

        TL;DR I totally get why this is frustrating for people, and that it seems like Drew is faking. The truth is it seems like he does have a health condition that causes him to need to make use of a wheelchair as a mobility device at this point in time, just not a physical one.

        1. MM*

          Glad you were here to say this! When I first started reading the letter I was really worried that this was a case of “Drew is capable of walking a few steps, so he must not be disabled or need the chair,” which I know is a common misconception. I was relieved to see that it appears that he frames his own case, in the doc, as being more of a mental thing than anything else, and so it wasn’t the LW making that assumption, but the potential repercussions are potentially really sticky for this company’s future with disabled employees. I’m glad it seems like the LW hasn’t jumped to any major conclusions.

          1. Stacy*

            Yeah, it’s tricky. And I’m not sure if I phrased it perfectly either, because the physiology is complicated. Someone’s brain perceiving something different than what the rest of us can see…I mean, it is physical too, just not in the way we might expect as outsiders. It’s easy to kind of use language short hand an…I don’t know, it can be a heated issue, and it’s so easy to oversimplify, so I hope I’m not doing that! (I feel a little out of my depth here trying to find language for what I’m trying to say while also being aware it is a sensitive subject)

        2. Safetykats*

          Whether Drew is “faking,” or whether he has a mental illness, it’s unclear whether the appropriate accommodation is to allow him to, for example, have preferential use of the disabled stall in the restroom. What happens if another employee has an actual, physical need for that? Is someone who actually cannot walk into a normal-width stall meant to wait while someone who can uses the wider stall? It seems like this “works” only as long as there is no other employee with a physical disability – at which point it becomes a real problem.

          1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

            The disabled stall in the restroom is not actually reserved for disabled people only. Anyone can use it, at any time. A disabled person might have to wait anyway.

            1. Anna*

              The idea is that if the stall is available and a person with a disability is in line, they would get to use that stall rather than having to wait for it, not that they’d have to wait in line until everyone gets to pee using the stall with accommodations. If it’s in use, they wait until it’s available and then get to use it.

              1. sap*

                Yeah. Disabled people have waited in line to pee, too. It is not an abnormal experience (how do you think disabled people who hang out together use the restroom? We wait for the first user to be done, like anyone else?)

            2. CB*

              Wheelchair user here. I sincerely hope that able-bodied people (and disabled people who are not wheelchair users or in need of the extra space for some reason) refrain from using the largest stall. If you have a disability that makes you need to use the bathroom urgently (not uncommon) and can only use one stall, there is little more infuriating than waiting agonizingly outside or peeing yourself because someone else wanted to stretch out.

              The wheelchair stall gets so much traffic that it is often out of order, not lockable, emptied of toilet paper, and/or generally trashed by the time I get in, and for many wheelchair users, it is not an option to use any other stall.

              I didn’t know this or think about it before I was a wheelchair user myself, and I don’t think it’s a capital offense to use it. But when it comes up, I do tell people this. They really ought to label them somehow as a reminder.

          2. Reya*

            I think this is a complete non-issue. Businesses do, on occasion, employ more than one disabled person, in which case there will have been times when one of them has to wait for use of the disabled stall. I’m sure they manage it.

            I highly doubt anyone is ranking different disabilities to ensure preferential use of the disabled stall goes to the ‘most disabled’ person and so one. Because that would be absurd.

            The same with the discussion around the parking spot. If the business employs a second wheelchair user I imagine they will designate a second parking spot as well. Who knows, given that Drew does not appear to be a total asshole he might even voluntarily give up the closest spot in favour of another person if it was plain they needed it. Disability is not a zero-sum game.

      6. Rachel - HR*

        I disagree. Working in HR, I would advise the manager not to approach it with the employee. What if the documentary was about the employee having an eating disorder? Or being blind in one eye? You would never be advised to bring it up willy nilly to the employee just to let them know you know. You’re getting confused by the fact that this is a unique situation and losing focus on how you would handle any other illness that you discovered without the employee’s knowledge.

        1. Say what, now?*

          How would you handle the situation if the rest of the office saw it? I feel like it’s good for the employee to know that he has someone in his corner because this is such a unique issue.

          1. Anion*

            I dunno, I think the employee did the documentary willingly, and he must have some idea that people who know him might see it at some point. It’s up to him to decide how to handle it if people approach him about it, and if he feels there’s an issue he can approach the OP then.

            I certainly wouldn’t mention it to anyone else in the office (outside of HR), whether as a heads-up-be-nice or anything else.

    5. Sketchee*

      Yes my initial reaction matches Allison as well. I can understand the LW’s initial shock and surprise. It’s a mental health disorder and accommodating it if it’s not impacting his work makes sense. The case is that he’s not intentionally being deceptive, he does in fact have a condition that prevents him from walking.

  2. Notarealgreendressthatscruel*

    Having a wheelchair is not an ‘easier’ way to get around. It is just a way to get around. There is no advantage or ‘fun’ being had by Drew in his use of a wheelchair.

      1. Specialk9*

        My read was that the OP doesn’t, but is worried that other people will think he’s gaming the system. Which, realistically, some people love to find ways to feel slighted by things that have nothing to do with them, and some people love to gossip — and those two groups overlap considerably.

        OP, I hope you can find compassion in your heart for this guy – the stuff in his head must be really hard to deal with, and he’s worked hard not to put that on you all. Please try hard to reframe this situation that way, instead of this Grand Lie he’s perpetuating. You know from the video that is not this guy’s motivation. Whatever is going on, that’s a hard road and I’m thankful it’s not mine, and willing to extend compassion.

        1. Jesca*

          “some people love to find ways to feel slighted by things that have nothing to do with them, and some people love to gossip — and those two groups overlap considerably.”

          Isn’t that the truth!

    1. Myrin*

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to – as far as I can see, neither the OP nor Alison mentioned anything in that regard?

    2. Penny Lane*

      No one even remotely implied that there was any advantage or fun being had by Drew in his use of a wheelchair or that he was “getting away with murder”, not sure why you are going there?

      But in a world of limited resources, I can certainly sympathize with the LW that, for example, you’d want to make sure handicapped parking spots were only being used by people who had legitimate disabilities, and not people who felt that they “should” have a disability.

    3. fposte*

      I don’t know that it’s to the OP, but there are certainly people who believe that being disabled confers perks and that therefore people fake it.

      But, as Notareal notes, this is somebody who is doing the heavy work of using a wheelchair all work day every work day, and the only apparent advantage he’s receiving is a closer parking spot. I think even in places with parking crunches, the mere fact of using a wheelchair, regardless of the reason, is enough of a hardship that I wouldn’t bedgrudge you that perk.

      1. Elfie*

        Yes, I can second this. My husband is disabled, and when he was working he requested a larger monitor (because he can’t see very well), and a Dictaphone (because he can’t hear very well and tends to miss what’s said in meetings). Especially with regards to the larger monitor, this was seen by his (bully of a) manager as a huge perk, that he (the manager) couldn’t get, so why should my husband?!!! FFS, I wish people would learn to properly empathise – would you rather have a closer parking space guaranteed, or be able to walk from further away at a normal pace, in no pain, and not have to take half a day to recover from the effort?!!

        1. sunny-dee*

          Well, I think that’s the thing, though — your husband has a need and only the worst of jerks could fail to see that.

          But Drew can walk from further away at a normal pace without pain, he isn’t exhausted and having to recover. He doesn’t have any physical ailments at all. It feels weird and creepy to give someone the accommodation which should really only go to someone who needs it. I mean … he’s physically fine. If I were in a wheelchair myself and found out he was fine, I’d be really upset. It’s not a game or an affectation, and that’s kind of how he’s treating it.

          1. LawBee*

            It’s a medical disorder, though. You should check it out – BIID (if that is what he has) isn’t fake, and it can be devastating.

            1. Jerry Vandesic*

              It is a medical disorder, but is is appropriate or reasonable for the employer to treat him as if he were a paraplegic? Is it appropriate for a person with BIID to take a handicapped parking spot? Would they be eligible for accommodations that are associated with being a paraplegic? It’s an interesting case.

              1. Laoise*

                Assuming he does have a mental illness, then his disability DOES dictate he use a wheelchair.

                Many people who use wheelchairs for strictly mobility or fatigue reasons are also capable of walking further than from a disabled parking spot. It’s not only paraplegics who can’t walk at all that require wheelchairs. And he seems to require one.

                1. Mary*

                  Whether you need a wheelchair all the time or whether you only need it some of the time is irrelevant to the question of whether you need a wheelchair. The idea that you only “need” a wheelchair if you need it all the time is massively ableist.

                2. Laoise*

                  It is absolutely the norm for a wheelchair user not to need a wheelchair all the time. It’s a minority who only use a wheelchair all the time.

                  It’s not acceptable to define accommodations for disability based only on best days. It’s not okay to question wheelchair users on how often they need it and only provide accommodations if it’s 100% of the time.

                  Again, assuming he has this mental disability, you have no way of knowing what complications there may be from having stood for the documentary. I have a mental disability that prevents me from working full time generally — but I need the accommodations of lowered hours permanent, even if i do 1-2 weeks of full time per year, for example, to cover someone’s vacation. But it’s not without cost of temporary increase of symptoms during those weeks.

                3. Jerry Vandesic*

                  But that brings me back to my earlier question. Would someone with BIID be legally eligible to park in a handicapped spot? Would they be legally eligible for a handicapped placard?

                4. fposte*

                  @Jerry–private property can let him park wherever they want. Whether the state has given him a disabled tag or not is unclear–I suspect it could go either way–but I suspect the company would be legally okay to restrict their disabled spaces to those with state-issued disabled tags.

                5. Laoise*

                  @Jerry. In my jurisdiction, it is possible to get a disability parking placard for any disability that impacts your ability to walk that distance, as per the doctor doing the paperwork. It’s not “wheelchair parking” despite the fact a wheelchair is used to represent it. I do know of someone who was issued a placard for a primary psychiatric disorder because various symptoms made it difficult to traverse distances outside.

                  Depending on what Gary does outside work, it’s also very possible he now has physical mobility issues (if he is not walking/in physio).

                6. Jerry Vandesic*

                  @fposte: it probably depends on the state. For example, in Texas, the police are allowed to enforce handicapped parking rules on private property (Sec. 681.010). The law doesn’t seem to allow the property owner to make their own rules about who can park in the handicapped spots. In other states I have seen police officers issuing tickets for handicapped parking on private property, in particular shopping malls.

                7. fposte*

                  @Jerry–Oh, that’s interesting! I wonder whether in practice it would ever happen in an employee lot without the workplace’s request or whether this is more a mall parking lot thing.

                8. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @Jerry Vandesic
                  Your reference to the Texas statute isn’t exactly on point with fposte’s comment, though. That statute has more to do with property owners who officially designate a parking space for transportation of people with disabilities. But the OP’s business is free to designate a spot specifically for Drew, and even under the statute you cited, that wouldn’t entitle the police to enforce parking regulations against him for parking in that spot.

                  There’s no reason the business can’t give Drew a special parking space if it feels that’s an appropriate accommodation for him.

                9. Samantha*

                  It is also true that adaptive vans (the OP indicates that there are hand controls) need the disabled parking spot in order to allow the wheelchair to access the vehicle. There is often a ramp or other adjustment to the side door on the vehicle to allow the chair to get in and out. Disabled parking spots often have some extra space on the side to allow this to happen. So if he is in the chair, he does need the spot.

                10. Jerry Vandesic*

                  @JB: I agree. If the employer wants to create a “Drew’s Parking Spot,” they certainly can. But if they create a standard handicapped spot, they wouldn’t (depending on state law) be able to let Drew park in that spot without having the proper placard/plate.

                11. Safetykats*

                  The thing is, an employer is not meant to be obligated to figure this out in their own. You can check the case law on ADA; it’s not only allowable but recommended for conditions that are not easily diagnosed by a layperson or for which an appropriate accommodation might not be obvious that the employer require consultation with a medical professional. This does at least two things – it prevent people from claiming a less-than-obvious condition and an associated accommodation they may not be entitled to, and it protects the employer from liability associated with providing an inappropriate or even harmful accommodation, or not providing a needed accommodation even if not requested. HR should definitely be managing this issue, if only so they can formally weigh in on issues like whether the special parking is reasonable. Who knows – it could actually be harmful in some way to not only buy into but support Drew’s delusion. Without a formal diagnosis and advice from a medical professional you just can’t tell.

              2. Gingerblue*

                The advice is not to treat him like he is paraplegic; it’s to treat him like someone with a mental health issue that makes him act like he is paraplegic.

              3. CW: discussion of self harm, suicide*

                If he has one of the body-image-related mental health issues (there are several), it is absolutely appropriate and necessary for people to treat him as if he has the physical disability – because some sufferers of these disorders have actually self-harmed to the point of *crippling themselves* to make their body match their mental image.

                In several cases, people with one or other of these kinds of MH issues have actually, literally, self-amputated limbs. These conditions can have a really high risk of this kind of *serious* self-harm and suicide. (And, sadly, are also hard to treat.)

                If this work situation is helping him cope with a mental health disability in a reasonably functional way that isn’t harming anyone else, the best thing you can do is mind your own business.

                1. Queen Esmerelda*

                  I watched a documentary about a physician dealing with people who wanted limbs amputated. When talking with these people, he found that they drew, within one millimeter, a line in the same place where they said the “foreign” limb began. A functional brain scan showed that below that line, the brain did not recognize that tissue as self (no brain activity when that limb was pricked below the line). So he said it’s not really a mental health issue like we think of mental health. The brain really does not see that limb as part of the body, and that’s why people want it gone.

                2. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

                  @Queen Esmerelda – That is really interesting. Do you happen to remember the name of the documentary?

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  This is very, very interesting.
                  Now some folks who suffer a stroke can have a left neglect or right neglect, where they will say, “But that is not my arm/leg/whatever.” I wonder if there are similar root causes.

                4. Slartibartfast*

                  I have seen that documentary, can’t remember the name, but I have always been fascinated by how the brain works. I may be wrong on this, but it doesn’t seem all that different from being trans, in that the body is not what the brain says it should be, and altering the body resolves the conflict. It is miserable not being comfortable in your own skin and I have much empathy for anyone facing that challenge, regardless of root cause. If using the wheelchair makes him more comfortable in his own skin, so be it. He isn’t causing anyone else harm.

          2. Elfie*

            But what I’m saying is that there are a world of folks out there who believe that disabled people somehow ‘have it easier’ or something?! He’s making his life considerably more difficult than he needs to because of his condition. It’s – kind of sad, actually. But I think I’m saying that if we start going down the road of who’s the deserving disabled, it makes it worse for all disabled people. Is he gaming the system? Maybe…but I’d rather be fooled 100 times by someone doing that, than turn down help for a genuine person in need.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Just because it’s a medical disorder doesn’t mean that it needs to be fully indulged, though. The commenters here were pretty unanimous that the guy with the hypochondria who took over discussions of his coworkers who had illnesses with the belief that he himself had these illnesses needed to reign it in. His reality was wrong — he didn’t have a brain tumor or cancer just because he might have felt slightly under the weather that day. As well, when a person with an eating disorder believes that at 90 pounds, they are fat, we don’t indulge that by agreeing that they are indeed fat because “that’s their reality.” Their reality is wrong.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Sure. But where do you see people talking about “indulging”? I’m seeing comments saying that he does in fact have a disability. His employer is in no position to actually treat – much less “cure” – Drew’s disability. All the employer can and should do is provide whatever accomodations Drew asks for, and not make a Big Deal out of the fact that he has a different disability than the one he said. So it’s not about indulging or not indulging. Whatever is going on with treatment is between Drew and his doctors. But it *is* about recognizing that this is in fact a disability.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  *(rovide whatever accomodations Drew asks for – that are reasonable, etc, obviously. He hasn’t asked for any so far so it’s not an issue.)

              2. fposte*

                But we indulge wrong realities at work all the time. If you believe you’re fat and you’re not, your workplace doesn’t get involved, because merely being wrong about that doesn’t hurt your workplace. The problem with the hypochondriac wasn’t that his beliefs were wrong–it was that their manifestation actively damaged his workplace.

                1. Chinook*

                  And to go even farther, those who are transgender also view their biological body as wrong and the push is to accept what they feel is the correct gender. How is that different from someone who views themselves as a paraplegic who factually isn’t?

                2. Specialk9*

                  @Zebra Chinook didn’t say that transgender was a mental health disorder, so not sure why you are snapping. Being transgender is a good analogy here, in the broad umbrella of ‘people who feel that the physical reality doesn’t line up to their sense of self’.

                  Personally, I kept checking my response to the wheelchair coworker against the ‘would my answer be different if they were transgender’ scenario, because I have more knowledge about that situation and little about this. We all have to make analogies to understood situations, because we can’t understand everything in this wildly complex world. Which is why reframing can be so helpful – oh actually it’s not this thing you’re thinking about, it’s more like this situation.

                3. Chinook*

                  Exactly. Both seem to be a case of a person’s mind and body not agreeing on what they are and it is causing damage to the person’s well being which can be fixed by altering the body physically. At a basic level, how is believing that breasts or a penis shouldn’t be there any different from believing that you should be paralized or not have a left arm?

                4. Anna*

                  @Specialk9 Zebra didn’t snap and the reason it raises alarms is because the argument that body dismorphia is a mental illness is used against letting trans people gender express the way they feel comfortable, so maybe let’s not bring being transgender into a conversation about an actual mental health disease and call it equitable.

              3. atalanta0jess*

                Right, but people in the workplace also don’t engage in challenging the reality of someone with an eating disorder, because they are coworkers, not treating providers.

              4. Fiennes*

                The difference here is that Drew isn’t impinging on others. He hasn’t asked for other accommodations, hasn’t missed huge amounts of work, etc. The parking space is problematic but in isolation probably not overly burdensome as an accommodation for his mental illness. Roland the hypochondriac was missing enormous amounts of work and seriously upsetting anyone who either had their own illness or had a sick loved one—in other words, there was a genuine concern that he was unable to function in his role at work. This doesn’t apply to Drew.

                1. Specialk9*

                  My company gives priority parking spaces to all kinds of people – medical need (just doctor’s note, not disabled placard), those worried about domestic abuse or stalking (based on a private conversation with security), those who work late routinely, and of course executives.

                  Unless parking is a hugely constrained resource, they should hopefully be able to make the parking space work.

                2. Seanchai*

                  IMO it’s important to make sure HR knows what’s going on for two reasons:

                  1) Disabled people are not unicorns, and accessible parking is very often limited. It is not outside the realm of possibility that a person with a physical disability (invisible or not) will come along who also needs that space, or who needs the closest space. Who gets the space – the person who has a heart condition/cystic fibrosis/quadriplegic/cerebral palsy/brittle diabetic, or Doug? If HR thinks he’s a paraplegic, that’s a very different judgment call than if they know he has BIID. I am not saying that Doug should automatically give up his space. Ideally, HR should encourage Doug and the new person to get together and work it out. In the event a judgment call needs to be made, however, HR needs to have the facts.

                  2) Doug has not asked for further accommodations – yet. That doesn’t mean he won’t. Whether he can “help it” or not isn’t really germane to the discussion – again, HR needs the facts in order to (hopefully compassionately) help make the right judgement call.

                  3) Again, Doug is probably not the only wheelchair user the company will ever see. If HR believes him to be paralyzed, there is a risk that HR will use him as a benchmark – “Doug didn’t need anything, therefore paralyzed employees don’t need many accommodations.” That’s great if the next guy/woman along is a low level para who’s very independent and doesn’t have any major health issues…. not so great if the next guy/woman along who is an actual para needs time off for doctor’s appointments to deal with pressure sores, gets autonomic dysreflexia, needs to take small but frequent breaks to cath or check their circulation, etc etc. It sounds silly – “why would we treat two chair users as having the same needs just because they both use chairs?” but human brains are addicted to categorizing, so it happens all the time. I’m blond, 5 feet tall (unfolded) and slight of build, and I have had people walk up to me with a completely straight face and greet me with “Hi, Bob!” where Bob is a mutual friend who is 6 feet tall, has black hair and a beard, has a completely different visible disability to mine, and has more muscle in his arms than I probably have in my entire body. But we both use chairs, so hey, same person!

                  I could go on about BIID for quite a while (it’s a contentious subject for those of us who have physical disabilities, especially those of us who, like myself, are congenitally disabled), but for this situation it’s really not a factor… what’s causing the issue isn’t that he has BIID (that’s being accommodated with the wheelchair and the parking space), it’s that he’s misrepresenting *what* he has, and that *will* affect other disabled people down the line, because everyone who knows him as “paraplegic” will subconsciously use him as a benchmark for both “paraplegic” and “chair user”. That’s not Doug’s fault but it could still cause real harm in the long run.

                3. Loose Seal*


                  Re: your #1. The thing to do in that case is to create more accessible slots or to provide shuttle service to the door or any number of other reasonable things. It is not for the employer to determine which disability “wins” the parking slots. What you’re suggesting is a Hunger Games scenario where Drew and another potential parking slot user have to one-up each other to prove they need the slot more. That’s pretty despicable.

                  #2 — So what if he asks for more accommodations in the future? HR should handle it the same way they handle all other requests. If they require a doctor’s note (which they shouldn’t IMO) for others, they should require it of Drew. If they take the requester at their word, then they should take him at his word.

                  #3 — I hope your company hasn’t made you jump through these hoops to get what you need and I hope they haven’t used you or another chair user as a benchmark for how everyone else is to be accommodated. If they are, they suck.

                4. miss_chevious*

                  I guess I don’t see why the parking spot is such a big deal. Companies give preferential parking to people all the time — seniority, performance, disability — and if this is the only accommodation Drew is asking for and is living his entire work life as if he is a paraplegic, it seems like a reasonable accommodation for his disability (his mental condition, to be clear).

                5. Ego Chamber*

                  @Seanchai Re: “Ideally, HR should encourage Doug and the new person to get together and work it out.”

                  Nope. That is the very worst way for HR/management/whoever to handle pretty much any scenario. Pitting coworkers against each other when there’s a very real win/loss involved is awful, unfair (because coworkers don’t have access to potential solutions that higher-ups could put in place if they weren’t choosing to abdicate their own responsibilities), usually leads to interoffice conflicts, and is detrimental for morale.

                  (Ask me about the time my manager decided our department needed to negotiate popular vacation days between ourselves or no one would get the time off (instead of putting any process in place and sticking to it). Negotiations quickly devolved into exactly what you’d expect: an ongoing argument about who “needed” the time most—complete with oversharing, thinly-veiled threats, and outright threats.)

                  Tl;dr: Management should not expect coworkers to manage themselves, that’s management’s job.

                6. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  Yeah. I mean if Drew has been carrying on with his life in his chair otherwise normally, not making a hoopla about it, there’s no reason to get on his case about anything. Seanchai’s point on the surface seems like a case of conflicting needs, which would need to be assessed, the thing is that one runs the risk of the impression that Drew is giving with ANY disabled worker. No two people’s necessary accommodations are the same so no one should be assuming that two people will use the SAME accommodations because they have the SAME disability. The company should no more use Drew as a benchmark for other chair users than they would use a one physically disabled chair user as a benchmark for another. Needs differ.

              5. Mary*

                “Indulged” is a bit of a tendentious word choice. You don’t “indulge” people’s disabilities; you accommodate them. “Indulge” is pretty moralistic.

            2. Tuxedo Cat*

              There are definitely people out there who think people with disabilities have it easier or get perks. Just like there are people out there who think being a woman, person of color, etc. have it easier than those who aren’t marginalized.

              1. Specialk9*

                I know that people who believe disabilities come with benefits aren’t likely rational and are seriously lacking empathy. But here’s an example of how disabilities are NOT a benefit.

                I have an invisible disability. I went to a conference lately with a layout that was all sprawled sideways instead of up-and-down on floors. Those of us with fitness trackers compared the miles we had to walk daily just to get around (there were no shortcuts): 5 to 7 miles. They technically had disability accomodation for wheelchairs, but those of us with invisible disabilities SUFFERED. We just wanted to learn how to do our job better and improve our professional practices, but it came with a side of exhaustion and pain that other attendees didn’t have to deal with.

                I just don’t get why people think we’re getting something from this, other than exhaustion and hurt.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Adding those who think folks with disabilities are having an easy ride have never actually had to use our disability system. My husband filed for disability when the doc found eight broken vertebra in his spine. It took the TWO of us 8 hours to fill out the form required. So my husband with the 8 breaks sat, in a chair, in unimaginable pain trying to fill out this form for 8 hours. (We had to split it into two sessions.) Then he had to sit through interviews where they asked the same questions, again. But wait there is more. Some of his doctor appointments were totally unnecessary except to fill out more paperwork. I was the healthy spouse and I started getting to feel rundown/lousy, I have no clue how he coped at all.

                People can have a pretty cavalier attitude when they have not been up close and involved in what our system actually is.

          3. Topcat*

            I’m with you. I would frankly say nothing, and if Drew’s colleagues find out and give him a hard time about it, so be it.

            He should be getting psychiatric help to get over this issue. Frankly it sounds like he’s being indulged. This is a completely contrived modern ailment. Can you imagine a caveman having it?

            1. boo*

              “Can you imagine a caveman having it?”

              Yes? Can I imagine a “caveman” being diagnosed with it? No, because back in the prehistoric ages, probably it would have been hard to argue with someone who said they were unable to walk, and then demonstrated that by… not walking and using other, much more difficult means to get around.

              Not to mention, all kinds of mental illnesses have been around since we have. The species didn’t invent bipolar disorder because some of us got bored one day with our fancy gadgets. We’ve had cancers and auto immune disorders and been susceptible to viruses and bacterial infection since the beginning, why should our minds have been immune until, like, last week (geologically speaking)?

              It’s just that in the past, people were assumed to be possessed by demons, or declared holy fools, or locked up in attics, or everyone said, “Oh, that’s just Gary, he thinks he’s a walking corpse. Sad, really, but there’s nothing to be done about it. Oh, hello, Gary! How’s the afterlife? Necrotic tissue still holding up all right?”

              So, yes, cavemen probably had plenty of neuroses, some like the ones we have today and some different. That’s who we got them from!

            2. Bird*

              I’d hate to have you as a manager or a coworker, since it appears you have a troubling lack of empathy for someone whose life really isn’t making anyone else’s more difficult.

              Also, talk about a red herring – plenty of things are “modern ailments” in that we are still learning about various conditions and diseases. Cavemen likely didn’t have noise-induced hearing loss from not protecting their ears in noisy workplaces or concerts – a “modern ailment” – but we accommodate that without disparaging those with hearing loss. The word “autism” wasn’t used until the early twentieth century, and our understanding of autism spectrum disorders continues to change and be refined. So, that’s a “modern ailment” as well, which society recognizes and (theoretically) works to accommodate. But honestly? If a caveman did have a disability – whether you thought it was real or not – why do you not think that they would have been cared for and supported by their community?

              1. Alienor*

                I read something a while ago about how if someone had autism in, say, fourteenth-century England, people probably would have just said “Oh, Tom is a little odd” and put him in charge of something like watching the sheep, and Tom would have been mostly fine because he had a low-stress job and lived in an environment devoid of artificial stimuli (flashing lights, noisy traffic, etc). Which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  I also read something really interesting, pointing out that the folklore about changeling children (ie the fairies came and stole your toddler and left a lookalike that acted oddly in his/her place) lines up really well with how autism first manifests and what differences are most readily visible (or would have been in a low-tech society). Changeling children spoke oddly, often as though they were more mature than they were, were unaffectionate and often withdrew from society, were picky eaters or easily became ill, but could also be very clever.

            3. sap*

              Can you imagine a caveman being parapalegic and that working out well? No? I can’t either. How about a cave man who was allergic to the only type of berries in the area while the protein source was in hibernation?

              Lots of disabilities would not have been “indulged” in cavemen because cavemen did not have the technology to accommodate them. That is not the standard by which any reasonable person judges whether someone with a medical condition should get an accommodation.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Actually, there’s some pretty solid archaeological evidence that primitive humans did take care of their disabled neighbors. Scientists have found multiple skeletons with obviously healed injuries that would have substantially impaired life function.

        2. Laura*

          If Drew were being give accommodations at the cost of someone like your husband, I think there would definitely be an issue. But if the only other people are not disabled, accommodating Drew’s mental illness isn’t hurting anyone. It’s not an easy illness.

          And *yes* I absolutely agree that people should empathize! And *yes* I think accommodations should be made for handicapped people! I have worked with many handicapped people who are absolutely amazing. They could be sitting home collecting disability, but they are out working, being productive, and we should absolutely give them what they need to do that! I have a friend who actually has a state-issued disabled pass, but he won’t use it, because he says there are always people more disabled than he is (he has heart problems; he’s not in a wheelchair or otherwise hindered mobility-wise).

          1. Loose Seal*


            You do realize that plenty of people who are on disability aren’t just sitting at home gleefully collecting their money, thumbing their noses at the system they beat? I guess it’s great that you know some “absolutely amazing” people who can overcome everything and be productive but there is nothing wrong with those who actually can’t work. Do you think proving disability (in the U.S. anyway) is easy? Do you think it pays well?

            Your friend with heart problems got that pass because one day he thinks he will need it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered. When that day comes, I hope you don’t bootstrap him into being productive.

              1. Ethyl*

                Laura literally said that, though:

                “They could be sitting home collecting disability, but they are out working”

                1. Anion*

                  Yes, but she didn’t mean it as “They could be sitting at home collecting disability like lazy bums,” she meant, “They deserve accommodations to help them be out in the workforce.”

                  And we’re not really supposed to nitpick wording here, iirc. She clearly didn’t mean to insult anyone or imply that people on disability are lazy do-nothings.

      2. Reya*

        I’ve never been in a wheelchair, but I’ve had to use crutches before due to an ankle sprain.

        You never realise until your mobility is limited just how hard it is to get around in those situations – so many places still don’t have elevators between floors, or they’ll be out of order for some reason, particularly on public transport. Trains and the tube have you walking for what feels like forever to get between platforms. Doors are heavy and difficult to open, or tricky to get through with limited mobility (ie it’s really difficult to use revolving doors if you’re not moving at a reasonable speed).

        Using a wheelchair is NOT an easy option. Unless you’re at a theme park I guess. I’d give a lot to be able to queue sitting down at a theme park.

        1. Eh? Non Y. Mouse*

          Revolving doors are a special kind of hell with a mobility device.

          Not just for the pace, but also, if your crutches or cane is planted on the ground, you’re propelling forward, the rear part hits the rubber tip and jams and stops it and you’re faceplanting into the front part because you were still moving forward.

          HATE revolving doors.

        2. SarahKay*

          I spend seven weeks in a wheelchair in my late teens after an operation to break and reset both ankles, and it’s incredibly hard work.
          Just small things like opening a heavy door – put brakes on wheelchair (so that it doesn’t move instead of the door), pull open door using a handle that’s probably higher than is comfy, release brakes (while keeping heavy door open) get oneself through door before it shuts….
          Pavements (sidewalks) are spectacularly uneven in a way you just don’t realise when you’re walking.
          So many things are out of reach, because you’re effectively about 18 inches shorter than the average adult.
          It was a fascinating experience, but one that I am absolutely happy never to have to repeat; I can’t imagine anyone doing it without a very good reason, whether that be physical or mental.

      3. sstabeler*

        II think that’s what would make me think it really is a mental health issue, rather than him faking it. In a sense, he |IS confined to the wheelchair, it’s juts the mental health condition that does it, not a physical disability.

    4. Gene Parmesan*

      Look up the condition Alison mentioned, body integrity identity disorder. I wouldn’t say Drew is doing it for fun or to get special treatment. Individuals with this condition believe that their able-ness is alien or not really who they are.

      1. Sleeping, or maybe dead*

        Yes, while it is a difficult situation for the manager and the co-workers and it might be difficult to understand Drew’s point of view, that is often the case with most of mental illnesses.
        So I agree with Alisson, maybe he is not in fact paraplegic, but he does need the accommodations for a different, equally medical and valid reason.

      2. sunny-dee*

        I have a limited experience with mental illness. The one time I was stalked by a paranoid schizophrenic, I felt a great deal of compassion — but I didn’t really believe that the CIA was chasing me or that the voices telling him where to take me were, you know, real. The guy was tormented and sad, but nothing that he was thinking was reality.

        I’m not saying string Drew up from a lightpole or something, but he knows he can walk. He has no physical reason not to walk. He’s just kind of … LARPing as disabled, and that feels wrong to me. There are people who have real mobility issues. He isn’t one of them, and I don’t think it’s right for him to act like it.

        IRL, if I found out and I were disabled, I’d be mad. If I found out and I’m able-bodied, it would make me really uncomfortable and it would change the way I perceived him. I would certainly try to be kind and, in some ways, it’s really not my business. But it would affect how I looked at him and respected him as a person.

        1. atalanta0jess*

          I think the framing of it as LARPing as disabled is kind of offensive though, assuming the guesses about his mental health diagnosis are correct. I mean, someone with schizophrenia isn’t LARPing, right?

          1. sunny-dee*

            No, but someone with schizophrenia flat out cannot process reality. Is that where Drew is? Because he seems aware he can walk, he just … doesn’t want to?

            1. LawBee*

              Please look up BIID. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to walk – that makes him sound lazy. Fposte described it below (idk if they were her words) as kind of the opposite of phantom limb syndrome. BIID is serious and has caused people to self-amputate.

            2. Risha*

              If I really need to make a phone call, and I have my phone and the number, and I spend the day trying to make the phone call but my anxiety prevents me from doing so, I’d be highly offended (though not, unfortunately, surprised) if you said I just “didn’t want to” make the phone call.

              Well, actually, usually I also don’t want to make the call, but that’s mostly because I know I’m going to spend the day or days suffering while trying to do it.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                I am right there with you. We all need to get better about how we understand mental health.

                It’s not laziness. It’s not for attention. It’s sure as fuck not a new avant garde take on LARPing.

          2. Turquoisecow*

            That is incredibly offensive.

            Mental illness is not a choice. Someone doesn’t *choose* to hear voices, or feel paranoia, or depression, or panic, or anxiety, or have suicidal thoughts. They don’t choose to be disabled any more than physically disabled people choose their disabilities.

            They are not “LARPing,” this is not a choice, and they can’t just get over it. Drew isn’t voluntarily in a wheelchair anymore than Stephen Hawking is. And that attitude is part of the reason why mental healthcare is so lacking.

        2. Specialk9*

          I once had a schizophrenic patient who looked up at me and screamed that I was the Angel of Death… And I could see in her eyes just a reflection of what she was seeing, and it broke my heart for her. I could imagine how awful and terrifying her brain was making me, huge wings and demonic and all. And she was being utterly rational (we’d all scream exactly like that if we saw the Angel of Death) – but her brain was messing up her inputs.

          At the end of the day, this manager doesn’t have the background or the right to try to sort out what’s what in this situation. But I hope the manager can have compassion for someone who has a hard path, and still conducts himself with kindness and humor.

        3. Loose Seal*

          He does have a disability. It’s not one that *you* define as a disability but it is one nonetheless.

          You are correct in saying it would be none of your business, just as it’s none of Drew’s co-workers’ business.

          1. soon 2be former fed*

            Then why did he agree to be in the documentary? There was no guarantee that his coworkers would not see it. It would seem that he does not mind people knowing.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              We don’t know anything about the documentary (except that it was fairly recent) or what Drew did or didn’t agree to when it was being filmed.

              For all we know, it could be a psychology student’s project that they uploaded to YouTube because that’s how the professor wanted to grade it, and they didn’t think to inform the participants how the footage was going to be used. (That’s a stretch, sure, but anything between that and “legitimately produced by a large studio” is a possibility.)

        4. Q*

          I suspect disabled people would have a very different perspective on this than you do.

          LARPing as disabled, really? Mental illness is a disability.

      3. JessaB*

        And there are cases of persons who suffer this disorder SO badly that they do things to themselves to MAKE themselves disabled. I’ve seen awful stories of people who the disorder makes believe they should be blind putting caustics in their eyes. People getting into deliberate accidents.

        This is not minor. And I’d rather accommodate his need for a wheelchair now, than for him to put himself in a position to injure himself so that he’s permanently disabled and that psych help cannot assist him in getting past the disorder to a place he can make it in.

        There are even shady doctors overseas (and in back rooms in the US,) that for the right upfront money will do things that are categorically against medical ethics and assist people with this disorder into crossing the line to PHYSICAL rather than mental disability.

        Whether it’s body integrity or Munchausen’s I’d rather treat it like the disability it is, than the disability it could become.

        NB I am NOT saying in any way whatsoever that OP’s actions in either direction could push him over a limit line. I don’t think that’s the calculus here, but I would absolutely talk to HR before talking to him. This can be extremely fraught.

        I am hoping that his willingness to be part of a documentary about his disorder is part of a team effort to assist him past it.

        1. Zillah*

          Whether it’s body integrity or Munchausen’s I’d rather treat it like the disability it is, than the disability it could become.

          This is an excellent way of framing it.

    5. LawBee*

      There isn’t anything “fun” about BIID. It’s a serious issue that has lead people to take drastic measures as self-amputation to get relief. Recent research indicates that BIID may be an issue with how the brain process signals from the rest of the body.

      I don’t know where you got that the OP, or anyone, thinks Drew is using his wheelchair for “fun” or “advantage”, or because it’s “easier”, but you’re way off-base.

      1. Laura*

        This is what I came here to say. BIID is serious enough that people self-amputate.

        I *have* tried a wheelchair after IRS’ annual wheelchair basketball game. The able-bodied players left and the wheelchair players couldn’t get the extra wheelchairs out, so my friend and I helped. We both tried to use the chairs. Admittedly, we weren’t used to them (which is why the handicapped guys kicked ass every year), but it is *hard* to use those chairs!

        1. LavaLamp*

          This. I watched a show once about a man who amputated his hand, then lied to paramedics and said that he had an accident with like a lawnmower or circular saw or something like that. They found his hand, but I can’t remember if it was reattached or not.

      2. Specialk9*

        A reminder that this is all speculation, though. We’re guessing at a medical diagnosis, as a way to encourage the OP to be able to consider the situation differently. But this is all a guess.

    6. anon4now*

      He could garner sympathy in situations that he otherwise wouldn’t. What he’s doing is morally wrong.

      1. fposte*

        But it’s not like people should only be sympathetic to certain kinds of disability, or that it’s a finite resource.

        1. anon4now*

          No one said anyone should be sympathetic to only certain kinds of disability? Like what?
          And while it may not be a finite resource, that doesn’t mean you accommodate able-bodied folks that wish they were disabled due to a mental disorder.
          Like, where are you coming from?

          1. fposte*

            I’m coming from the position that it’s not a problem that people feel sympathy for him, because it doesn’t expend the resource and he’s got a disorder. Sounds like you disagree.

            1. anon4now*

              He has a mental disorder that’s being accommodated through faking a physical disability.
              He should have sympathy from others, but it shouldn’t come from lying. And I’m sure others wouldn’t feel good about sympathizing with someone faking a physical disorder. You may think it’s all ok, because not a lot of “resources” were being used, but to me it’s about being honest and truthful.
              Mental disorders are invisible, and this one manifests itself through faking physical disability. While I do pity him, I do not personally believe this should be accommodated through projecting a real life physical ailment and allowing said individual to benefit from it.

              1. LawBee*

                I’m not sure I follow your logic. Would you rather he self-amputate or take drastic measures so that his body fits what his brain tells him it should be? Then he wouldn’t be “lying”.

                If you would rather he just stop “faking a physical disability” and suffer daily, then – well, I don’t know what to say about that. For all we know – because this is all speculation – this is part of his medical treatment plan.

                To quote a podcast I recently listened to – choose happiness over suffering. He is suffering. How he is treating his mental illness (if, again, that is what he has) is his way of choosing happiness over suffering. I can’t imagine being a person who would prefer that he suffer. Things like this aren’t black-and-white – you’ve got to allow for some gray areas in life.

                1. anon4now*

                  I don’t understand how wanting to be paraplegic can make someone suffer. It can certainty make one unhappy or dissatisfied in life (but we all are to some degree). But even amputating or taking “drastic measures” doesn’t always work with people with this disorder.
                  It’s a mental disorder that should be treated with therapy and meds, and not accommodating the need/want/desire to be disabled.

                2. LawBee*

                  The amount to which we disagree is Grand Canyon sized, so I’ll leave this particular thread with this thought: unless you are Drew’s therapist, you don’t get a say in how he treats his illness. You say that amputation may not work – neither may therapy and meds. Maybe he’s tried them. Maybe he is in the middle of therapy right now, and this is part of it. We don’t know, and we will never know.

                  Unless you are Drew, you also don’t get to determine how he is feeling. You may not understand his illness (and neither do I – I don’t understand it at ALL!) but diminishing something that has literally caused people to drop heavy weights on their bodies in order to damage their limbs permanently, or pour bleach in their eyes, as “unhappy or dissatisfied” is not a great viewpoint.

                  If Drew has BIID, he doesn’t “want to be paraplegic”. His brain is telling him every minute of every day that his legs are not supposed to work, that his body is wrong. That is a terrible way to be, I can’t imagine it. People who have BIID do suffer – I think you might be more empathetic if you learn a little more about it.

                3. Natalie*

                  @anon4now, as mentioned elsewhere in the thread, neither therapy nor meds are necessarily instantaneous or even effective. Nor can an employer mandate a specific course of treatment.

  3. Foreign Octopus*

    Oof. This is a difficult situation, made more difficult by the fact that he isn’t calling attention to his use of the wheelchair. Alison’s adivce, I believe, is spot on. Give HR a head’s up and then go about as normal, I’d say.

    1. jm*

      Not to be disagreeable, because I definitely agree with Alison’s advice and understand that Drew has an actual medical issue, but he actually did call attention to the use of the wheelchair/medical condition by participating in the documentary. If I were his manager, I would definitely want to go beyond HR and talk with Drew using a script like Reya suggested above. The fact is, since other employees have seen the documentary and will have a variety of feelings about it, the manager needs to be prepared to manage the situation – especially how Drew would want the manager to repond if an employee brings it up.

      1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

        *may have seen

        The participation in the video is immaterial; if anything, it sheds light on a little discussed, little understood condition. As someone who has a major mental disorder, but one that is still heavily stigmatized in the office, I can certainly understand the impulse to share my story in an effort to raise awareness and decrease that stigma.

        So in a way, yes, that’s “calling attention to it,” but the implication seems to be that rather than participating in something that he may have found empowering or a necessary part of therapy or any number of things, he should have sat down, stayed quiet, and pretended it didn’t exist so no one would use it against him.

        1. jm*

          True, *may* have seen.
          Hopefully participating in the documentary was healing, empowering and helpful to Drew — and by drawing attention to the disability, it allows him to share information with a large audience to increase understanding.
          I just think that now the can of worms has been proverbially opened that Drew’s disability is different from what everyone assumes it is, Drew’s manager should talk with Drew about how he would like the manager to respond to concerns from other employees, should other employees see the documentary and make comments in the office.

          1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

            I do agree with you that the public nature of the disclosure makes it discoverable, and that HR and Drew and the manager should discuss how to handle it should it come up. I think I was reacting mainly to the undercurrent I detected suggesting it was a boiling problem that needed immediate attention (“since other employees have seen it”).

        2. Gadget Hackwrench*

          Yeah my mind went here too. The documentary participation was almost certainly to try and raise awareness and reduce stigma, not milking anything for attention or admitting to being a “faker.”

    2. designbot*

      I actually think his lack of calling attention to is makes it an easier situation; it makes it easier to not meddle in his private medical business.

  4. Hills to Die on*

    I understand that this is a mental disorder but part of me is still judging Drew. Even if I felt like a should have a disabled body I would hope that some part of me would overcome that and be grateful for a functioning body. I just don’t understand this I guess.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      And I understand that this isn’t the question being asked by the OP so please feel free to delete.

    2. Leatherwings*

      That’s not really fair. It’s like asking an extremely depressed person to just be grateful they’re alive. I don’t think this is particularly helpful for OP and probably stigmatizes mental health issues.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I agree. It isn’t fair. I’m just struggling with the part where he knows he isn’t actually disabled and asked for am accomodation anyway. Maybe I just need to stop judging—I’m just processing this via comments, I guess.

        1. Alli525*

          I agree with the Extremely Judging bit of your post (I am right there with you, who DOES that??) … but OP specifically says that Drew never asked for any accommodations and just uses the ADA stuff that’s already in place (elevators, wide doorways, etc.).

        2. Leatherwings*

          But if he has this disorder, his brain isn’t telling him he actually isn’t disabled. It’s telling him he can’t walk.

          Similarly, someone who is depressed might have a roof over their heads and a great family and a “good” life, but still struggle to get out of bed. They’re still unable to get out of bed in the morning anyways. That doesn’t make sense to a lot of non-depressed people but it’s their reality. This is Drew’s reality.

          Realistically, the only accomodation he’s getting is a parking spot. I get that that’s uncomfortable, but the LW went out of their way to explain that he’s NOT asking for a ton of accommodations.

        3. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          But he IS “actually disabled.” It’s just a different type of disability than the one he’s naming. We all judge from time to time, it’s human, but first and foremost it’s a good idea to get your facts straight. Only then can you form accurate judgments. Second step is to determine whether your judgment is relevant and worth voicing/acting on.

          1. Loose Seal*

            Frankly, it’s entirely possible that Drew knows full well he has BIID (if he does) but finds it easier to tell people he is paralyzed rather than educate people about a mental health disorder. How many commenters have said that they keep their mental health diagnoses under wraps rather than face the judgment and stigma that might come with it at work?

            He’s not obligated to give everyone at work a play-by-play of how he came to use the wheelchair.

            1. Thursday Next*

              Nor is he obliged to lie. I think this is what a lot of people (myself included) are getting hung up on. If Drew had said he had a chronic condition that led to his need for a wheelchair, I’d probe no further. Honestly, I’d never ask in the first place. It’s the disconnect between what he said to the LW and how he represented himself in the documentary that is problematic for me and many others I’m sure.

              1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

                So what’s the step forward here, then, given he did claim he was paraplegic instead of being more vague? He obviously can’t step that back.

                Is his integrity forever ruined? Does he need to prove himself trustworthy in some way? A public apology?

                1. Thursday Next*

                  From the letter, there doesn’t seem to be a need for Drew to do anything. He hasn’t asked for accommodations; his working relationships and performance are good. It doesn’t appear to have become a workplace topic of discussion. The LW seems empathetic and helpful. I don’t think Drew has lost all claims to integrity or needs to issue a public apology (I’m not sure if you were serious about these).

                  I wish this were a completely abstract discussion, and that Drew didn’t have to bear the burden of all of the concerns we’re bringing up here. But if it did come up in his workplace, a possible response would be for Drew to say that he used paraplegia as a concise explanation of his condition to avoid having a longer conversation about it, but that he has a different chronic condition. I think most people wouldn’t push for more details (I wouldn’t, at any rate).

                2. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

                  @Thursday Next: It was merely incredulous, not serious. You suggested scenarios that would have prevented the reactions of some (with regards to the “lying” aspect), but those aren’t what he did; given what he did, then, what is the way for him to move forward in an acceptable fashion?

                  Your final sentence is what I assumed — explain why he used the shortcut — but the whole thing kind of itches at me. It just feels very much like tone policing and entitlement (and here I’m moving into a general “you”): you’re entitled to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, never mind the practicality of the alternatives.

                  I have experienced multiple sides of the coin in terms of disability disclosures and it’s just impossible to get it right. If I tell you I have Bipolar I, I’m oversharing and putting you in an uncomfortable situation. If I tell you I have a mood disorder, I’m being vague and not giving helpful details. If I tell you that I need accommodations regarding doctor’s appointments and flexibility with work assignments, I’m being cagey and taking advantage of the system.

                  I personally understand 100% why someone would rather go for the straightforward analog rather than the complicated if accurate explanation or no comment at all because it 1) prevents questions; 2) provides all the information you need in order to accommodate my needs; 3) doesn’t ask me to have faith that you’ll handle a vague answer or the real, complicated mental illness answer.

        4. EvanMax*

          There’s a misconception somewhere in our culture that somehow being aware of your own mental dysfunction invalidates that dysfunction (as though one should be able to heal themselves mentally solely through the power of rational thinking.)

          A mental or emotional condition isn’t any different from a physical one. Knowing that your leg is broken is a good first step towards seeking treatment and understanding why it is important to follow doctor’s orders for recovery, but just knowing about the break doesn’t suddenly heal the leg.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            This many times over. This is the same thing with depression, many people that are depressed know they suffer from depression, but that fact alone does not make the depression any better and they cant just tell themselves to not be depressed anymore.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I always quote that one John Mulaney line – “I also don’t want me to be doing what I’m doing right now!” Like yeah, I know my brain is Doing Things, I would really rather it not Do Things, but knowing it and wanting it to stop doesn’t actually prevent it. In some ways, I’m as much a bystander as anyone else when the biochemical functioning is on the fritz again.

            2. Kalamet*

              I’ll admit that my first thought towards Drew was judgment, but after reading the comments I realized that it didn’t make sense to judge him. I have depression and otherwise lead a pretty charmed life, but no amount of logic can make me appreciate that when the sadness flares up. I’ll admit that I don’t get BIID, but I can see the comparison between it and myself.

              I think it’s easy to side-eye BIID because it’s a disorder that can manifest as an other disorder, which gets people’s hackles up. It _looks_ like appropriating from the disabled community, even though they are disabled themselves.

              1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

                I am, frankly, really having a hard time developing any coherent thoughts about this topic, or to understand where a reasonable line is between appropriating, disability, and acceptance.

                When someone identifies as being of a race other than the one they were born as, and takes steps to present as being of that race, they are treated with scorn and accused of appropriating (particularly, if not only, when it is a white person presenting as a minority) – I recall a case of this that went very viral a few years ago, though not the specific details.

                When someone identifies as having a physical disability that they do not have, and take steps to present as having that disability (up to and including actually physically harming themselves), that is considered to be a disability in and of itself. We don’t agree that they *have* the disability they present as having, but we don’t want to treat them as appropriating disability either.

                And when someone identifies as a gender that is not the one they were assigned at birth, and takes steps to present as being that gender (up to and including gender reassignment surgery) we no longer consider that to be a disability or mental disorder, but instead a fact about who they are, and something to be accepted. I would never tell a transwoman she was being appropriative of women’s history and experiences. (I do recognize, though, that this is a thing that happens and it has an ugly history, and that some people do still consider being transgender as a mental disorder.)

                I’m struggling with how to reconcile these differences. I want to be a kind and compassionate human who accepts people as they are. I want those who struggle with disabilities of all kinds to have the support and care that they need. I want to have a thought process that makes sense and is self-consistent.

                So, why is it that we see one’s internal sense of gender to be substantively different from one’s internal sense of race? Why is one valid but the other invalid? They “feel” different to me, but *are* they? Or do they only feel different because society has made some progress on transgender rights?

                Why is an internal sense of disability itself a disability when the other two aren’t? It can’t be solely due to the possibility of self-harm to cause that disability, as self-mutilation is extremely possible for a transperson who is not believed or supported and sees no other way to get a body that matches their identity. Is it instead because the desired result, if achieved, would be to have a disability?

                I struggle to make sense of it all.

                1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  It’s possible that BIDD will eventually be declassified as a mental illness treated with transition to actually disability as with trans people, but the barrier to that of course is that while it’s somewhat conceivable to want to be a different gender, people cannot wrap their heads around wanting to be disabled. Of course neither of these is about WANTING but you try explaining that to a lay person. Either way in both of these cases the line between appropriation and acceptance is that in these cases a person is willing and ready to make a full time, permanent transition to this state they KNOW is their TRUE state, fully divesting themselves of any advantage that came with their previous state. Someone with BIDD is going to be in the chair whether people are looking or not, only getting up for very RARE reasons, like demonstrating it in a documentary about their condition, and would seek to have surgery to make it no longer possible. A socially transitioned trans woman (surgery or no) isn’t going to up and use the men’s restroom just because the line is shorter. They made a break with the false self, and are living their truth.

                  That’s where things get sticky with people who believe they are another race. You can never fully divest yourself of the advantages of the race you were born into.

                2. Yorick*

                  Can a man ever fully divest himself of the privileges he was born into? Even by living as a woman, he didn’t have that experience from birth the way cis women have.

            3. JanetM*

              I have described my own depression as, “Sometimes, despite good drugs, good therapy, and good things happening around me, my neurochemistry wakes up in the morning and says, like George Carlin’s Rice Krispies, ‘Snap, crackle, f* you.'”

          2. Whiplash*

            Good lord, yes. I have a lot of anxiety and therapists have pointed out to me during sessions that I seem remarkably aware that I’m being unreasonable in certain situations. I can tell you six ways from Sunday why any given freakout was not necessary, but I cannot NOT have the freakout.

            1. Hlyssande*

              I’ve had that problem with past therapists. I studied philosophy in college and I can logic and brain my way through just about anything, but I’ve never been able to get the rest of everything to follow suit, if that makes sense.

              1. Whiplash*

                Yep, makes sense. For me, medication was the golden ticket. I still have the freakouts, but they are way shorter and all the traffic jams in my brain slowed down a LOT so it’s easier for me to get myself out of a freakout now.

          3. Zillah*

            This! A huge part of mental illness is having responses that don’t make logical sense – that’s part of the illness.

            When I’m having a mood swing, I often know on some level that what I’m feeling doesn’t make logical sense. When my ADHD makes it harder for me to do basic things, I often realize that it’s the ADHD that’s doing it. That doesn’t make it not a mood swing or not the ADHD.

          4. DizzyFog*

            *There’s a misconception somewhere in our culture that somehow being aware of your own mental dysfunction invalidates that dysfunction (as though one should be able to heal themselves mentally solely through the power of rational thinking.)*

            Thank you, thank you, EvanMax! I am completely aware that my panic-level avoidance of people who I know and like is ridiculous. I am very aware that I have a good life and no reason to be depressed to the point of being practically non-functional. This awareness changes nothing about the symptoms that I experience. Drew can be completely aware that his legs are physically functional and still unable to stand up and use his legs when he’s having a bad bout of mental disconnection.

        5. Zillah*

          It’s really great that you’re using the comments to process a judgment that you know isn’t fair – I wish more people were that open.

          (Just to be super clear, since tone is occasionally problematic on the internet, I’m not being sarcastic at all right now!)

      2. LCL*

        It’s totally fair. People who haven’t suffered from mental illness really don’t get what it’s like. The ‘why don’t you just…’ response is a normal one. It’s not a helpful one, but if one is unfamiliar with mental illness it’s likely to be one of the first questions asked. Asking this question out of ignorance (in the original def. of not knowing) should open discussion and will probably destigmatize mental health issues in people that don’t have them. Empathy is hard sometimes, everybody wants to be empathic but unless they are educated they will fall short.

        1. SebbyGrrl*

          Also, (very late to the conversation)

          This isn’t about wanting to be disabled.

          As people with depression and anxiety have said – we can KNOW there is no logical reason to feel as awful as we do as it’s happening and still have zero power to NOT BE depressed, anxious, dysfunctional, et. al.

          BIID doesn’t cause someone to WANT to be disabled – it causes their brain chemistry to SAY “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG HERE, what manifests outwardly is NOT How YOUR BODY is SUPPOSED to BE.”

          One can’t simply/JUST BE better, agree bodily with what your mind is telling you by force of logic or will or meds. or treatment – any of those things MAY change some of it for the better but may not or may come with side effects that are MORE DEBILITATING.

          And a huge portion of mental illnesses is that they lie, they cause the systems of our minds and bodies to produce bad information, bad feedback, bad feelings, bad physical states ( depression and anxiety can come with physical pain or other overt physical features like panic attacks).

          If you haven’t ever suffered from these issues, that’s great FOR YOU. But you have no measure to deny others’ reality solely because you haven’t had a comparable experience or reality.

          Do the White House, Eiffel Tower, Great Wall, NYC not exist because you have never been there, seen it, touched it, experienced it?

          One’s own experience by itself is not a good measure of validity of the plethora of experience of humanity.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      That’s the thing about mental illness – you can logically know that your thoughts make zero real world sense, but still not be able to alter your thinking or behavior without serious effort or intervention from a trained professional. I’m curious if Drew’s had any help at all – this seems incredibly sad to me.

      1. Kj*

        That is my question too- Drew appeared in a documentary about this- surely he knows treatment exists and is choosing not to have it. That said, that isn’t something an employer should touch with a 20 foot pole.

        1. 5 Leaf Clover*

          We don’t know that he is choosing not to have it. I’m sure these treatments don’t work overnight.

          1. Anon,Anon, Anon*

            True. I did make an assumption. I hope he is in treatment. I’m worried about what happens if/when his team finds out.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Also mental illness is usually not something that is ever really “cured,” most people deal with it their whole lives. It can be treated and managed, but it is always possible for it to recur or to have an episode of greater severity than normal.

              1. Zillah*

                Yes. I think it’s also often useful to adjust what we see the goals of treatment to be. It’s not necessarily to eliminate the symptoms – it’s to get them to a point where they’re manageable and don’t profoundly impact one’s functioning. If eliminating symptoms entirely or “curing” the illness is on the table, that’s great! It’s often not, though, which can mean setting priorities and making judgment calls. I don’t know what Drew’s situation is, but I do think that’s something to keep in mind.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I mean, he definitely could be in treatment/therapy/whatever! People who are seeking treatment for depression are often still depressed, as treatment is neither instant nor 100% effective.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Great point! My depression, for example, is fairly well managed (but it’s also not as severe as it is for others). Treatment does not mean it will ever be “cured,” and it doesn’t mean I won’t have bad periods where it’s less manageable.

            1. Elfie*

              Yes, I’m on the highest dose of anti-depressants my doctor will prescribe, I go to therapy/CBT twice a month (and have done for years), and on my best days I only have to spend a couple of minutes debating whether it’s worth getting out of bed. On my worst days, I just don’t bother. And I have a husband that loves me, a job I love, my life from the outside looks ideal – my brain just tells me that I’m a worthless, selfish human being who will never do anything right, and I’ll never be happy so it’s all just pointless. I live with that EVERY DAY. I don’t remember the last time I was sustainably happy. It’s managed, much like diabetes gets managed. Not all mental health disorders are the same, but it’s perfectly possible to be in treatment and still suffering.

              1. Sammy Mcsamson*

                Jenny Lawson ( has two amazing and hilarious books about her life, mental illness etc. I can’t remember which one it is, And I’m paraphrasing, but she says that when a cancer patient’s chemo suddenly stops working people don’t say maybe you need to try harder.

                I really, really recommend her books. And her site. I know a little off topic, but still.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s not accurate. People with this condition suffer, and theee are few treatments that are effective at completely getting someone to shed their belief/desire to have a disability. This is a hot area in medical ethics because some folks will seek voluntary amputation of healthy limbs to make their body conform to their view of themselves. It’s not quite the same as gender reassignment surgery, but it’s very similar.

          I think this is a situation where compassion and suspension of judgment can be helpful. Instead of thinking of Drew as “flaunting” his “choice” to use a wheelchair, consider that he may have been trying to draw attention to an issue that is not yet well understood.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yep, and if they can’t get the voluntary amputation of healthy limbs, sometimes they will go to extreme measures to render those limbs unhealthy, and put their lives at risk in doing so.

            It’s a sticky and messy area of medical ethics, that’s for sure.

          2. Former Employee*

            It sounds more like anorexia to me. The people who have it see themselves as fat. The people with this disorder see themselves as disabled.

            In that sense, both are issues of distorted perception.

        4. Hildegard Vonbingen*

          It’s not at all clear that he’s choosing not to have treatment. Also, let’s assume he is getting treatment. Not all treatments for psychological/neurological issues are effective. A good example is hoarding. Notoriously difficult to achieve change through treatment. And that’s just one example.

          I’d definitely loop in HR. This is, as Alison stated, a tricky situation, and on a number of fronts. Going by some of the comments here, if others on his team find out about his condition, they may jump to conclusions about this individual that aren’t valid (e.g. he’s not getting treatment, he’s not “really disabled”). That could affect team dynamics and how this employee is treated. HR pros can help sort out any future complications in an appropriate way and provide good guidance to the employee’s manager going forward. I know I’d want help with this situation.

        5. SebbyGrrl*

          See my late comment above – there is no ‘Choice’ here.

          Mental illness creates untenable states between mind and body and rational mind and sick mind.

          Do people with brain tumors choose for medication or radiation/chemo to work or not to work?

          No, our minds/bodies respond (for better, for worse or minimally) or they don’t.

          BIID is a mental illness caused by either brain chemistry (not necessarily treatable with meds, therapy, etc.) or a physiological issue/disagreement between brain and body that current medical science cannot correct completely.

          He doesn’t WANT TO BE this way or CHOOSE TO BE this way, his brain is sending messages to his physical body that he IS this way – self control, self awareness don’t come into play.

      2. Margarete*

        Brains aren’t logical. I know *logically* that I’m not hated by everyone I ever encounter, but my mental illness means that understanding and believing that is incredibly difficult. It sounds as though Drew is handling it as well as he can.

        1. Anon,Anon, Anon*

          Unless Drew is in some sort treatment, he is not handling it as best he can. Sorry, I have mental illnesses myself and had a VERY bad eating disorder in the past. When I was refusing the offered help, I was not doing the best I could. Thankfully, I had people who continued to offer me (and at times force me) to get help and I got better with time and lots of effort. But if Drew is not choosing to get help, I really don’t think we can say he is doing the best he can. I have strong feelings about this, as no one chooses mental illness, but we can choose treatment for ourselves (barring barriers such as availability and cost).

          Now, he maybe he is getting help and it maybe taking time, as my treatment did. If so, I really applaud him for being brave enough to get help. It is not the employer’s business if Drew is getting help, so we can’t know if he is getting help or not. But this is going to be an issue for Drew’s team if/when everyone finds out.

          1. Margarete*

            When I say “handling it as well as he can”, I meant within the office environment – apologies that wasn’t clear. We don’t know if he’s seeking or in treatment for this and as such I’m not going to get into it. But within the office, he is managing this without calling undue attention to it – he doesn’t go on and on about being in a wheelchair, he just uses one.

            1. Anon,Anon, Anon*

              True. I feel bad for everyone involved. And I hope that Drew is getting help, although I bet treatment would involve giving up the wheelchair and that would be hard to explain to co-workers. Drew is ill and is handling some things well. But his co-workers will still be pissed if they find out and I won’t blame them for being upset. And Drew did the video, so some will find out…. Ugh, I hope the OP goes to HR. This could get ugly.

              1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                It might not mean giving up the chair. I read a great story once about a woman who had horrible paranoid delusions that she left her hair drier on and it was going to burn down the house. It made her turn back from work 4 or 5 times on her morning commute and left her anxious all day. She was in treatment for years with different practitioners and never got any relief. She couldn’t hold down a job. She was suffering constantly. Then one therapist suggested she simply take her hair drier with her, and if she was scared it was going to burn her house down, look at it and remind herself that it couldn’t because it was there with her. It worked. People of course would say that that’s not good treatment because now she’s wandering around with a hair drier in her purse, but the thing is once she started doing that she got a new job, gets in every day on time, feels more relaxed and in control. Her quality of life has shot thru the roof by comparison to any other treatment option. If sitting in the chair is the difference between Drew having an independent self-sufficient life, and spending all his time and energy on trying to deal with the mental anguish of NOT being in the chair, then why on earth should he suffer when he can actually LIVE a comfortable life if he sits in the chair?

              2. Gadget Hackwrench*

                It might not involve giving up the chair. There was this story about a lady with terrible paranoid thoughts every day that her hairdrier was going to burn her house down. She tried everything. All kinds of therapists, medications, meditation, what have you. She couldn’t hold down a job, have a social life, she was suffering terribly. Then one day a therapist suggested she simply take the hairdrier with her and look at it when she started thinking about it burning down her house, and know that it couldn’t be because it was there, with her. Some people would say this isn’t good treatment, because she hasn’t “gotten over it,” but at a certain point the goal of treatment needs to shift from fixing a person’s thinking to finding a way for them to rejoin society. Likewise, it’s entirely possible that Drew’s treatment includes staying in the chair, because everything short of that has failed, and there’s little point in having him dedicate all his energy and time to changing his thinking about his legs, if that will preclude him from being a part of society, and sitting in a chair brings relief and lets him work and live.

                1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  Halp Moderator. First it ate my comment then when I reposted it it un-ate it and now it’s here twice!

              3. Robert Walker*

                What if there is a fire in the
                building…and the employee
                is given special attention by
                several other employees,
                thereby delaying emptying a
                building. People are warned to
                NEVER use an elevator during a
                fire….so several people have to
                carry him down flights of stairs?
                Delays and risks occur…when
                he could have just got up and
                used the stairs…If here are
                injuries or deaths that could
                been prevented, are the people/
                company that covered up this
                situation negligent in ANY way?
                An. attorney representing those
                people would say “YES”.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Alternatively, we could not audit people’s “best” and decide that they have to conform to our ideas of what “doing their best” would look like. We could just decide to, idk, trust that people know themselves better than we know them, and offer them the basic human respect of assuming that they’re doing the best they can with what they have, which includes context that we don’t see from the outside.

            People rarely take any action for *absolutely* no reason. Their reasons may be transparently obvious to us, or they may be utterly opaque and leave us baffled, but there is almost always some kind of internal logic behind the action, whether we can see it or not. It seems to me to be simple courtesy to acknowledge that without literally being inside another person’s head and seeing the world through their eyes directly, we can’t know all the factors that lead to someone taking any particular action, and so if they’re doing something we don’t think is “their best” then there’s probably a reason, which means that *is* the best they can do, in this moment, in the context they’re living in.

            1. Galatea*


              (Plus — your best efforts overall may not be your “best” in any singular given situation, if that makes sense? Ex. I can willpower my way through some of my own mental health issues, but doing so in one arena is almost certainly going to short me somewhere else down the line.)

          3. Hey Nonnie*

            I’d also (vociferously) dispute that it is universally true that not being in treatment for mental illness means you’re not doing the best you can. There are people who are too poor to pay for treatment. There are people who are uninsured. There are people who live in areas where appropriate mental health practitioners are just not available. There are people who tried treatment and found it kept them stuck or made them worse. There are people who tried to get an appointment and were turned away for reasons ranging from the facility is overloaded with patients to the staff are unsympathetic and bad at their jobs. There are people who are at a point where trying to find yet another facility / therapist / dosage / medication cocktail is just too exhausting and they need time and space to just be alone before they can take that search up again.

            There are times in life where doing your best means functioning at a much lower level than those around you, or at a much lower level than you have in the past, or may do in the future. Sometimes your best is actually pretty damn poor. That doesn’t mean it’s not your current best under current circumstances and currently available resources, both external and internal. Yours is an incredibly privileged position to take. And frankly I’m appalled that you’d judge someone else’s mental illness that way.

            1. pope suburban*

              Thank you for speaking up for those who cannot access treatment. I was too poor to get therapy for a long time, and yet not poor enough for state health insurance that frankly didn’t have much if anything in the way of usable mental-health planning. Being in that situation was not good for my depression and anxiety, and there was a lot of shame over not treating issues I knew I had, mostly because of this idea that therapy and medications exist, and it was somehow on me to obtain them regardless of other logistical barriers. I know I am far from the only one. I don’t know that Drew has going on, but I’m pretty sure he’s not living a carefree and easy life regardless, and anyway I don’t feel that it’s my prerogative to judge him.

            2. JessaB*

              thank you. Ever since they gutted the mental health industry for a lot of people even with a tonne of money, time and insurance, just finding a practitioner is more than they can do, because they just aren’t there. Add in no money, no insurance, no transportation and you’re edging in on the impossible. Many people who have the spoons to attempt therapy of some kind have to go through more than one practitioner just to find someone who helps them. Psych care is finicky and there are all kinds of differences from one practitioner to another from anything to types of therapy, OMG I just hate this person, I don’t want meds and this person is a meds type. It ain’t easy, and most psych disorders sap your energy and willpower, every time you get out and try and it doesn’t work, it makes it harder to try the next time.

      3. Beep*

        I have now watched like five youtube videos on BIID. Surprisingly, in one instance, a woman wanted to make herself blind and the therapist POURED IN THE DRAIN CLEANER FOR HER.** I think it is percieved as “they won’t feel like themselves if they are forced to be able bodied” just like if you forced a trans person not to transition. So I think that the doctors and therapists want to help them just do it in the safest possible.***

        ** in all caps because while I logically understand the condition. I can’t disconnect emotionally and having someone pour drain cleaner into my eyes is insane.

        *** not saying pouring drain cleaner into your eyes is safe or was the best way for anyone to come about it

        1. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

          I am legally blind and heard of the therapist who did that. I still cannot wrap my mind around someone /wanting/ to be blind. It makes me want to go back in time and swap eyes with her if I could. That way, we could have what we both want. I wonder if anybody’s thought of that as a form of treatment for BIID? That way, the one with BIID gets what they want and someone who is disabled gets what they want.

          1. namenamename*

            I’m transgender and a medical ethicist. I would argue that they are not similar at all, except in the way the lay public gets squicked out.

            1. Marvel*

              As another trans person I have to agree with this–let’s treat them as separate issues and not get into the weeds of comparing the two.

          2. sap*

            Can we stop making comments that equate being trans to having body dysmorphic symptoms related to genitalia, which are two distinct things? Many trans people do not have any problems with the genitals they were born with–many trans people never suffer from any genitalia-related dysmorphia (leaving the debate about whether the latter is mental-health related). Being trans and wanting to remove/add breasts or a penis are not the same thing; there is a reason “transgender” and “body dysmorphia” are different words.

      4. Penny Lane*

        I wonder how the advice given here squares with the advice given a few years back to someone who saw a person who engaged with a mannequin the same way you would engage with a live romantic partner.

        That person lived under the delusion that the mannequin was a romantic partner — but I don’t think that obligated the office to invite the mannequin to the holiday party as his +1.

        “I have a delusion” does not equal “and everyone needs to indulge it.

        The comparison with depression is an invalid one, IMO, because having depression is not a delusional stage. One may feel unable to *handle* reality, but that doesn’t mean one has lost touch with reality.

        1. sunny-dee*

          This, very much. There are clinical distinctions between disorders where you can’t process reality and ones where you simply don’t respond appropriately (like depression or OCD).

        2. LBK*

          Speaking as someone with depression, I’d disagree that it doesn’t involve at least some level of delusion. Your brain convincing itself to be sad, tired, anxious, etc based on no logical stimulus sounds like delusion to me, albeit more mild than something like BIID. When I was laying in bed physically unable to move during very deep bouts of depression I wouldn’t say I was fully in touch with reality.

          1. Risha*

            +1 When I went through the partial hospitalization program that first diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, the difference between before the antidepressant kicked in and after the antidepressant kicked in was like night and day. My thoughts beforehand were only tangentially related to reality, but it was impossible to see while actually suffering from the depression.

        3. suzygreenberg*

          Penny Lane I believe you are thinking of the film Lars and the Real Girl–not a post on this site lol.

    4. Annakarenina*

      Agreed. I’m seeing a lot of connection to Rachel dolezal. Marginalization isn’t there for the privileged to claim as they see fit.

      The mental illness side of it obviously makes it more complicated – but I am cringing at the thought that treatment is indulging it, rather than addressing it.

      Though that line of thought can be taken to absurd and dangerous if applied to sexuality/gender, so with all things, it’s super complicated and there’s no easy answer.

      My gut reaction cringe and horror at a person who is presumably privileged in many ways (affording the wheelchair, van, etc… paints a SES picture) living life as a marginalized person remains.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        But how on earth do you “address” someone’s mental illness? Just tell him to stop having it?

        Also, as someone who has mental illness, I want to push back really strongly on the notion that we are “privileged”. Yeah, everyone has different types of privilege, but struggling with mental illness that has you convinced that parts of your own body are “wrong” or don’t belong to you is a huge thing to deal with in your life and I don’t think that should just be swept aside.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think anyone is suggesting that treatment should be indulging it rather than addressing it, but Drew’s coworkers aren’t in a position to treat him.

      3. Marshmellin*

        Rachel Dolezal was in a place where she could remove that marginalization at any time, if she chose.

        If Drew does have a mental disorder where he does not believe he can walk (or believes his legs won’t work), I’m not sure he’s in a position where he can remove that marginalization on a whim. I’m not sure in what context he was walking in the documentary (under hypnosis? With a VR headset so he doesn’t realize his legs are working? Just plain ol’ he was walking?) but he may not be able to consciously choose to stand. Rachel Dolezal can choose to stop tanning and slip effortlessly back into her white privilege.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Isn’t that an assumption, though? Drew is just as capable of removing the marginalization as Rachel Dolezal or Shaun King — because there’s just as much reason to believe they have a mental illness as he does. (Both of them have straight up said their parents aren’t actually their parents. I mean, it’s extreme.) Or, conversely, that a mental illness isn’t enough of a reason to lie.

          1. Best wishes to OP*

            That’s making a huge assumption to say he is “capable of removing the marginalization.” Paralysis can be caused by a psychiatic condition. Just because he is in a video that shows him walking at one time does not mean he can walk at any time. We do not know enough about Drew to be saying what he can, cannot, or should do. Neither does OP. He’s obviously got some serious and rare issues and it’s not reasonable to assume we know what he can or should do.

            1. Becca*

              Sunny can correct me if I’m wrong, but, considering the rest of the comment, I took “just as capable” as meaning in this instance “neither is very capable at all,” in much the same vein as Hey Nonnies comment below. I’m not sure where the “Shaun King is likely mentally ill” comment and ensuing counters comes into this, so I won’t touch that, but (and not having followed it very closely, granted) I do agree as far as Rachel is concerned. Not that I don’t understand the emotional reactions of the communities she or Drew were claiming as their own either.

          2. Natalie*

            Re: Shaun King, I’m assuming you’re referring to the article that circulated a couple of years ago questioning whether or not he’s black? He is – the “parent that isn’t his (biological) parent” is his adoptive white father, but his biological father was black.

            Fun (possibly not fun) fact that I did not know – the author of that original article was Milo Yiannopoulos, so, you know, consider the source.

            1. RVA Cat*

              Also consider that Shaun King was severely beaten by white racists when he was just a teenager. So, yeah.

          3. Triangle Pose*

            What? Shaun King is nothing like Rachel Dolezal. His biological father is black. A white police wrote on a police report that he was white because he is light skinned and there was no option for biracial. The police officer who listed King’s race as “white” was later interviewed and stated that everyone who knew King knew he was biracial.

      4. Hey Nonnie*

        Rachel Dolezal is a tangent, but I’d point out that if you watch / read Rachel herself attempt to explain herself, it’s pretty easy to see how disordered her thoughts are on the matter. She has her mental “safe zones” and retreats there whenever pushed to confront something uncomfortable for her. I don’t think appropriating from a place of privilege and mental illness are mutually exclusive.

        1. Lissa*

          I think Rachel Dolezal is a really good example of the spectrum of sympathy, mental illness etc. Whether or not she’s diagnosed, there’s *something* going on there that is likely not her consciously choosing/deciding to be a jerk, but because we recoil so much from her actions, in a way we don’t with other “I perceive myself to be this way but my body does not match that” situations, because of the privilege concern….and I think Drew seems to be falling in the middle with that.

          (This is assuming Dolezal does have something going on mentally/emotionally and is not just a scammer, but I see waaaaay less sympathy directed to her than to people like Drew.)

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            To be clear, I don’t think Dolezal is delusional (in my completely inexpert I-am-not-a-psychologist opinion), based on the way she speaks about herself in interviews. She seems to be aware of the reality, she just goes through all sorts of verbal gymnastics to avoid confronting it. In my mind, that’s a bit different than someone who struggles with delusions; her capacity for walking away from the self-imposed marginalization hinges on a willingness to do something uncomfortable, rather than on altering reality as she knows it.

            There’s also the issue of real, concrete harm. Dolezal got a teaching position, leadership positions, and other concrete benefits that presumably would have gone to someone who was AA if she hadn’t been around. Drew, at this point, is not receiving limited benefits from his employer that would otherwise go to someone who actually needs them.

      5. Zillah*

        SES privilege absolutely exists. It also absolutely does not erase disability. Medicaid covered the wheelchair and my family was able to afford a van when my mother’s ALS progressed to the point that she couldn’t ride in a car. We are in a better position than someone with the same diagnosis who has less money, but SES privilege doesn’t mean that she’s not living life as a marginalized person with a significant disability.

        I think the most compassionate (and productive) way to think about privilege that you don’t have a lot of sympathy for isn’t to go into it thinking “What privilege does this person have that cancels the other thing out?” It’s to go into it thinking “If someone was in my position except for X characteristic, how would things be different for them?” It’s always going to be more complicated than that because privilege (and lack thereof) absolutely intersects, but it’s a good way to start looking at it in a different way.

        Not having enough money for basic needs always makes a situation, but having money doesn’t solve other issues. Rich women still get raped and abused. Rich black men still get told that they should be “grateful” that they get paid to play a sport that millions of people watch every week. Rich people with depression still commit suicide. There’s nothing simple about any of this.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I was thinking about exactly this. It’s not “everybody privileged on this side, everybody else on the other”; we all have different facets that grant us different accesses to privilege in different realms.

    5. Marie*

      I struggle with this as I understand its a mental illness but as someone who does actually use a wheelchair (I have a condition that fluctuates in severity sometimes I can manage on crutches sometimes I need a wheelchair). I have often been accused of faking, especially when I was first diagnosed and turned up in a wheelchair for the first time when I was in high school. I was bullied quite badly over this and still have issues as a result. In a professional environment I struggle to be taken seriously due to my disability and people like this guy perpetuate the idea that people like me are faking to get additional privileges. If I worked with him I doubt I could remain civil. What happens if the company hires a genuine paraplegic? The OP better make sure at the very least if they are going to give physical accommodation in the form of parking spaces to this guy they have enough to give them to anyone else who requires them.

      I do understand it is a mental illness but as I would give anything to have a functioning body (my condition is degenerative) I do not think I could work with someone like this and remain professional.

    6. Mephyle*

      A key quote from the National Post article: “this disorder is starting to be thought of as a neurological problem with the body’s mapping, rather than a mental illness
      For more information, try a search on the terms biid neurological. I had just got as far as typing “biid ne…” into the search box, and Google was already suggesting “neurological” to complete the second word.

      1. Mephyle*

        What does that mean? For example, long ago, epilepsy used to be considered a psychiatric disorder, but now is understood to be a neurological condition.

        1. Perse's Mom*

          Someone much further up mentioned scans showing that in at least some cases of BIID, the brain literally doesn’t recognize pain in the affected limb or region, but comments further down also mention there are changes in the brain for other mental illnesses as well. I would guess it’s something rather specific – either a way to see a physical response (or non response) to the condition – a seizure lighting up one part of the brain, a pain center NOT lighting up on someone with BIID? Perhaps mood disorders don’t show the same kind of response patterns and are therefore currently classified differently?

          (Neurology is fascinating, clearly I know nothing about it, just thinking ‘out loud’ as it were.)

      2. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

        Philosophical tangent, but what distinguishes a neurological problem from a mental illness? Is it physical manifestation of the “crossed wires”?

        1. fposte*

          I don’t work in these areas, but the more I learn, the more I believe the answer is “mere convention.”

          1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

            That was my interpretation as well. It seemed like a curious way to “medicalize” the “psychological” – maybe a better framework for approaches to treatment? Or maybe just an attempt to destigmatize. I hope the former, because the latter means we have a long, long way to go.

            1. fposte*

              I suspect also it’s dependent on the technology that was around when an illness first became notable. Alzheimer’s got defined after we could look inside people pretty easily and see quantifiable changes, so that’s how it entered rhetorical and public consciousness.

        2. Risha*

          Plenty of mental illnesses are either neurological issues or can arguably manifest as such. Off the top of my head, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and anorexia are all associated with observable changes in the brain.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            This is a red herring, though, because EVERYTHING changes the brain – learning to play the piano is also associated with observable changes in the brain. Teaching rats to run a maze changes their brain. Etc.

      3. Topcat*

        I can accept that with something like a limb that may not be wired properly to the brain. But this man can walk. This is a psychological affectation of wanting to present and be treated like a disabled person.

        I could imagine a caveman having a limb-mapping issue. I could not imagine a caveman having this contrived, modern disorder.

        Drew should be doing all he can to get over it, not indulging in it.

    7. Neuro Nerd*

      Body Identity Integrity Disorder (the proposed name in the medical community) is increasingly classified not as a mental illness/personality disorder that expresses itself as an identity-based delusion, but rather an anatomical, neurological disorder that typically begins to present early in childhood.

      It involves damage or hindered development to the portion of the brain that maps and integrates the body parts and abilities in question.

      The result is a great deal of physical and mental stress, in reaction to the presence of a limb or a set of sensory inputs that the brain perceives but rejects as foreign and potentially invasive.

      The NCBI/PubMed database has a large number of recent, peer-reviewed articles on BIID, including a number that are free to read.,28611645,27832097,27366074,25108391,25045269,24824202,24713336,24446228,23991064,23089967,22514657,22353728,22139385,22123511,22086292,22071988,21563047,21484872,20212002?report=docsum

      For those interested in a less wonky reading experience but something more substantive than your average clickbait, the book “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by science journalist Anil Ananthaswamy is aimed at a more general audience and includes a chapter on BIID.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, this is super interesting and helpful, thanks; the Ananthaswamy book is going on my reading list.

    8. Fact & Fiction*

      Trust me. If those of us with mental illnesses could just “overcome” them by wishing ourselves well, we would. They’re _mental illnesses_ that are just as real as physical illnesses. Our brains are malfunctioning in some way and we can no more “overcome” whatever deficiency we have than a diabetic can wish sugar into processing correctly or someone with a heart murmur can wish that away. Yes, we need to get treatment for our mental I’ll esses to the extent possible if it affects those around us, but we can’t just wish ourselves well. And this illogical belief that still permeates every corner of society—even among many of us due to social conditioning that we SHOULD be able to just “get over it” is why so many of us still die way more often than we should.

      It’s really important that each of us confronts our own beliefs when we find ourselves spreading the believe that people with mental illness can and should just overcome it. I wish it were really that easy…

  5. fposte*

    That’s definitely a weird one. I think it might be helpful for you to change your thinking on this. He’s not lying–this is his identity, that he’s apparently willing to invest considerable funds and time into for no external gain–he’s telling you a disordered truth.

    1. Emi.*

      But he didn’t tell OP that he wanted to be a paraplegic; he told her that he *is* a paraplegic, when he apparently knows darn well that he’s not one. How is that not a lie?

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          That and he’s in the documentary shown to be walking.

          It’s judgmental of me and I want to be empathetic, but I do think this would change how I see him if I knew.

          1. grace*

            It would change how I thought of him, too, whether I wanted it to or not. Which is why I think OP should take a proactive approach — speaking to HR, assuming that coworkers of Drew’s will eventually see the documentary, etc.

      1. Emi.*

        To be clear, I don’t think that really changes what the OP should do, since he hasn’t asked for real accommodations. But it is a lie.

        1. Loose Seal*

          As I said above:

          Frankly, it’s entirely possible that Drew knows full well he has BIID (if he does) but finds it easier to tell people he is paralyzed rather than educate people about a mental health disorder. How many commenters have said that they keep their mental health diagnoses under wraps rather than face the judgment and stigma that might come with it at work?

          1. sap*

            Yeah, this is totally baffling to me too.

            Especially in light of the many comments that “he should just walk,” which he was probably trying to AVOID at work.

            It is obnoxious to explain *any* complicated medical problem using fully accurate terminology in a way that does not invite further discussion.

            I have a medical condition that causes me to have complicated physiological responses to *being colder than like 55 degrees,* which involves actually having my immune system go into high gear and trigger all of the responses to an infection, like fever, vomiting, sneezing, etc. I am not immunocompromised; my body fights off actual infections very effectively. But explaining why I can’t do x because I will get a fever is complicated and time-consuming and lots of people just decide that actually I don’t like the cold and should suck it up…

            So you know what I tell people? “I’m immunocompromised,” because I need the exact same types of things as someone in that condition and people generally have a sense of what the medical needs are for it. This seems like exactly the same thing–instead of taking hours to explain exactly what he needs to function safely, he told everyone to treat him like a parapalegic because the things he needs are the same, and it takes all of 10 seconds vs an hour of discussion with a stranger.

            1. sap*

              *by things he needs=same as being parapalegic I don’t mean his medical, treatment needs and prognosis/future needs are the same at all; I mean his needs with respect to his employer, which in this case is “don’t require anything from my legs.”

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              This is a really good point.

              There’s not much room to get upset with people for not telling you something that was none of your business in the first place, like the intimate details of their medical issues. Drew uses a wheelchair? Okay, we’re going to treat him as someone who uses a wheelchair, whether he does it because of BIID, because his legs will support him fine but he has balance issues that might make him fall over, because he’s fully paralyzed from the waist down — doesn’t matter!

      2. serenity*

        And more importantly, what is going to happen when the rest of the office finds out? If it were me, I would mind my business and move on but I’m guessing OP can’t guarantee that their other reports will do that. I can see this turning into a bit of a problem.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          As someone with a very close friend in a wheelchair, I would be incredibly offended and find it difficult to work with Drew if I learned this.

          1. Kj*

            This. This is the problem. It is going to bother A LOT of people if it gets out.

            OP, does Drew have a disabled parking spot permit? Or is this just an informal arrangement? I’d be bothered if he had a disabled parking permit, as he would be taking a spot that could be used by someone who needs it. But if it is just an informal arrangement, it isn’t as bad.

            1. Loose Seal*

              In my state, a doctor has to sign off on the form that allows you to get a parking permit for the blue slots. Perhaps that’s not so in Drew’s state but I imagine it’s pretty common. That would mean that at least one treatment provider was willing to say that he needed it.

          2. Reya*

            I understand the emotion – I guess it’s similar to the outcry when Rachel Dolezal was revealed to be genetically white.

            But Drew isn’t profiting off this from the sounds of it, or really benefitting in any meaningful way. He has lied about it, sure, but it sounds like the type of lie told just to give an explanation and close the subject down – he’s not trying to call attention to it, or use it to gain something.

            It sounds like Drew is just more comfortable using a wheelchair. I get that if you CAN’T walk, it must be really upsetting to hear of someone who can, and is choosing not to. But it’s something that ultimately it’s going to be better for your (or anyone’s) own mental health to rise above – remind yourself that Drew isn’t hurting anyone with his choices, and you don’t always agree with the path someone chooses to take in life but it’s still their right to take it.

            1. Yada Yada Yada*

              This reminded me of Rachel Dolezal as well. People were trying to coin the term “transracial” back then similar to one of the articles shared above referring to “transdisabled”

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            As someone with a mental illness, I would be supportive of Drew and your friend.

            I’m assuming you’d be concerned that people would see Drew, figure out he doesn’t have a physical requirement, and apply that knowledge to others (ie, “he’s faking it, they’re all faking it” bull). People who would be influenced negatively by Drew’s situation and apply their negativity to your friend *would do that anyway*. Drew would just be another piece to support their confirmation bias. The problem is with the judgemental people, not the subjects of their judgement.

            The other possibility is that you think Drew’s use somehow dismisses your friend’s difficulties. They don’t. Intersectionality and not comparing tragedies can be hard to do, but it is important that we make that effort. This is especially true when interacting with people with mental or other non-visible illnesses like MS or fibromyalgia.

            I really like Alison’s reframing of this.

          4. Natalie*

            Why does being close with someone who uses a mobility aid give you a pass to be “incredibly offended” about someone else’s medical condition? I’m also close to some people with disabilities and I’m not incredibly offended, does that mean we cancel each other out?

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Because my friend didn’t choose to have a debilitating physical disability that causes her chronic pain and untold suffering.

              1. Natalie*

                Did you actually read what I wrote? I’m not asking about your friend – I’m sure she can speak for herself about her own opinions on this topic if she wishes. I’m challenging your use of a person with disabilities to give your opinion on someone else’s disability more weight.

                1. Thursday Next*

                  Perhaps because she cares about her friend and feels empathy for her friend’s situation? I don’t ready Detective Amy as saying her opinion counts because she knows someone who uses a wheelchair. But she clearly feels compassion and anger for her friend’s struggles.

              2. Rat in the Sugar*

                Not to speak for Natalie, but I think you’re implying that she said your friend doesn’t have the right to be offended when what she said was that YOU don’t get a pass to be offended on her behalf. You’ve left several comments about people appropriating the identity of disabled people, but aren’t you doing something similar by speaking for your friend and expecting your words to carry the same weight that hers would when you yourself are not disabled?

                1. Penny Lane*

                  Wait, are there points we need to amass before our opinions are valid? If I broke my leg and temporarily used a wheelchair, do I have more points than the person who has never broken a leg? Do I get points if I grew up with a sibling who had a wheelchair? Would love a link to the scoring system so we can evaluate everyone’s opinion validity.

                2. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @ Penny Lane
                  I’m not sure where you’re getting that from, but you seem to be seriously misreading what Rat in the Sugar or Natalie said.

            2. Tuxedo Cat*

              I don’t think it gives her or anyone a pass, but I can see how it’s more personal and might mean they’re more offended.

              It might not, too.

            3. Loose Seal*

              Heck, I use a wheelchair oftentimes myself and I’m not offended by Drew’s use of one, whatever the reason. His use of one doesn’t cancel out my use of mine. And if we worked together, it would be the company’s job to accommodate both of us in reasonable ways. And a reasonable way isn’t to make Drew prove he needs it just as much as me, to be clear. It’s listening to what we say we need and doing those things, if possible. If it’s not possible, having discussions as to what else might be possible.

              I don’t really need anyone to be offended on my behalf. Perhaps, Det. Amy, you should ask your friend if she does.

              1. Q*

                I would think, having made the accommodations for one person (for WHATEVER reason), would give them an established method and plan for accommodating another person with similar complications.

          5. Jaguar*

            My dad’s in a wheelchair (sort-of – Parkinson’s, so he’s wheelchair-bound only most of the day) and I don’t care at all about this and would be fine working with him.

            I find it really hard to care if a dude wants to spend his day in a wheelchair. Am I really alone in this? Can I get a sanity check from anyone that feels similarly? It seems like a waste of time and energy to get upset about this.

            1. fposte*

              I think the practical concern is pretty much nil. But I think the discussion about the rest of it is still pretty interesting.

              1. Jaguar*

                Yeah, it’s interesting. I think, though, that on the individual level, if you’re getting upset or offended by someone using a wheelchair when they don’t need it (regardless of it’s related to a mental health issue), you should consider how easily you get offended and whether it might be a problem with your sensitivity rather than someone else’s insensitivity. Dude can operate fine in the world with a wheelchair even though he doesn’t physically need one. We’ve made an advance. Who cares? It’s like getting upset when people eat gluten-free food when they don’t have any problem digesting gluten. Sure it’s obnoxious, but move on.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  I would say it’s only obnoxious if they make it obnoxious, like making the restaurant clean the grill before cooking their gluten-free food even though they know they just prefer GF rather than need GF. Or angrily refusing to tip the waitperson who pointed out that what they ordered contained gluten. (Both of which I’ve sadly been witness to.) If they just quietly went about their chosen GF life like Drew is doing here with his wheelchair use, I’d say it’s fine.

                  But that’s a really good comparison about people getting upset over things that don’t generally concern them.

            2. Temperance*

              I’m recovering from a significant and unpleasant injury. The thought that someone would fake this is beyond the pale.

      3. Purplesaurus*

        Well, what about people who are one sex but identify as another? I don’t think trans-women are lying when they call themselves women.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          There is a WORLD of difference between being trans and co-opting the identity of a disabled person.

          1. Leatherwings*

            Yeah, I agree this is not a helpful or correct analogy. There are bodies of evidence on gender dysphoria. Drew is sick, trans people are not.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            There’s a difference between copying identity and body dysmorphia, too, though. Of Drew does have an illness that causes him to believe his body doesn’t match his identity, then it’s more similar to issues facing trans folk (although not equivalent) than appropriators. We don’t know which applies to Drew, but if it’s a medical condition, then I think folks need to be willing to add some gray to the issue.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I am suggesting that Drew’s use of a wheelchair and telling people he is a paraplegic is not actually treating his mental illness.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Okay, cool? It’s not actually the OP’s business whether Drew is getting treatment or not, or what form that treatment takes.

            2. Anon,Anon, Anon*

              We don’t choose to have mental illnesses, but we can choose to seek treatment or not (we can’t know what treatment Drew might or might not be in, this is a more general statement).

              I am big on this belief, as I am a person with mental illness and a history of other illnesses. I didn’t choose any of them. But at times, I choose to not to use the help being offered and that WAS my choice (and a poor choice, BTW). We can’t choose our illnesses, but we do get to choose how we try to get better. I know people who choose to reject help and choose to not try to get better (some things are hard to get 100% better from, but there is nearly always some progress that can be made). This is all assuming the person will the mental illness has access to treatment, which can be a false assumption in the states.

              We can’t know Drew’s treatment history. He may be doing the best he can. But regardless, he co-workers are going to be PISSED at him if they find out and that will such for Drew and the team.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I’m kind of flabbergasted that so many people are excusing Drew’s behavior with “oh, he has a mental illness” when the comments on the bird phobia post very strongly pointed out that a mental illness is not an excuse to harm another person.

                What Drew is doing is harmful to people who are actually paraplegic and require the use of wheelchairs.

                1. SarahKay*

                  But how is Drew harming people who are physically disabled? OP says he hasn’t asked for any accommodations. He’s got the use of a disabled parking spot – but presumably a second could be created if necessary. We don’t know that he’s using a Disable parking pass.
                  I’m really not seeing that Drew is hurting other people.

                2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  “What Drew is doing is harmful to people who are actually paraplegic and require the use of wheelchairs”

                  How, though? Not a snarky question. I am legitimately baffled.

                3. Fiennes*

                  The harm in the bird phobia post was someone literally being pushed in front of a car. Nothing Drew’s doing has anything like that kind of impact, if any.

                4. Tuxedo Cat*

                  I get where you’re coming from in some ways. There’s abstract ways where Drew might be harming others- similar to how people have claimed to have celiac and then don’t, which leads to those with celiac not being believed.

                  However, it doesn’t seem like Drew actually is harming anyone. It seem like he took anything from anyone. He hasn’t harmed anyone (physically or mentally). At this point, he’s just a guy in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a physical reason to use one.

                5. Temperance*

                  I thought that this comments leaned towards excusing him off all culpability because of his illness.

                6. fposte*

                  @ Temperance–I think the comments on the bird post tilt differently to different readers; I suspect comments people disagree with always carry more weight than those whose opinions they share.

                7. Risha*

                  Add me to the list of people who are legitimately baffled by you saying this is harming actual paraplegics. Unless you mean hurting their feelings?

                8. Marie*

                  To all those saying it isn’t harmful.

                  I am not a paraplegic but I use a wheelchair due to a degenerative condition. I do not always use the wheelchair sometimes I can manage on crutches and I can just about stagger across a room in my house without any aids but I often need the chair for walking any distance. As I am often accused of not being disabled as I can technically walk. A lot of people think I am faking it (to the extent my wheelchair has been stolen, vandalised and I have been physically pulled from it. Most of these incidents were in high school when everyone involved was a stupid teenager but more than one has involved adults). In fact when I read the headline before I read the article I thought this would be an incident where the manager didn’t think a disabled employee was as disabled as they claimed as they didn’t always use a wheelchair. People who are fully capable of walking using wheelchairs promotes the idea that wheelchair users are faking it for special privileges.

                  I understand (assuming he has this condition where people genuinely feel like something shouldn’t work and I have heard of it before) that it is a medical condition (I believe it is a form of body dis-morphia but I’m no expert). I understand he likely doesn’t mean any harm, he obviously isn’t do it to mock disabled people or for any material gain, and its probably an unpleasant condition to have if he is intentionally making his life more difficult (wheelchairs are not easy to use) albeit unpleasant in a different way to how being a paraplegic is unpleasant. However just because it isn’t intentional doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful.

                9. Natalie*

                  @ Marie, I don’t know, that sounds uncomfortably close to Respectability Politics. I have a hard time imagining someone being really woke about people with disabilities and then finding out Drew’s deal and suddenly becoming a bully. Isn’t it more likely that they were already kind of shitty and ableist and would have remembered anyone that reinforced their prejudices? They are responsible for the harm they do, not random bystanders that they’ve built into their stereotypes.

                10. MCMonkeyBean*

                  No. Full stop no. The man with bird phobia sent someone to a hospital. That is harming another person. To suggest that what Drew is doing is “harmful” on that level is absurd.

                11. boo*

                  I think the mental illness question is getting stigma all over this question (and stigma is so hard to get off, even with borax). I know this is yesterday’s thread, so I should move on, but just one more thing.

                  Having done some quick reading on BIID, I still don’t know much, but it appears that Drew could say, completely truthfully, “I have a neurological condition that affects my legs, and I need to use a wheelchair to get around.”

                  That’s the literal truth, it’s just the moralizing about mental illness muddying up the works. He’s probably painfully aware of that, so I get why he said something more familiar.

                  (See this thread, for example. Also so no one would push about which neurological condition? and have you tried positive thinking? and my sister’s cousin’s llama instructor had neuralgia and was cured by drinking only mineral water and vodka for a week, have you tried that?)

                  Anyway, I’m off to try that llama instructor’s cure-all…

              2. JessaB*

                Can we not say we can choose to get treatment or not, please? Treatment is not readily available/accessible to many people in the US today. There’s a lot of stigma whether you do or do not get treatment, presuming you can find a practitioner, get to and from sessions, afford whatever treatment they want you to try, and the next and the next if the first doesn’t work (It often doesn’t, and can make things worse.) There is a massive lack of psychiatric beds, a large portion of ER time is taken up with patients in psychiatric distress that they cannot help because help is a long term not a quick fix kind of thing, and they have no beds to transfer them to. Certain insurances do not cover mental health. Medicaid and Medicare are notorious for not covering certain types of inpatient care. The state of care in the US at least is horrendous. There is often no choice about it. And that’s presuming a whole lot about whether the person is capable of understanding they need care, in the first place. Many disorders mess with that executive functioning needed to admit you need and access care.

                1. Talia*

                  Not to mention a rather large community of psychiatric survivors– which is to say, people who *did* seek treatment and were horribly harmed by the treatment they got. For some mental illnesses seeking treatment can be actively dangerous.

                2. traumanon*

                  That actually happened to me. I was traumatized by a bad therapist who treated me incredibly inappropriately and ended up causing irreparable harm. I’m in therapy again now, but it took me literally over a decade to find a provider I could stand for more than a few weeks, much less trust at all. I still can’t talk about certain things with my current therapist, the person I’m *supposed* to be able to talk about those things with, or anyone else.

                3. Pomona Sprout*

                  Talia, I seriously question the existence of a “large community” of people who have been “horribly harmed” by being treated for mental illnesses. As one who has been enormously helped by such treatment, and who knows many others who also have benefited, that seems inappropriately alarmist, bordering on paranoid.
                  Do you have a source for this claim that is based on something other than anecdata?

                4. Hrovitnir*

                  I’m sorry Pomona, do you not understand different people have different experiences? There are a lot of mental health practitioners with different training and different amounts of skill – it’s certainly easy to harm people through being inadequately prepared even before touching on how people with mental health issues are very vulnerable to abuse.

                  I have been lucky enough to never see anyone who treated me badly, but I have been to a lot of therapists (counsellors, psychologists) who were just… out of their depth. Frankly, my relationship with my current GP is one of the better ones I’ve had and the idea of finding a mental health specialist who will work for me is just tiring.

                  I have friends who have had great experiences, and others who have been blamed for their assaults by their therapists or had them side with their abusive partner during marriage counselling as abusive people are generally pretty great at manipulating people.

                  And no, I’m not going to spend my time finding studies for you.

                5. KellyK*

                  Pomona Sprout:

                  Just because lots of people have been helped by psychiatric treatment doesn’t mean that many people haven’t also been harmed, any more than the fact that many people have had helpful and successful surgeries means that medical malpractice doesn’t exist.

                  Psychiatrists and therapists are humans who have biases and make mistakes, just like any other profession. Added to that, even necessary and appropriate psychiatric treatment can be traumatic. If someone is involuntarily committed, that can be deeply traumatic, even if it was necessary. In cases where it’s *not* necessary, why would it be surprising that someone who experienced that wouldn’t want to seek psychiatric care again?

          3. Purplesaurus*

            I didn’t intend to draw parallels between the two, but to combat the argument that he is “lying.” I apologize that I’ve caused any offense with this.

        2. JB*

          A pre-op transwoman who calls herself a woman clearly has a specific meaning in mind, and it’s not “I have XX chromosomes and female genitalia.” It is the result of much labor and effort on the part of trans activists that someone could, and should, be understood to use language in that way.

          No such changes have been made with regard to BIPD. If someone says they are paraplegic, it is not reasonable to believe that they mean that they identify as such but have full spinal function.

          That said, since Drew is not asking for significant specific accomodations, I agree that this is best left alone for now. But what if he starts to? Then HR will have an interesting research project.

          1. Luna*

            Yes, Drew could have just said that he has a medical condition that requires him to use a wheelchair and left it at that. He is obviously under no obligation to explain what the specific condition is. The fact that he instead chooses to say he has a condition that, at least on some level, he knows he does not actually have is the part that is most problematic. But as you say, that doesn’t really change the advice for the OP.

        3. Gene Parmesan*

          I don’t think this is that far-fetched of an analogy. That’s the crux of the disorder, that they feel like they’re in the wrong body.

          1. Rulesfor*

            I think there’s a difference between the social role of gender and the social role of disability. Disability isn’t a socially constructed concept in the same way, in our society. And trans people aren’t saying, “I have x/y/z body” when they don’t, which is what it sounds like this dude is doing.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Disability is absolutely a socially constructed concept, because the lines of what constitutes ‘disabled’ are defined in very large part by the structures we put in place around us and expect people to use.

              1. fposte*

                Seconding this big time. Hell, there are the sociologically observed models of the main ways disability *is* a constructed concept.

                1. Rulesfor*

                  What I was trying to say is it’s a different type of construct, in our society, than gender is. We don’t treat them as equivalent. But I feel like this is massively derailing and not helpful to the OP at this point, so I’m going to bow out.

                2. Decima Dewey*

                  I wear glasses. Without corrective lenses, my vision is 20/400. I’m not considered disabled. When I worked at the Library for the Blind, I was considered Sighted, and that was that.

                  There are also orthopedic consequences to using a wheelchair, a guide dog, a white cane, and so forth. Drew may be more “disabled” than he was when he started using the wheelchair.

                3. fposte*

                  @Decima–have a look at information about models of disability; I think you’ll find them really interesting.

                4. Chinook*

                  Thirding. What society considers disabled depends on how it affects your movement in it. Wearing glasses or using a cane help combat a disability but, if designed a certain way, they pass as accessories and the disability disappears.

              2. Penny Lane*

                “Disability is absolutely a socially constructed concept, because the lines of what constitutes ‘disabled’ are defined in very large part by the structures we put in place around us and expect people to use.”

                This is incredibly vague. Can you provide a more detailed example of what you mean — what’s an example of a structure in society we put in place and define the inability to use it as being disabled but we’re wrong?

                1. fposte*

                  The Countess is talking about the social model of disability–it’s a well-established sociological construct.

                  Put it this way: the social model of disability is a big one in the Deaf community. When everybody’s Deaf, deafness isn’t a disability; it’s just the way things are, people function just fine, and stuff is built and designed accordingly as a norm. The problem comes because a lot of the world has designed its structures differently, not because they can’t hear.

                2. Whiplash*

                  I could be wrong here, but I’d imagine it’s sort of like building stairs instead of a ramp. If it was just a ramp, then nearly everyone could navigate it and no one would be considered disabled because they couldn’t get up it. But because stairs were chosen way back when as the preferred method of getting up something, people who can’t climb up them are considered disabled.

                3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  “But we’re wrong’ isn’t really the core idea here. It’s just that a disability — having a struggle to do something, presumably something important or relevant — is defined by what needs doing and what the circumstances of doing it are.

                  For example, a lot of the reason that autism is such a difficult disorder is that the modern world is profoundly unfriendly to people with autism. Most humans live and work in very crowded conditions where unspoken social rules are enormously important, most activity outside the house is accompanied by lots of noise, bright lights, and so forth. A person with autism in 2018 has significantly more challenges to face than a person with autism in 1518, even if by some theoretical objective measurement they may fall in the same place on the spectrum.

                4. Tuxedo Cat*

                  I wouldn’t say we’re “wrong”- just that the assumption of being able to do x is how society is currently structured (and it doesn’t have to be that way).

                  My partner has misophonia and hates hearing the sound of people eating. I believe that’s considered a disability. If everyone ate alone in soundproof private stalls, he probably wouldn’t have a disability. However, our society is structured such that eating together occurs fairly often and is even encouraged.

                5. Merida Ann*

                  I think Drew’s hand-driven vehicle is a good example. If Henry Ford had decided to make the Model-T using only hand controls (perhaps to more closely match the way you would steer a horse drawn carriage with only your hands on the reins) and car makers had followed his design, Drew would be able to use a “normal” vehicle. It’s only because foot-controlled gas pedals are more popular in our society than hand-controlled ones that someone without use of their feet needs an “accommodation” for driving at all.

              3. Loose Seal*

                No kidding. Those of us who have to use the accessible bathroom stall in public probably all have stories of how someone else in the bathroom tried to shame them for not being disable enough.

                I’ve heard stories of people who had a permit to park in a blue spot being followed and harassed by folks in the parking lot who didn’t think they were disabled enough to need it.

            2. Alton*

              Yep. Trans people identify with a *gender* other than the one they were assigned at birth. They typically don’t identify as a different *sex* unless they’ve medically transitioned to some degree. There’s no one accepted definition of what makes someone a certain gender, but there’s a medical definition for paraplegia.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                That’s not really true, though. Body dysmorphia is a thing, and quite a lot of trans folks struggle with specifically feeling that their bodies are not what they are supposed to be. Why else would gender surgery be such a thing?

                1. Alton*

                  That’s my point: trans people with body dysphoria sometimes transition in order to correct that. Gender identity can be connected to your physical sex. But trans women, for example, typically don’t believe or claim that they were born with XX chromosomes, and it’s a harmful stereotype that trans people are “in denial” or “confused” about their birth sex. Some trans people do let people assume they’re a cis person of the gender they identify as (referred to as going stealth), but this is usually because they see their trans identity as a private, personal thing.

                2. fposte*

                  But before regular discourse began separating the biological concept of sex from the social concept of gender saying that you were “really a woman” *was* perceived as denial; it’s just that our language has evolved to make a culturally important distinction. Right now there is no useful terminological separation that differentiates the social concept of disability from the medical (save for specific populations, like Deaf and deaf). You’re making the argument that the medical definition is the one that has to define someone’s identity, and I think that’s worth interrogating.

            3. General Ginger*

              Eh, technically, some of us are. “I’m a man, and therefore, my body is a man’s body” is a common self-affirming statement.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Good point! This is a really important distinction, imo. If more people understood this, there would be a lot less controversy over things like which public restroom a person should be allowed to use.

      4. Hey Nonnie*

        There are plenty of mental health disorders which allow (or demand) a patient to believe something that is not objectively true. Any delusional disorder, for example. But they believe it is true, it is true for them, so I think we can and should distinguish that from intentional lying.

        It’s quite possible that his bodily integrity disorder is not just “I wish I were paraplegic” but an actual delusion that he is; or that it started as the first and ended up as the second. I don’t think it serves anyone to speculate “how bad is his disorder REALLY?” and judging based on whether you think it’s “bad enough” to qualify as legitimate.

      5. fposte*

        Because “lie” and “truth” aren’t simple binaries. It also doesn’t sound like he believes he’s pretending to be paralyzed, either.

        This is a really murky world, and it’s being called “transabled,” people who feel their bodily representation doesn’t reflect their identity; while I realize the politics are different enough from the gender trans experience that people are going to see it very differently from that, that might be a good lens to use when thinking about this.

        (And yes, some people do actually undergo procedures to match their bodies to their identities; mostly the known ones are by people who see themselves as amputees, and they’re either done in countries where doctors have different rules or by themselves as “accidents.”)

        1. RVA Cat*

          The possibility that those “accidents” could occur in the workplace are a reasonable concern for employers. So is the effect on morale when word gets out about Drew.

          Does the OP’s company have an outside employment policy that would apply if Drew was paid to appear? That could cover the ethical issue solely in a work-related way.

          1. SarahKay*

            Where you say “The possibility that those “accidents” could occur in the workplace are a reasonable concern for employers” – this could be used against people suffering from depression just as much as against Drew.
            Should I have an employer worrying that I might commit suicide while on site because I’m suffering from depression and suicidal ideation? And, by the way, this is why I didn’t tell my employer when I was suffering from depression – I didn’t want the discrimination that tends to come with any mental illness.

          2. Q*

            “That could cover the ethical issue”…that just sounds like, “Look, we can punish and/or fire him with this excuse instead.” After all, that ethical issue is entirely different to…what the actual problem is.

          1. Gabriela*

            This whole discussion is really fascinating. I was cringing as a I read it, expecting some really heated comments. I have been really pleasantly surprised at the different view points being expressed.

            1. PlainJane*

              Yes. I nearly always learn something from reading Ask a Manager comment threads (wish I could say the same for most other Internet comment threads). I appreciate that most commenters try to be compassionate and are open to learning. I’d heard of BIID but never thought about how it could manifest in the workplace or what issues it might provoke. Thanks, y’all (and Alison, of course) for educating me today.

          1. Murphy*

            To clarify, by “pretending” I mean he is telling people that he has a physical disorder that he knows he doesn’t have. I’m not denying that he may have a mental disorder.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Does it matter if he needs the wheelchair either way? Should he chance the stigma of revealing a mental health disorder (if indeed he has one)? Many of us with mental health disorders are vague about it at work and constantly question if we are revealing too much for fear of being judged by it. Perhaps he’s decided that it’s just easier to go ahead and say he’s paralyzed knowing that people won’t delve too far into that for politeness’ sake.

              Now that the documentary is out, Drew may decide to change his statements to work about why he needs the accommodation. Or he may decide it’s still easier not to go down that path unless forced to. Either way, he needs the wheelchair and the employer says it’s not a problem for them to accommodate so, again, what does it matter *why* he needs it?

        1. Kj*

          Does he believe it though? I don’t think we can say he believes he is a paraplegic, since he did walk in the video. He believes he SHOULD

          1. Kj*

            be paraplegic, but that isn’t the same as believing he is one. People’s brains can do strange things to their bodies, but I’m not sure this is that case, given the video description the OP posted. It is an interesting distinction and I don’t know which is true and I think it matters to this situation.

            1. Jam Today*

              But I think that’s part of the delusion, no? That cognitive dissonance between what is demonstrably true, and what he says is true *despite demonstrating the opposite*? I mean its super weird (it is, come on) but I would still assert that he’s not lying inasmuch as as a lie is a conscious, controlled act. I don’t this is in his control. Its like those people with such severe body dysmorphia that they try to amputate limbs, because they’re “supposed” to only have one leg.

              NB: I am not a behavioral-health clinician so I’m just spitballing here.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, I think Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain is a relevant read here; he talks about stroke patients who say they can’t move their arms on one side, because of where their damage is, but the damage is in being *conscious of moving the arm even when you can see it*. Our beliefs aren’t this neatly mapped out neighborhood where if you get to the destination one way it’s a truth and another way it’s a lie.

                1. JessaB*

                  I have hemiplegic migraines and they do leave deficits such as when one has a stroke. A neurologist asked me to move my arms around each other (folded over each other in front of me,) and if you’d asked me I would have sworn on my life that both arms were moving. My left arm was NOT.

                  When he pointed it out to me I was able to consciously move the left arm in the motion he wanted, but without actual visually looking at it, I had no idea I was NOT moving it. Objectively both my arms can move. But my brain was literally unaware one was not moving til I was told it wasn’t. Doesn’t mean the arm is paralysed, but it does speak to brain/body differentiation.

                  On the other hand we know I have a processing disorder where my brain does not register things that objective proof would show it should. I cannot hear out of my right ear at all, but passive testing SAYS I can. It took 8 hours of straight neuro testing to realise that the ear works, but the part between the ear and brain does not register the impulses the ear is sending. So it’s not so far off about my arm.

                  I guess my point is that just because something is true on the face of it “OP’s employee is not paralysed,” does not mean OP’s employee can walk all the time. And that the most powerful organ in the body is the brain, and it can convince you very easily that x is true even if you know it’s false.

                2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Jessa – yes! My son has a form of blindness. His eyes are fine, aside from a very mild nearsightedness and nystagmus. But there is a funky thing that happens between the eye and the part of the brain that processes the visual signals: his brain just does not “see” the perfectly fine visual signals his eyes are sending him.

                  I don’t generally go into detail when explaining this to strangers who ask why he isn’t looking straight at them (people get SO NOSY). I say he is blind, even though he’s not blind in the common understanding of that term.

      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        A lie is a knowing falsehood. If Drew believes himself to be paraplegic, he may not be “lying,” even if his description is believed by others to be inaccurate.

        1. Kj*

          But the OP states he believes he should be paraplegic, not that he thinks he is, and he walked in the online video. So I really doubt he is delusional by the strict definition. I know of people who believe they can’t see even though their docs say they can see, but they don’t talk about wanting to be blind, they say they are.

      7. Jules the 3rd*

        Perhaps an anorexia analogy would work to help draw the distinction?

        A person who thinks that a 7% body fat makes them ‘fat’ and that they must lose weight seems kinda similar – most of the world would say they were inaccurate, but they think they are correct. The main difference is that ‘fat’ doesn’t have as specific a technical meaning as ‘paraplegic’, but ‘misusing because of belief that it’s accurate’ isn’t a lie, to me.

        I am not as familiar with this area of mental illness as I am with anxiety / ocd / depression, so my apologies if this is offensive or way off base.

      8. Sleeping, or maybe dead*

        I will reply assuming he is not delusional and is aware he is not paraplegic and has in fact body integrity Identity disorder.
        Number 1 reason to lie is because mental illnesses are highly stigmatized and readily dismissed by most people, specially if it is an obscure one.

      9. Birch*

        Yes, this is the crux, to me. He has said he has one disability, when he really has another. It’s the untruth that makes him look suspicious, but it’s totally possible that he actually believes he is a paraplegic. In that way it’s a lot like the hypochondriac letter–the man thought he had cancer, etc. when really he had an (also debilitating) disorder of hypochondria. So the question is…. which disorder do you deal with? Do you treat the person as if they are lying, because they are? Or do you indulge their disordered perception of reality? I also wonder how people with other disabilities in the same office might view him if they find out. IMO I think it’s his responsibility to deal with this upfront, if he knows that video is out there and people might see it, but like I said before, it’s possible he believes he’s dealing with it in the best way already.

        1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

          How differently do you think an office — or just your average person — is going to treat someone who discloses a physical disorder versus one who discloses a mental disorder that manifests as physical?

          Based on these comments, I know which one I’d prefer, especially since the difference between the two is immaterial to accommodation. I’d hardly consider it “lying” to say “I’m in a wheelchair because I’m paraplegic” rather than “I’m currently in a wheelchair because I have a disorder that leads me to believe in a very real way that I am and should be paraplegic potentially up to the point of me enacting the means to become so.”

            1. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

              It was a reference to disclosure. Offense seems to be coming from the idea that Drew is lying because he said he had one thing, when he really had this other thing that presents as that one thing.

              How do you differentiate without disclosing?

              1. Luna*

                But I don’t think Drew would be required to disclose either. He could have just said he needs to use a wheelchair due to a medical condition. Instead he voluntarily discloses a disorder that is not the one he really has.

                Whether he really believes he is paraplegic, I don’t know, but I think that would be the most difficult part to get others in the office to accept if they were to ever find out about this.

      10. Not So NewReader*

        It’s not a lie TO Drew. It’s his belief.

        I’d put it under the heading of “we don’t know what it is we don’t know”. While science has investigated many many illnesses there are always new ones or ones that have not had so much attention. I tend to tell myself that if 20 years from now science is able to help people and fix things like this, how would I feel looking back on my decision to label this person as a liar, when there was something larger going on that needed serious help.

        Using a big picture focus can be so helpful with so many things in life. If we label someone as a lair then that is the end of that story. But if we think of a person as having a larger difficulty that perhaps science can help in the future, we can start thinking about other things, such as how best to help/support this person today.

        1. Birch*

          This is the problem though. He is apparently aware on some level about what is actually wrong with him, given that he participated in the video. So intentionally framing his disability to his coworkers in a way that is misleading is a problem, regardless of whether you want to call him a liar or not. It’s still untrue (even if it’s only untrue to him because it’s not the whole story–sins of omission are still sins!) and it still makes him look bad for offering that untrue information of his own accord, as Luna said. He didn’t need to offer any explanation at all, and then no one would have a problem with it. I would even venture to say that most people, including myself, would be much more OK with the whole situation if he didn’t offer any information up front, even if they later found out about the video.

      11. Happy Temp*

        I struggle with this as well. What happens when there is an in-office emergency (say, a fire/evacuation) and Drew’s coworkers put themselves in danger to help him out of the building? Or, what if they already know about his condition and think “I don’t need to stop and help him”?
        I can’t figure out a way for management to deal with this in a way that’s respectful of Drew but also respectful of his coworkers.
        I also wonder if he asked for accomodations based on his paralysis rather than his illness that makes him believe he is paralyzed. Does that make a difference?

    2. Penny Lane*

      Just because he may have a disorder that causes him to think he should be a paraplegic, or that he sympathizes excessively with paraplegics, does actually *make* him a paraplegic.

      What happens when he travels, for example, and requires special accommodations which may come at extra cost with airlines, hotels, rental cars, client visits? Totally fine for someone who really is a paraplegic and requires a wheelchair. Less cool if it’s someone who just thinks he is.

      What other examples are there of accommodations which are fully kosher for someone really needing them, but not so kosher if someone just *thinks* they need them but they really don’t?

      Bad analogy, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment. If you told me my workplace needed to be peanut-free because of a coworker with a severe peanut allergy — cool, no problem, I’m doing it, no need to ask me twice. If you told me it was only because the coworker *thought* he was — but he really wasn’t — not so cool and I’d be pretty annoyed that I have to play along with a sham.

      1. my two cents*

        Penny Lane – a severe peanut allergy, leading to a ban on peanut products in the office, would be considerable accommodations (lots and lots of stuff has at least traces of peanuts). But Drew doesn’t ask for anything, aside from being granted his parking spot. I’d even wager that Drew paid out-of-pocket for his chair and hand-paddles in his vehicle.

        This decidedly Isn’t Great, but Drew’s certainly not asking anything additional of coworkers…which puts it back into the ‘Pretty Sticky’ camp for me.

      2. Sometimes yes, sometimes no*

        > If you told me my workplace needed to be peanut-free because of a coworker with a severe peanut allergy — cool, no problem, I’m doing it, no need to ask me twice. If you told me it was only because the coworker *thought* he was — but he really wasn’t — not so cool and I’d be pretty annoyed that I have to play along with a sham.

        I’m curious: why?

        1. Arjay*

          I’m not Penny, but it would bother me especially right now because it’s Lent and a peanut butter sandwich is my main sacrificial meal on Friday. If it was life-threatening to someone, of course, I’d work around it. Cheese quesadilla or tuna sandwich it is! But for me to have to work around it for no valid reason – that would be quite annoying.

        2. Kelly White*

          That’s an excellent question. I agree. I think I feel the same way. I had actually typed out a whole response, but it didn’t really answer why. Why accommodating someone with an allergy is ok, but accommodating someone who “thinks” that they are allergic, is annoying.

          But by that same thinking, Drew isn’t asking me not to bring in the peanuts, know what I mean? Why would it bother me that he’s using a wheelchair. It’s no skin off my nose.

          But you are right- how much accommodating will we tolerate? For example, say I have a co-worker who is afraid of doors. She has the door to her office taken off. No problem for me! But, then she decides she can see my door, and so my door needs to go. Well, I would have a problem with that.

          But, what if the solution was that she moves her office to where she can sit at her desk, and see no other doors. This wouldn’t bother me. But what if the only office that would work, was mine, so now I have to move? Now, that would bother me.

          What a fascinating point you raise!

          1. Anon for this*

            Yes. The key point for me is whether someone’s actions (regardless of the cause of those actions) hurts someone else. Drew isn’t really hurting anyone. People might be offended or misunderstand if they knew, but his day-to-day actions are just fine. The bird phobia guy also had a mental illness, but his illness led directly to him seriously injuring his co-worker. I’ve been struggling for years with how I perceive mental illness (father was mentally ill, and mother used that as a reason to excuse whatever horrible thing he’d say or do), and I’m trying to root out my remaining traces of ableism around that issue. This comment thread, along with the “get off my foot” analogy that comes up here from time to time, have helped me clarify my own feelings and be less judgmental–while still insisting that people don’t get a pass for hurting someone else.

      3. Q*

        If someone genuinely thought they had a peanut allergy, and you brought one in anyway, you could, possibly kill them either from stress, or a placebo effect. We can convince ourselves sugar pills can cure our cancer and it works. I have to assume we can convince ourselves of a physical disability and make it impossible to use part of your body.

        As someone with a severe anxiety disorder–even if I know I can actually do something, if it causes me extreme emotional distress, it’s not worth it. People with OCD CAN manage without their rituals of, say, locking their door twenty times before leaving, but not doing so causes extreme psychological distress to them.

        Maybe that’s worth you not being annoyed, but it probably isn’t to them.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I can’t tell from the way you wrote the third paragraph, but it sounds like Drew consented to being in this film and spoke openly about what he is doing.

    Either way, he can’t honestly be surprised when (oh and that’s a when, not if) his behavior is found out. It sounds like he’s prepared to take the consequences.

    That said, AAM’s advice is good. HR needs to be aware because you’ll need then when (again, not if) the rest of your office finds out. Then you’ve got a real problem.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      It does sound that way—that on some level he recognizes that this is a mental disorder and not a physical one.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I did wonder that too. This would never have come up except that Drew chose to be featured in the film, so he sort of created this problem for himself (not that this changes any of Alison’s advice, just that if it were me I’d feel bad “outing” him to HR except that he was clearly not that concerned about keeping it a secret).

      1. Kj*

        Agreed. It is hard to keep anything secret if you post a video of you talking about it to the web. He has to know someone he knows could see it. I wonder if that is part of the disorder too, the need to talk about it? I don’t know, but it is interesting. More people on the team will find out at this rate.

        1. Loose Seal*

          I think it’s hard to say without knowing the intended audience of the video. If it’s meant to help others with BIID (again, if that’s what this is; we have no way of knowing) or to help explain to their friends and families what that might look like, we could see Drew as a hero willing to “out” himself so that others in his situation wouldn’t think they were alone.

          I sort of get the feeling that some people here are thinking Drew participated in the documentary for fame and/or fortune and so he should reap his just desserts for thinking that he could get away with his “lie” once that was out on the Internet.

          [I have to say I have no intention of trying to Google this video but I would have no doubt that several readers and commenters have done so.]

          1. a1*

            I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say he was seeking “fame and fortune” by being in the documentary. They are just saying that he is the one that made his condition public by appearing the documentary. Therefore since he willingly did this, it’s hard to call it a “secret”. And since we know 2 of his colleagues have seen the documentary, it is quite likely others will even if these 2 say and do nothing about it.

  7. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Oof. Yeah, this IS sticky. I completely agree with Alison. I’d definitely loop HR in. If nothing else do it to make sure you’re all on the same page if someone were to bring it up in the future. Not everyone will react as discreetly as you and your other employee.

    1. Luna*

      I’m also wondering if it would be a good idea to have someone (either OP or someone in HR) speak with Drew just to let him know that at least one of his co-workers has seen this video. I can’t decide if that would potentially create drama or make Drew feel uncomfortable, or if it’s a fair heads up to give him that this information is out there.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        I was going to mention that….and then decided to stay out of it. Going on the assumption that it is a mental disorder (and I, personally, see no reason to believe otherwise) I’m not sure you can ever force a discussion about someone’s health. That is something so, so, so outside my wheelhouse that I don’t even want to hazard a guess on that.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    From the very little I know about this, it is a mental disorder. So he’s still handicapped. I don’t know why you would feel the need to do anything about this.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Because it’s offensive to people who are actually physically disabled and have to use wheelchairs. Their identity isn’t something people should be playing with for funsies. This is no different than wearing blackface or any other type of cultural appropriation.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          And that’s where the damage control part of this comes in. I absolutely think going to HR is the right call here.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          I actually thought of her, too, but thought it was better not to bring that can of worms into the mix. : )

        3. fposte*

          I can see that that’s a way this maps, but it’s really worth looking deeper into the experiences and feelings of people like this.

          We’re at such an interesting cultural place with identity right now in that we’ve allowed gender to shift from externals being prescriptive, but we seem to be granting gender a special loophole rather than considering that maybe externals of all kinds don’t have to be prescriptive.

          1. serenity*

            I think you raise some good points, but I don’t think they apply to each and every case (for example, I don’t think the greater public and certainly not the African-American community felt kindly to what Rachel Dolezal did, and if you tried to explain away her actions as you are doing here it would likely be seen as patronizing and pretty ill-advised).

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              Black person here. Can vouch that Rachel Dolezal totally pissed off myself and everyone I knew.

            1. serenity*

              I’m going to quibble with that wording a bit. Gender *roles* are social constructs, while gender has physical characteristics.

              1. Kj*

                I’m going to quibble further- Gender is socially constructed, whereas sex is physical traits. At least, that was what I learned in my gender studies classes.

              2. Joshua*

                To quibble even more, gender in its entirety is a social construct. Biological sex has physical characteristics. But, they aren’t binary – there’s plenty of gray area where sex is concerned. It just so happens our standard social construct of gender is traditionally binary.

                1. Kj*

                  I kind of love that so many of us know and care about this. Gives me hope for the future being more accepting.

            2. fposte*

              Disability is incontrovertibly a social construct; it’s just that it’s largely the disabled who are aware of the constructs. The notion that the social construct is identical to the physical externals is the exact myth that the trans movement has fought so hard against. I think we’re better rather than worse if we consider that it might be a point that applies to people in various situations.

              1. Nobody Here by That Name*

                Thank you, I was just popping in to say this. Disability and health are absolutely social constructs, based on what society has deemed “normal.” Consider that glasses are “disability aids” in much the same way that wheelchairs are, but we do not attach a stigma to their use or consider someone who wears glasses to be disabled in the same way we do a wheelchair user. And this is just one example of many.

                This then extends to the discussion of mental health, where the prejudice against it even amongst those who have mental illness is harsh. First and foremost, mental illness is very dependent on society’s definition of “normal” – a patient can have a knife through their skull and most would agree that is a situation which requires medical attention, but if a woman does or doesn’t enjoy having relations with her husband is that a mental disorder? Well, all depends on when in history you’re asking the question.

                If Drew has this illness then he is not putting on a show. His brain is making it so that he acts and feels this way. My mother has schizophrenia and sometimes goes catatonic, which means she can’t move or speak. Does that mean she’s putting on paraplegic blackface because her body is perfectly physically capable of moving? No, because this is just as much a legitimate symptom of her illness as anything else.

                As with so many things with mental illness – or any illness, really – the answer isn’t “just don’t do that” because not being able to stop the symptoms on one’s own is why it’s called an illness and not a hobby.

              2. Lissa*

                ALso…hmm…it seems like we’re saying that people who have delusions/dysphoria/dysmorphia that manifests in a way that is seen as “offensive” because of social constructs, environment etc. should somehow be treated differently or given less sympathy. But they didn’t choose to have it manifest in that way! I can see the argument about lying but it feels like we’re saying “this mental illness is less sympathetic than this other one” as though Drew should tell his mental illness “hey, you’re being offensive to physically disabled people!” and it should listen or be educated.

            3. JB (not in Houston)*

              As Countess Boochie Flagrante and fposte commented above, disability is absolutely a socially constructed concept

            4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Skin color and physical ability aren’t social constructs, but race and what constitutes “able” certainly are.

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          Mental illness is not the same as conscious appropriation.

          And if you want to make a case that Rachel Dolezal is mentally ill, then I hope you will bring some compassion to that discussion, rather than scorn.

      1. Fiennes*

        I don’t think anyone believes Drew *is* doing this for “funsies.” He’s got a mental disorder. Claiming to defend the disabled while scoffing at mental illness is contradictory at best.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Agree. That *really* rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve got a young child in a wheelchair so am by no means unaware of the real challenges of being *actually* physically disabled, but someone being mentally ill in a way that has them using the same durable medical equipment that my son does, but for mental rather tha physical reasons, is not offensive to me. It’s confusing, and unexpected, and I’d feel awkward sometimes I bet. I wouldn’t feel offended. But obviously YYMV.

          If someone is doing it “for funsies” that’s a different scenario entirely. But I don’t list mental illness as “for funsies.”

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah just the fact that he made this video … it wasn’t “haha I’m fooling people / making them feel sorry for me / benefiting from the (let’s face it, kind of stingy) accommodations that exist for the truly disabled, suckas!!!”

          2. Competent Commenter*

            I love your comment, Jessie the First! You really helped me understand my own response. I appreciate that you distinguished between offensive vs. confusing and unexpected and awkward. I too find it the latter, not the former.

            And “I don’t list mental illness as ‘for funsies’ ” is a great motto. :)

          3. Jennifer Thneed*

            Yeah, that caught my attention too. I don’t really have any standing to opine on people’s use of wheelchairs being offensive or not, because I don’t use one. I can mostly walk and run as I choose. I think that people who are reacting badly to this, and who are *not* disabled, are veering into “won’t someone think of the children” territory. I am thinking forgiving thoughts though, because I’ve learned a LOT over the last few years about body dysmorphia and similar mental illnesses, and not everyone is reading what I am reading.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


          It’s actually a pretty common trope of ableism, in fact — “No, I support real disabled people, but you’re not really disabled so I don’t support you.”

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah, “if you’re not actually literally Helen Keller herself, then get to work you lazy bum.” This is true.

          2. Elemeno P.*

            This. It pops up all the time when people who have mobility issues stand up from their wheelchairs; the instant reaction of “You can stand so YOU ARE A FAKE” is very prevalent and awful.

          3. Nobody Here by That Name*

            YEEEEEEEEEESS. Or not understanding why accommodations are necessary and not “nice to haves.” Usually in a conversation like “Well *I’d* love to have flexible hours/work from home/have a bigger monitor/bring my dog into work/whatever too!” Like that’s nice, but we’re asking for these things because they directly affect our health and livelihood, not for funsies.

          4. General Ginger*

            Or, “well, you could stand/walk/reach/bend for 10 minutes on Thursday morning, so that means you can do it all the time and don’t really need this cane/reaching device/chair/adjustable desk/mobility device”. That one really gets me.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah I think this is something the non-disabled world (like me) is working on. I do remember having a feeling of discomfort when I watched someone be wheeled to the front of the line, then get up out of the wheelchair and proceed up the stairs in front of me. I was thinking, “hey, I would like to sit not stand too, and I would like to skip this line too!” – not because I can’t understand the circumstances that may make that legitimate, but just in an animal brain, resources are scarce, it’s every man for themselves primitive part of the brain. It’s a good thing for people of privilege to be conscious of and acknowledge in the same way we have to acknowledge that many of us have racist conditioning in our heads and have benefited from racist systems.

            2. PlainJane*

              Yes. I watch my husband struggle with this. On good days, he can do quite a few physical things–and he’s a big, strong guy, so people expect that from him. On bad days, he can barely get out of bed, and then he feels lazy and useless. It sucks. Not all disabilities (physical or mental) are consistent all day, every day.

        3. LBK*

          I think most people in a wheelchair would also tell you there isn’t anything particularly “funsies” about it, so this would be a pretty inconvenient gambit for Drew to keep up if he could easily choose to stop. I always thought there was something fun about having crutches until I broke my toe, and then I was sick of them in about 5 minutes – getting a handicapped parking space or whatever other minor “perks” you might get as a disabled person are far outweighed by the actual experience of being disabled.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        If it is caused by mental illness, then it is not “for funsies,” and it would not be cultural appropriation.

      3. bananaboat*

        he has a mental illness that makes him believe he should be in a wheelchair. He isn’t doing this for fun he is ill.

      4. Elfie*

        No, it’s not. I actually know a Drew, a guy who’s permanently in a wheelchair even though there’s no physical reason for him to be. If my acquaintance actually worked, I’d swear it was him. My acquaintance, let’s call him Fred, he lives as a disabled person. He shouldn’t be disabled, but it’s got to the point where his leg muscles have atrophied due to years of lack of use. Now, he couldn’t walk even if he wanted to.

        There are some conditions that are as a result of trauma – your brain can convince yourself that you’re blind, or paralysed (I think the mechanism is similar to amnesia), and you actually *are*. It doesn’t affect you any differently than someone who has a physical reason for those disabilities, and your lack of ability to do things isn’t any different. So this smacks of being judgemental, and IMO we should empathise a bit more with people who through whatever mechanism have their lives impacted in a way that I doubt any of them really want.

      5. Jules the 3rd*

        Amy, please, take a step back and a deep breath. Examine why this offends you so much.

        You are usually more compassionate than this. Is there any chance you’re displacing some anger / pain that you feel about your friend’s situation on to this mentally ill person?

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I suppose the problem would be a) some other employee requests the parking spot – since you now know that Drew could presumably get from his car without special accommodations, can you give it to someone else? or b) this will become a public thing that will bite your company later, such as people with physical disabilities (either other employees or members of the public) getting teed off at the idea that someone is presumably benefiting from the special considerations granted to people who have physical limitations, without actually having the burden of experiencing these physical limitations. However, it seems a little far fetched that #2 is a real concern.

    3. Bend & Snap*

      It’s a mental disorder. The OP mentions that this is part of who believes he is. That’s not the same as actively pretending to be something he’s not for fun or sympathy or perks or whatever.

      I don’t understand being offended by the physical manifestation of someone’s disability. Which is what this is.

  9. CrystalMama*

    Empathy, empathy, empathy.
    I have some experience in this area and know how challenging it can be to approach as a manager and as a Person! A friend of my partners Sister practices intentionality as a way of dealing with her fertility challenges. As part of the practice she truly believes in her pregnancy to help it manifest (I recommend looking up this practice as many women in my family have had amazing successes with it). She request and gets the accommodations of a pregnant woman – since she is in a spiritual way. Several times, she has also become physically aware and then needs further accommodations. I think that requests should be taken with caring and empathy since we never know the combination of spiritual, mental, and physical challenges and practices a person (or Woman) may be experiencing.

      1. CutUp*

        A lot of people who are trying to become pregnant give up drinking or sushi or raw cheese before they know they’re pregnant. The language here is a bit odd but a lot of people probably have similar external behavior, and I don’t think we need to judge people’s choices that don’t negatively impact others.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Ugh remember when doctors announced they were going to treat all women of childbearing years as “prepregnant”? That really steamed my biscuits, man.

        2. Snark*

          But there are demonstrable reasons to avoid things like alcohol or bioaccumulative toxins when trying to conceive. It’s not the same thing as performing pregnancy to influence the universe.

          And I’ll judge what I like, thanks. It’s a ridiculous exercise in cargo-cultism and I’ll not pretend otherwise.

    1. Snark*

      If you want to believe in woo, go right ahead, but it’s absolutely ridiculous for someone who is not actually pregnant to be treated as pregnant, or to expect others to do so.

      1. Anonyna*

        God yes. Thank you. This is just enabling an unhealthy delusion and pushing someone further out of touch with reality. Just no.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          But isn’t that similar to Drew? He believes something about his body that isn’t true, he knows it isn’t true, and wants special accommodations for it.

          1. Tardy*

            Similar, but not in the important respects. Drew is very likely dealing with a mental health problem. This person is making a deliberately choice. That’s a very different thing.

          2. Snark*

            Practicing woo because you think it’ll make you get pregnant is a little different from Drew’s (notional) dysmorphia.

          3. LawBee*

            Well, there is research that indicates there is a brain function issue that leads to BIID.

            Asking for pregnancy accommodations when you’re not pregnant is – something else entirely. And kind of concerning. The Secret won’t get you pregnant, no matter how much you want it.

              1. Nobody Here by That Name*

                If you read a lot of mysteries would that mean the butler did it?

                If you read a lot of cookbooks would you truly have a bun in the oven?

                I’ll show myself out…

              2. LBK*

                I was about to say that as a man I’m glad I’m safe from unexpected book pregnancies, but I am currently reading The Left Hand of Darkness, so…

                1. Batshua*

                  Wait, does a book pregnancy mean I’d give birth to books?

                  Because that might be cool, as long as they’re paperback. No way in hell am I birthing a hardcover!

            1. Becca*

              I think it could help a bit if it lead to less stress of the “why can’t I conceive??” sort, but it would be a tricky bit of double think and other methods of reducing that stress would probably be easier.

              At any rate, I do think there’s a distinction in that it’s a deliberate choice whereas Drew is probably a mental condition even if not the one we’re speculating about (according to OP the documentary is on people who *believe* they have a physical disability when they don’t, not just people who say they do for any old reason), so even though it’s not really your employers business that you’re trying to conceive I still feel that if you requested accommodations for this purpose you should be clear that you don’t *need* them, whereas I don’t really blame Drew for saying he was paraplegic (only in passing apparently), whether it’s because he does have a delusion about it to the point where it can’t be considered a purposeful lie (most likely, since he supposedly wasn’t defending his need for accommodation at the time) or because he was worried about the stigma of his actual illness and couldn’t think of better wording.

          4. Fortitude Jones*

            But again, Drew has asked for no special accommodations according to the OP. It sounds like he got the parking space by default because others saw his chair and decided he needed to park there instead of them.

            1. yasmara*

              I have been a pregnant woman twice and asked for exactly zero accomodations. (And, of course, there are pregnancies in which extreme accomodations might be needed, such as full bedrest, but a normal pregnancy usually doesn’t need accomodations within the first few weeks in a job where bathroom access isn’t restricted.)

              1. Manders*

                Yes, I’m confused by this because I’m not sure what accommodations a pregnant person would need in the first trimester if they’re working a normal office job. There are some jobs where pregnancy really does mean you can’t be exposed to certain chemicals, lift certain boxes, go for hours without a bathroom break, and so on. But I’m not really sure what a person who’s visualizing being pregnant would need, unless they’re taking it so far that they’re really experiencing symptoms like morning sickness, and in that case they should be treated like anyone else who’s having trouble with nausea.

          5. Tuxedo Cat*

            Despite having mixed feelings about Drew’s situation, he’s not asking for special accommodations. Your friend is.

      2. CutUp*

        Well, there were a million comments yesterday about how pregnant women should lead the charge on perfume bans, so I think most commentators do believe in accommodations that help both pregnant and non-pregnant people.
        CrystalMama didn’t say anything about what those accommodations were – they could be as simple as changing the cleaning spray.
        I don’t think we should leap on a commentator because we don’t like her aesthetics.

          1. CutUp*

            The aesthetics of her comment, ie word choice and the style of her writing, seems to provoke a lot of histrionics when people yesterday advocated for pretty similar policies on the smoking post. It seems like anyone who has a mildly alternative style of writing or lifestyle gets really jumped on around here. People don’t seem to try to parse the content of what’s said, just whether or not it falls into the group think tone. Hence the degradation of comment quality as the tone police go wild.

              1. Anonymouse*

                I think you have it backwards, snark. Semantics is the content or meaning of the comment, which commentators are ignoring.

                1. LouiseM*

                  Right, CutUp’s point was that commenters here all tend to write in the same style and dismiss people who write differently–even if the content of their comments is the same.

                  Now, I happen to disagree with this–I remember CrystalMama’s comments on earlier posts and they have been bonkers even compared to other bonkers commenters. But CutUp is correct to point out the aesthetic differences.

                  And I think this detour into linguistics has been enough of a nitpick/derail session for today, so let’s get back into the question, shall we?

    2. LouiseM*

      CrystalMama, I usually try to take an empathetic approach too, but this would make me NUTS. Speaking of nuts, that’s what your SIL’s friend is if she “truly believes” she’s pregnant when she’s not. As someone who has been unable to get pregnant in the past, I would be seeing red if I gave someone accommodations based on their pregnancy and found out they were only “spiritually” pregnant. Hell, I would love to get accommodations for pregnancy even though I’m not pregnant! But I don’t because I live in the real world.

      Frankly, that was also my initial reaction to Drew’s situation (especially because I have MS in my family, so wheelchair use is no joke to me) but since doing a little research on this I’ve developed more sympathy. Some of the people with this disorder have even tried to injure themselves so they would need a wheelchair–they are really sick in the head and deserve pity, not contempt.

    3. Gollum*

      “She request and gets the accommodations of a pregnant woman – since she is in a spiritual way. Several times, she has also become physically aware and then needs further accommodations.”

      Just have to say it – thats a bit too woo for me. And that the company goes along with accommodations? Wow.

      Off to Google pregnancy mental disorders…

      1. Holistic/Holy Stick*

        So, if she’s “spiritually” pregnant and pees on the stick, instead of 1 line or 2, does she see a crystal or something?

      2. Natalie*

        There is an actual condition called pseudocyesis (aka false pregnancy) where a person believes they are pregnant when they are not. They can have normal pregnancy symptoms like nausea or missing periods, sometimes even abdominal swelling. It’s a rather interesting condition.

        1. The Original Flavored K*

          It’s pretty common in dogs, too, and because people with that condition are having physical symptoms, I would accommodate wholeheartedly. Hell, I’d be willing to accommodate Drew, or at least continue with the accommodations he hasn’t asked for — this honestly sounds to me like it could be in the same family as Capgras and Cotard’s.

          For someone who is experiencing no symptoms but simply wants to be treated like they’re pregnant because they think that’ll influence the universe? Nope.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think historically “belief” has been treated as causal in such pregnancies in human, when it’s just as common that you believe you’re pregnant because you have such symptoms, and I would presume its commonality in dogs would support that theory.

          2. Natalie*

            The threading makes it a little unclear but I was responding to Gollum’s aside about pregnancy mental disorders! To be frank I didn’t actually read CrystalMama’s original comment past the first sentence or so.

        2. Gollum*

          I had heard about that which is why I went to google. But personally, and this may just be me, I don’t believe that THINKING yourself pregnant, in order to put it out to the universe so that you will BECOME pregnant qualifies as the same type of psychosomatic illness.

    4. Penny Lane*

      Oh please. Now THIS is the definition of woo that we were talking about the other day.

      What “accommodations of a pregnant woman” does she ask for and receive? When I was pregnant, because I had an underlying condition making me exceptionally high-risk, my ob-gyn requested that I be granted a close-in spot in my workplace parking lot (it was a huge parking lot) and provided the appropriate paperwork to facilitate that. I had a medical professional “testifying” that I was in physical need of a close-in spot. Does your friend get to request a close-in spot just because she really really really wants to be pregnant? That’s called a delusion.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Actually, there are a lot of pregnancy accommodations that are pretty simple.
        Though I’ve never carried to term, I asked for and received
        – vegetarian lunches instead of sandwiches with cold cuts at catered meetings
        – no Lysol spray at my desk cluster
        – a yoga ball to sit on instead of a normal chair
        – fewer morning meetings to accommodate nausea
        I think any reasonable boss in the US would let these things through without asking for 10 doctors notes and your pregnancy test.

            1. LBK*

              My personal version of this is calling in to meetings that are being held in my building rather than attending them in person because I’m just too lazy to get up from my desk.

              1. Arjay*

                I do that so much and get comments sometimes. In the past it was because I wasn’t issued a laptop so meeting in a conference room was essentially down time for me. Even now with a laptop, it’s so much easier to multitask from my desk when I have only a small portion of a meeting that affects me.

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          The way it was spoken about in the letter makes it sound like she’s open about it being a ‘spiritual pregnancy’ rather than a physical one, and that’s the part that I feel would not fly in US workplaces. “I think I’m pregnant” vs “I’m pregnant on a spiritual level.” One would get accommodations, one would get ‘I’msorrywhat??’

  10. Leatherwings*

    Oof. Poor Drew and poor people around him. This is hard. He’s clearly dealing with stuff that’s really hard for him to deal with and really hard for everyone around him to understand and deal with too.

    I’d be careful of thinking of this as an awful and abhorrent lie – it seems like it’s not really a lie to Drew. This sort of reminds me of the letter where the woman who was obviously having an hysterical pregnancy (did I make that up?). You just have to deal with it as compassionately as possible, and as long as it’s not significantly interfering with the work you’re doing it’s best to let it be.

      1. sin nombre*

        It occurs to me that that’s a very strange term. Aren’t all pregnancies hysterical?

        /random word musing

        1. Leatherwings*

          I hesitated when I wrote it because it felt wrong somehow. I looked up the letter and I should have used the word “phantom” pregnancy. Oops!

          1. Turboencabulator Engineer*

            I’m picturing a newborn that comes out wearing a mask and has an unhealthy obsession with opera.

    1. MLB*

      I’m generally a skeptical person, but I wonder if it’s possible that he does have a condition in which he needs a wheelchair, and to avoid having to give details he just claims to be a paraplegic? Still a bit odd if it’s true, but just trying to understand why anyone would fake being paralyzed.

      1. Temperance*

        He is in a documentary walking and talking about how he doesn’t physically need a wheelchair. So no.

  11. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Here’s the way I would look at it, OP: when it comes to disability accommodation, across the board, the question is never “what are the limits of what this person can possibly physically do” but rather “what specific needs does this person have to help them be as functional and productive as everyone else?”

    Bodily integrity disorder is, from what I understand it, actually a physical issue rather than a purely psychological one; the brain is missing some links that identify the limb(s) in question as “mine, part of me, these belong here.” It’s a reverse of phantom limb syndrome, and ties into the same structures.

    Drew is more comfortable in a wheelchair, minimally interacting with limbs to which he doesn’t have all the standard neurological connections. As far as you, as his employer, are concerned, that’s probably as far as you need to go until and unless something arises that makes standard wheelchair accommodations suddenly too onerous to manage.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I’ve seen documentaries on this where the person is capable of functioning normally even though they feel more ‘themselves’ to have a physical disability. Obviously we can’t tell where Drew falls in this but I don’t think they always have a neurological block to that body part.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I never suggested that Drew was incapable of functioning “normally.” As I said in my first paragraph, it’s not about the absolute of whether or not he can stand; it’s about how he functions best.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It isn’t really. What the brain is signaling to him (as I understand it) is essentially “there’s not supposed to be anything there, those limbs aren’t a part of me, they’re something alien.” People with BID have pretty severely harmed themselves in order to get the offending limbs removed.

        Again, the comparison with phantom limb syndrome — “I feel like I have a hand there and it hurts” when the limb has been amputated.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I think there’s some interesting neurological crossover. My first encounter with this concept was actually with somebody with a clinical birth defect that left him with short arms, and his neurology insisted his arms were too *long*. Because of his physical status he found doctors willing to do surgery, and he was incredibly happy with the result.

          What I found really enlightening about that, as somebody who was orthopedically able-bodied, is that the “right” body for him was *farther* from the average and not closer to it.

        2. RabbitRabbit*

          When I think of phantom limb syndrome I’m reminded of a quote from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who dressed-down a contractor for trying to claim disabled veteran status over having hurt an ankle during military prep school. She asked him if his foot hurt that day (of the questioning), and when he said yes, she said, “”My feet hurt, too. In fact the balls of my feet burn continuously and I feel like there is a nail being hammered into my right heel right now.” She doesn’t have feet, after losing both of her lower legs after the chopper she was flying was shot down over Iraq.

            1. KellyK*

              It doesn’t, but twisting your ankle while playing football shouldn’t get you set-asides reserved for service-disabled veterans, just because the injury happened at a military prep school. This is a guy who was exaggerating his status severely as a way to make money. He literally referred to a football injury as “crosses that I bear in my service to our great country.” Duckworth, who actually was permanently disabled in actual combat, has every right to call BS on that.

      2. Zillah*

        I don’t think that it does, though. It’s certainly a more colloquial way of putting it, but I don’t see anything inherently contradictory.

        1. The New Wanderer*

          This. The video editors probably chose that line out of dozens that he used in explaining how he feels about his condition because it’s catchy and unusual, but not necessarily more ‘correct’ than the neurological explanation involved with bodily integrity disorder (or whatever is going on).

    2. Thlayli*

      I saw a documentary about people with this condition and at least some of them feel very strongly that the specific part of their body isn’t really theirs. One of them likened it to if you or I woke up one day to find a hand missing and a strangers hand sewn on to your body. But its not necessarily purely a mental illness – we don’t really know yet what causes it.

      I actually have a theory about this disorder based on nothing but a hunch. I suspect that some or all of the people with this disorder may actually be chimaeras. For anyone who doesn’t know, a chimaera is a person that has formed from two separate embryos that fused together. Just like an embryo can split into identical twins (up to about 14 days max after conception), two embryos can also fuse to form one (we don’t know as much about this but I’m guessing it would also have to be prior to 14 days after conceptions). When this happens, individual organs will usually come from one embryo, so for example your liver might be from one embryo but your brain from another. This is common in some other mammals and many insects but was thought to be either very rare or non-existent in humans – until the case of the lady who gave birth to children that were not genetically hers. it turned out her reproductive system had genes from one embryo and her blood from a different embryo. And now we think it is more common than people realise.

      If my hunch-that-is-based-on-nothing is correct, then for example in this case the muscles in his legs could have come from a different embryo than his brain. So he could quite rightly feel that they are not his legs and not feel right walking on them.

      (There’s also a theory that chimaerism could be one reason people are transgender. Its easy to see how someone with a brain grown from a female embryo and reproductive organs grown from a male embryo would be transgender. But again this is just a theory though I’ve seen it discussed on at least one message board for trans issues.)

      So basically, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions OP. The human body is a weird and wonderful and fascinating thing and all sorts of stuff is possible. The documentary shows that he isn’t intentionally lying, as Alison says he has an actual condition, just not the one he thinks it is. As another PP said he might hand just said “paraplegic” because he doesn’t feel comfortable telling everyone the name of the condition he does have, due to the stigma.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Huh, what an interesting theory! I love hunches-based-on-nothing in general — the Wild Mass Guessing pages are my favorite part of TVTropes, too.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Very interesting idea, thanks for sharing this. We just don’t know what it is we don’t know.

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Hear hear. There’s the social model of disability and the medical one. The medical model is “you’re broken, how can we fix you?” whereas the social model is “what do you need in order to be able to do the same as anyone else?”

      Another aspect of the social model is that people can self declare needs and impairments without needing medical assessments. To be honest I don’t know anyone faking a disability ‘for a laugh’ – they might do it to claim benefits, but quietly maintaining the need for wheelchair use in the workplace, without making a fuss, doesn’t ring those bells. Honestly it sounds like Drew just wants to do his job without fuss.

      Nowadays we just use the social model – at least in UK. So, let’s look at what you need in place so Drew can do his job / access the cafeteria / be safe during an evacuation / any other work related issues, and not the reason why.

      Thats the best, kindest, most practical and least discriminatory way to handle this. And if it breaks new ground, so what? In future you might have another mobility impaired colleague who will benefit from there being established practices for these issues.

      Just remember that disability accommodations must be reasonable. So eg they won’t bankrupt the company. But Drew clearly has an issue and so far as we can tell it’s not for attention or as some kind of point scoring prank – so I would continue to accommodate his needs where reasonable.

  12. NCKat*

    I’m a wheelchair user and I would say give him the benefit of the doubt here. How long ago was the film made? If it was made some time ago, he could have become paralyzed for real since then; you don’t know. Wheelchairs are no fun, I can tell you.

    1. Oryx*

      Especially with documentaries: just because it may have been released recently that doesn’t indicate when it was filmed. Those films take years to put together.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        They also often distort the truth, through editing, coercion or leading questions. I have known people who have been unhappy with their portrayals in documentaries and I would never ever take a TV show as fact just because it shows someone on film.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        They also often distort the truth, through editing, coercion or leading questions. I have known people who have been unhappy with their portrayals in documentaries and I would never ever take a TV show as fact just because it shows someone on film.

        It’s also possible that someone could be able to walk AND need a wheelchair. It’s possible he uses paraplegic as easy shorthand (because when you’re not completely paralysed people don’t really get it – just look at the recent letter writer who said they had a physical disability and had to deal with commenters asking why she could do anything).

        I agree with those who are focusing on empathy.

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          …most films in circulation have either an IMDB presence, or copyright information directly in the credits of the films themselves.

            1. Penny Lane*

              Good grief. Alison has asked repeatedly to take letter writers at their word. If it was evident that what was in the film was Drew-35-years-ago-when-he-still-had-hair-and-wore-bell-bottoms, then the letter writer would have mentioned that. People here twist themselves into such pretzel knots.

            2. Tuxedo Cat*

              Some documentaries note when interviews were filmed. A lot of times, you can find the info online too.

  13. Hey Nonnie*

    Yeah, I agree… it’s a mental health accommodation, rather than a physical disability, but both are covered under ADA. Just loop in those who will need to be aware that this is a mental health rather than a physical accommodation. From there, how Drew handles his health condition is between him and his healthcare professionals.

    I do wonder if the documentary should be brought up to Drew, though — not in an accusatory way, but to let him know that people in the office have already stumbled across it, and it may be something he needs to deal with if a coworker/client/vendor asks him about it in the future. I’m sure Drew would prefer not to be blindsided by questions in that way… but at the same time, he had to have known that was a risk when he agreed to participate in the documentary, so I don’t know which is the best way to go.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      This is a good point that didn’t occur to me. You might need to have a conversation with Drew here even if my preference would be not to.

  14. Myrin*

    Oh wow, that’s an interesting letter for sure; I had no idea an issue like this existed.
    (Also, I marvel at the OP – and another coworker! – happening to watch this short film with one of her reports in it! Just out of pure curiosity, OP: are there some kind of regional ties between this film and your area or was this really just a huge coincidence?)

    1. Manders*

      I think the rise of streaming services has played a part in this–documentaries used to be a fairly niche thing you had to track down in a small theater or catch at just the right time if you wanted to watch them. I think a lot of documentary subjects from the 90s and early 2000s didn’t think about the possibility that the films they were making would be a few clicks away in the future.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      The film got a lot of publicity a few months ago – I saw commercials for it, and 2 – 3 news articles. Maybe on Netflix or a similar streaming thing?

      1. bohtie*

        that’s what I was thinking. I think I know what film the OP is referencing because it was a bit of a meme for a while — seemed like EVERYONE had seen it.

        1. TempTation*

          There was a minor plot point in a recent Robert Galbraith book similar to this – I wonder if that spurred a lot of documentary viewing? (Granted, in the book one person seemed legit, and the other seemed to be an attention hound.)

  15. AnotherAlison*

    This is an interesting case, for sure. One thing I wonder is if he can still use his legs with full functionality. My mother had a broken hip, and the rate of strength decline in her injured side and good side was amazing. I assume no one knows if he ever walks or stands outside of work.

  16. Chelsea*

    I actually wouldn’t alert HR. I can really see this getting out around the office and potentially embarrassing him, and worse, I don’t think it will make him want to change his behavior. All it will do is make everyone really uncomfortable. If he wants to be a paraplegic because of a mental illness, and it isn’t really impacting his work or others, I would honestly pretend like I had never seen the documentary.

      1. bananaboat*

        the natural consequences? He has a mental disorder. He isn’t pretending to have a disability he believes he has it. He is ill he has done nothing wrong other than live his life.

        1. Snark*

          He may have a real disorder. It is also resulting in behavior that is problematic and offensive, and which will read as bizarre and deceptive when coworkers find out. Both are true.

          1. Snark*

            To clarify, my issue is with the claim that he’s actually paraplegic. If he had simply stated that he has a condition which makes it more comfortable to use a wheelchair, I think that’s more fundamentally honest.

            1. bonkerballs*

              But what right do any of his coworkers have to what his actual diagnosis is? We give people advice on this very website all the time to skirt the truth when it comes to medical issues, especially when it comes to mental health issues. Mental heath issues carry strong stigmas, and this is certainly not your run of the mill depression or anxiety that’s gaining more visibility and understanding. Saying paraplegic because that’s something people understand rather than explaining the actual nature of his disorder and risk people telling him to quit faking it is entirely understandable to me.

          2. Liane*

            “He may have a real disorder. It is also resulting in behavior that is problematic and offensive, and which will read as bizarre and deceptive when coworkers find out. Both are true.”
            That too. Alison did answer a letter from a manager who had a report with diagnosed hypochondria and it was creating problems with coworkers because of how he was acting/talking in the office. I think it was if a coworker had a medical issue, either he said he had/once had, or shortly thereafter came down with, a worse case.

            This is also likely to end in a case of Competing ADA/Accessibility. What happens when there are other employees/customers/clients with a physical disability and a disabled parking permit and Drew is taking the last handicapped space? Yet another reason to let HR know.

    1. Liane*

      If Drew agreed to be filmed for this documentary, didn’t withdraw from the project during filming/postproduction, and hasn’t withdrawn his consent to appear since release–it follows that he is okay with the possibility of being embarrassment as well as possibly dealing with whatever feelings/opinions others express about it.

      1. Anon,Anon, Anon*

        Honestly, I wonder if that is part of his disorder? I don’t know, but I would wonder. If I was in Drew’s shoes, I’d avoid the limelight like the plague, but he sought it out. That makes me think he’s on some level wanting people to know.

    2. MLB*

      That would only be an issue if you had an HR department who wasn’t doing their job properly. If rumors start circulating because the manager went to HR, there’s a bigger problem at hand.

  17. WillyNilly*

    This doesn’t strike me as so different than hypocondria, which is a very real disorder. Drew has a car with hand controls and a wheel chair – these are not inexpensive items; his disorder, while perhaps not parapalgia, is definitely impacting his life in profound ways. To me, that supports how real this condition is.

    I think Allison’s advice is spot on.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreed, and wheelchairs are a massive pain in the butt to manage. Whatever his disorder really is, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s willing to put up with all this in order to live his best life as he sees it.

      1. Goya de la Mancha*

        Agreed, in which no one is being “harmed”. You can argue the ethics of it yes, but he is not physically harming anyone, preventing them from living their life, or cashing in on their good will.

        I have a friend who is POSITIVE that she has PCOS, despite several doctors/tests/etc saying otherwise. She hurts no one (in our orbit at least), she is actually very knowledge able about the condition because she’s so concerned she has it, and I’m not a medical professional. It’s just one of those smile and nod type things…not much else you can do. Now if someone with PCOS wants to take her on, that’s their deal and I’m staying out of it.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Hah, and as someone who does have PCOS, I’d have absolutely no problem with her saying she has it! I mean, it’s a barely understood mess of symptoms to begin with, so who knows? When I got to the point where doctors were saying that you didn’t actually need to have polycystic ovaries to have polycystic ovarian syndrome, I basically stopped taking it seriously as a diagnosis that some gynecologist plopped on me 15 years ago.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              I usually settle with “Ugh, this BS again.” But I’m not sure that’s really appropriate for medical literature :)

    2. oranges & lemons*

      Yeah, I really don’t think it’s the LW’s place to try to determine whether her employees “really need” any particular medical aids (not that the letter itself implied this! It’s just the sense I’m getting from some of the comments here). That’s between Drew and his doctor.

  18. SallytooShort*

    Except for alerting HR in case the situation changes, honestly, I’d leave this alone. Drew hasn’t asked for any accommodation. And he’s not “faking” for the fun of it all or to scam anyone. He has a disorder.

    1. SallytooShort*

      On second thought, I’m not even sure about HR. It depends on how good your HR team is. But sometimes they can be the most gossip fond people around.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I do hope that HR won’t be terrible. They’re only humans and I can imagine them totally blowing this situation rather than following Alison’s calm, collected recommendations. Maybe OP can present the situation in such a way – probably by leading with the mental disorder – so they don’t go straight for the torches and pitchforks :(

        I did also wonder if OP would want to talk to Drew before going to HR in case there is fallout from that decision. I could see HR at the very least denying him his parking spot (and if that happened, people might start asking more questions).

  19. AB*

    The ADA includes people who do not have a disability, but are regarded as having a disability, so even if Drew did not have a mental condition, this scenario would be covered. I think Allison’s advice is great. I’d follow it.

    I have an invisible disability and use handicap parking, require some mild accommodations. I receive a very obvious medical treatment while in the office (IV hydration) and my experience has been that employers are unsure how to navigate ADA issues and that because it is an emotional issue it can get very sticky.

    1. BookCocoon*

      Based on my admittedly brief Googling on the matter, the “regarded as” portion only applies to discrimination, not accommodation. So someone can argue that their rights were violated if they were discriminated against because others believed they had a disability they don’t actually have, but they are not entitled to accommodations if do not have a disability but are only “regarded as” having a disability.

      I would be very interested to know if there’s legal precedent for providing workplace accommodations for someone with body integrity disorder.

      1. Knights Who Say Knit*

        I think the relevant part of the ADA here is that mental health disabilities still count as disabilities. It’s not really relevant that he’s regarded as having a disability, since he DOES have a disability; it just happens to be a disability with a psychological (or neurological) rather than physical origin.

  20. CyberTech*

    just a few questions

    1 – are you 100% positive its Drew in the film? I mean would you would be willing to testify to that kind of level of belief it is him?

    2 – are you 100% sure he has no medical issues that may cause mobility issues? Some people often use walking aids and wheelchairs despite being able to walk as their conditions might not prevent them from walking but prolonged activity can be very painful

    If you are 100% positive in answer to those questions, I’d think a word with a lawyer who can advise you about disability & employment issues may be worthwhile as you are providing accommodations for Drew (parking space) & you need to be sure that those are provided appropriately to the appropriate people and not abused. If your legal advice turns out to be ‘leave it alone’ then at least you’ve made an effort to check it out & if there is any public fallout from this you and your company would be able to point to having taken legal advice about the issue

    Personal Aside – I really hate people who ‘pretend’ or emulate physical disabilities. You either have one or you dont (IMO) & those who take away facilities or goodwill from those who really do suffer are not very nice people (again IMO)

    1. Amber Rose*

      Regarding your second question, I kind of doubt that’s the case if the answer to the first is yes, since the film he was in was specifically regarding people who do not have the physical disability they believe they do.

      1. Zillah*

        Without knowing any other information about the film, I do think it’s possible that “need” was narrowly defined. I’ve seen that a lot, including in pop culture – if you can do anything without it, you’re “faking” it. As someone whose mother has ALS and has progressed from never needing a wheelchair to always needing a power chair in the last 18 months, that’s a pov that really bothers me but is quite common. I’m not sure that that’s the most likely situation, but I do think it’s a possible one.

        1. LBK*

          I understand we try to be pretty cognizant of things like this on AAM, but I think this is erring too far on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt when they have already actively waived it. I assume the documentary crew wasn’t secretly filming these people and making assumptions about their condition – it sounds like Drew, by his own assessment and admission, does not have any physical disability that requires use of a mobility aid.

          We’re not talking about seeing someone stand up and walk around for 5 minutes at the grocery store and assuming that means they don’t actually need their wheelchair – he himself said he doesn’t actually have the disorder that “necessitates” him using it. It would be pretty weird for him to agree to be part of a documentary where the whole point is to focus on people with BIID who don’t have physical disabilities if he did in fact have a physical disability.

          1. Zillah*

            I did say that it wasn’t the most likely situation. However, I’ve seen powerful people use their platform to narrowly interpret disabilities in really problematic ways, use what people say out of context, and make sweeping generalizations based in stereotypes rather than facts too much to not raise it as a possibility.

            For example: access to better mental health treatment is often portrayed as a core part of addressing interpersonal gun violence, despite the fact that mental illness has been empirically shown to play a role in only a small percentage of interpersonal gun violence. The most powerful people in the United States (in both parties) regularly reinforce this narrative, which further stigmatizes people with mental illnesses.

            I just don’t give our society the benefit of the doubt when it comes to appropriately representing medical issues when it’s possible to score cheap points and/or consumers.

            1. LBK*

              I’m still not really following your concern here – are you suggesting the documentary crew brought him in under false pretenses, eg didn’t fully explain what kind of person they were looking for, and then portrayed his situation in a misleading way?

              1. Zillah*

                I’m suggesting that footage and testimonials can be edited in very misleading ways, and that the implications of medical conditions can be misrepresented. I’m not sure why you think it’s so out there – I’ve certainly seen documentaries that took significant liberties in how they approached their subject, and reality tv is notorious for selective editing.

                And, again, I didn’t say that I thought that that was the most likely situation, so I’m not totally sure why this is a point of contention at all.

                1. LBK*

                  I think there’s a difference between editing someone’s footage to create a certain narrative vs putting out a cast call for people with invisible physical disabilities and then portraying them as having a completely different medical condition.

                  My point is that Drew had to self-select into being a part of a documentary whose whole subject was people who don’t actually have physical disabilities, so I don’t understand everyone dancing around “well, maybe he does, you can’t tell just because he can walk sometimes.” He said himself that is not the case – you don’t have to give the benefit of the doubt because he already waived it.

    2. Penny Lane*

      Can we take the LW at her word that she can actually *recognize her very own co-worker* in a film? That this isn’t some blurry Zapruder-like film shot with Vaseline on the lens?

      And given that the film’s whole intent was to show people who don’t have disabilities but pretend that they do, it would seem evident that if this was really “hey, meet Drew — he doesn’t technically need a wheelchair but he has conditions that make it more comfortable for him to use a wheelchair,” that would have been a) pointed out in the film or b) meant that Drew wouldn’t have been in the film in the first place.

      Take the LW at her word here.

      1. CyberTech*

        People do look like others, especially on film & it is possible even when knowing a person well to mis-identify. I’m not disputing the word of the LW, just merely wondering if it has been considered.

        Also documentary crews and others who make these kinds of films are not above pushing their agenda, many have being caught lying before or hiding issues about people to push one specific line of thought. Again thats not a questioning of what the LW has said or might believe, just wondering if something has been considered.

        This kind of critical approach should be encouraged if HR and legal advice are going to be considered. The questions of ‘do we know all the facts?’ ‘are all the things we know correct? did we make any assumptions?’

        no need to be so attacking Penny

      2. Catalin*

        I concur with Cyber; people have dopplegangers, people have twins, did the film specifically say, “This is Drew X Smith from Minneapolis, he’s 34 and has…..”?

        And aside from the point, if the case is that he has conditions that make it more comfortable to use a wheelchair, then yes, he uses a wheelchair.

      3. Tuxedo Cat*

        I agree… In the documentaries I’ve watched, unless the people choose to be anonymous (and then they’re shown in the shadows or blurred out), their names and even location are used.

    3. LawBee*

      “Personal Aside – I really hate people who ‘pretend’ or emulate physical disabilities. You either have one or you dont (IMO) & those who take away facilities or goodwill from those who really do suffer are not very nice people (again IMO)”

      You should look up BIID. It may change your mind on this – it’s likely he isn’t pretending, but that he has an actual physical brain issue. Read comments upstream as well (fposte is good, as always). I agree in principle, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what is happening here.

  21. Fabulous*

    I’ve seen a documentary on this disorder following a woman who thought she was meant to be parapalegic. She often went skiing, but otherwise she was confining herself to a wheelchair every day. She was even going so far to look for a doctor who would sever her spinal cord to be fully disabled, but she hadn’t found a doctor to do it. So while it may not be a physical thing, and I can’t imagine what Drew is going through mentally. I agree HR needs to be looped in though to the situation.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yep, and I’ve also heard about people with BID who have done things like deliberately given themselves severe frostbite so they could get their feet/legs amputated.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I find it really fascinating, and I’m really interested in how we negotiate these things culturally. I can, without much difficulty, imagine a world where this ceases to be called a delusion.

        I also think one reason why it’s challenging is because of the stigma of disability; it can be really startling for people outside of the community to understand Deaf parents who actively want their child to be Deaf, or little people who want their kids to be little.

        1. Kj*

          One of my favorite book addresses ideas about disability and the desire for parents and children to share or not share the having a disability. The book is Far From the Tree and it has chapters on the deaf community and on the little person community. It is really fascinating for anyone who is curious to learn more about this idea.

          1. CMDRBNA*

            I love this book – I’ve read it several times and it really helped me understand my mother, who has autism, better.

      2. LBK*

        Never seen a real-life example of it but there was an episode of Nip/Tuck about this where a client wanted the doctors to cut his leg off and they wouldn’t do it so he froze it off with dry ice. Didn’t realize that had such a strong basis in reality.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep. I mean, it isn’t common (nothing about BIID really is) but it is definitely a thing that has happened on multiple occasions.

        2. bonkerballs*

          Same on Grey’s Anatomy. Someone wanted their foot amputated and when the doctors wouldn’t, he ended up stealing a chainsaw from someone who had been brought in from a chainsaw carving accident and doing it himself.

        1. A Wheelchair User*

          As someone who is actually physically disabled, this aspect of that woman’s story really, really bothers me. If someone claims she’s “supposed” to be physically disabled but can nonetheless magically stop being “supposed” to be disabled if it gets in the way of her having fun, that doesn’t sound like “I truly believe I’m supposed to be disabled” so much as “I like pretending to be disabled and talking about how I’m ‘supposed’ to be disabled while still enjoying the privileges that come with being able-bodied whenever I feel like it.” I don’t get to stop being disabled when it’s inconvenient. I don’t have the option to decide that I’m going to be able-bodied today because I want to go skiing. I can deal with people who genuinely completely believe in their “disability” and live accordingly (although I will freely admit that I’d probably struggle with it somewhat if I actually had to interact with someone like that regularly). I cannot really deal with people who treat a major part of my identity, which I obviously did not choose and which forces me to put up with a great deal of exclusion, discrimination, and other mistreatment and marginalization from society, as something they can adopt and remove at will. If she really thinks she’s supposed to be paraplegic, then as far as I’m concerned, she can either try to find ways to accept and cope with the fact that she’s able-bodied or she can actually live as if she were paraplegic, but acting as if she’s paraplegic except when she wants to do things she couldn’t do if she were paraplegic sounds a whole lot less like a genuine issue with how she perceives her body than like some sort of deeply offensive cosplay.

          (It strikes me as being similar to the difference between a white person who presents themselves as a person of color 24/7 and a white person who puts on blackface and speaks in AAVE on a regular basis but who conveniently becomes white again as soon as they go to a job interview or get pulled over by a cop. I can manage to believe that the former might have a mental illness causing them to genuinely think they are a person of color, but I have a very hard time believing in the existence of a mental illness that causes a white person to genuinely think they are a person of color unless they’re in a situation where they’d rather be white. Drew might be genuinely convinced of his “disability,” but I am thoroughly unconvinced when it comes to someone whose position is apparently “I’m supposed to be paraplegic, but since I don’t happen to know any doctors who’d perform a profoundly unethical and illegal medical procedure that would certainly cost them their medical license and almost certainly land them in prison, I guess I’ll just have to settle for pretending to be paraplegic when I feel like it and enjoying being able-bodied when I don’t!”)

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            The skiing thing certainly does make her BIID diagnosis seem sketchy to me. Why is it okay with her to have functioning legs when she skiis?

      1. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

        ^ this is where my mind is too. There are some horrible injuries that come with skiing and a high number end up with broken bones / spinal cords.

  22. STG*

    Definitely odd but collective shrug from me. The parking space does make me a little uncomfortable though. I don’t think that’s necessary.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Might depend on if there’s other who need the space, or if there are enough spaces to accommodate all who need them.

  23. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at a letter here before.

    What Drew is doing is wrong, OP, and it needs to be addressed immediately. By pretending to have a physical disability, he is essentially mocking actual disabled people and making their lives harder.

    1. SallytooShort*

      He isn’t pretending. Nor is he mocking anyone. He believes he is supposed to be a paraplegic. It’s a documented medical disorder.

      1. Snark*

        Why not both? It can be a legitimate psychological disorder and be intensely problematic for the physically disabled. I’m reminded of the hypochondriac who mirrored his colleagues’ cancer diagnoses from a while back.

        1. SallytooShort*

          Because a legitimate psychological disorder is still covered by the ADA. And it is not the same as faking or pretending.

          1. Snark*

            I’m talking about the social ramifications, not the legal ones. Whether it’s covered by ADA or not, the way he’s represented himself is an issue.

            I’d be much more sympathetic if he’d represented his wheelchair use as honestly as he did in the video.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Agreed with this.

              I am a mentally ill person and I would be a lot more accepting of this being presented as what it actually is instead of co-opting someone else’s experience.

              My friend who is in a wheelchair has a plethora of physical problems related to her disability and she struggles on a daily basis to do the basic tasks that many able-bodied people take for granted. Drew was in a documentary walking around and talking about how he didn’t really need a wheelchair. That makes me wonder what he does in private. Is his use of the wheelchair performative when he’s out in public, but when he’s home, he does things “the easy way”?

              1. Leatherwings*

                So you think Drew should need to announce to his workplace that he is mentally ill?

                That seems like a ridiculous requirement. As someone said above, this is a physical manifestation of his mental disability.

                1. Snark*

                  I think he should represent himself honestly – that he has a condition that makes using a wheelchair more comfortable and pleasant. I don’t think he is entitled to claim that he is a bona fide paraplegic.

                2. Leatherwings*

                  Hm. I think that maybe he’s attempted to do that? Like, LW said he mentioned once in passing that he’s paraplegic but otherwise doesn’t talk about it at all.

                3. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  Drew doesn’t have to tell his workplace that he’s mentally ill, but he also shouldn’t be telling them he is paraplegic when he’s not.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  I would be hesitant to represent myself “honestly” if doing so would require him to disclose a mental illness. Just by the comments on this thread, one can imagine how well that would go over. And if he just says he has a condition that makes using a wheelchair “more comfortable and pleasant”–then he has to deal with the able-bodied self-appointed disability police who feel they have the right to determine whether he deserves accommodation. I can completely understand why he said what he did, especially since he believes that’s the correct description for him, whatever his body is currently capable of.

                5. Snark*

                  I have to announce to my workplace that I’m disabled, so that strikes me as less of an imposition than I’m sure you mean to imply.

        2. fposte*

          I think that’s slightly different from Detective Amy’s characterization, though; it can be problematic without being mocking or pretense. (I’m also not sure I agree, but it’s not really up to me to decide since I’m not a wheelchair user.)

    2. Leatherwings*

      I feel like this view assigns some sort of intent to Drew that’s missing. It makes me uncomfortable (especially the car and parking spot thing), and I don’t disagree that it makes it harder for people in wheelchairs, but Drew’s brain really believes he’s paraplegic because he has a real mental disorder.

      I just don’t find it productive for anyone to be angry or furious at something he likely can’t help.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        In the film, Drew walks and is clear that he is not paralyzed and has no actual need for a wheelchair

        Drew knows he is capable of walking.

        1. Leatherwings*

          You’re painting this as really black and white – I used this analogy above but someone who is extremely depressed “knows” they are lucky and have an amazing support system but that doesn’t prevent their mental illness from manifesting itself. Drew might logically know when he sits down and talks with someone that he is not a paraplegic, but his mental illness still manifests itself in him believing he needs a wheelchair most or all of the time.

          Again, I don’t disagree that this is uncomfortable and that the impact is likely harmful for other paraplegics, but I do think it’s much more complex than you’re painting it. Drew is likely not operating under the same logic you and I are.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          The same way that someone with an eating disorder may know that they only weigh 85 pounds or whatever and still believe they are fat, Drew may know that his legs can move and still believe that he is disabled.

          Or the same way that I with my paranoia know very well that people are not secretly watching and judging everything I do and yet still believe that they are–and that cognitive dissonance makes my brain feel like it’s ripping in two sometimes. If I could have something like a wheelchair to make that “brain and reality don’t match fix it FIX IT” feeling I would absolutely get one.

          1. General Ginger*

            Canceling the reply I just started to type, because you phrased it so much better. Thank you!

        3. bonkerballs*

          And I know my anxieties are not founded on rational thinking. Doesn’t make them any less real.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Drew does (probably) have a disability. It’s just not the one the OP originally thought he had. If he has a mental disorder that leads him to believe he needs a wheelchair, he’s not mocking anyone.

      I get where your feelings are coming from, but I think if you reframe it as a different type of disorder, it will read differently to you.

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        Nope. Even through the lens of viewing it as a mental health disorder, I still would want to beat Drew with the cane I’ve needed to walk for the last 20 years until he actually was a paraplegic. I have personally seen more than one person admit to faking a disability merely for the sympathy, and I wouldn’t be able to believe that Drew isn’t doing it at least in part for that reason.

        1. Leatherwings*

          That’s… violent.
          I find it odd that you would steadfastly refuse to believe in his mental disorder.

          1. Statler von Waldorf*

            It’s a 100% pure emotional reaction. Logically, I am aware that it is very jerkish attitude to have and I should be empathic to someone suffering from mental illness, especially since I have mental health issues myself. However, emotionally it just feels like he is making a mockery out of a lifetime of pain and suffering that I have dealt with due to my disability, and I wouldn’t be able to work through it. I wouldn’t actually beat him with my cane, but I would quit my job on the spot rather than work with him again once I found out, the feeling is that strong.

            1. Leatherwings*

              Well, part of being professional is to reign in your emotions when you know they’re not logical…

              This feels like a you issue, not a Drew issue.

              1. Leatherwings*

                I’m realizing this sounded more hostile than I intended. What I’m really saying is: you’re entitled to your emotions, of course. But the way you responded to Alison as if she were objectively “wrong” and used fairly violent rhetoric to describe why you’re angry at a person with a mental disability doesn’t feel that productive or helpful for people reading it. Not everyone has to have the same emotional reaction in order to be a decent or fair person.

                1. Statler von Waldorf*

                  I feel that sharing the fact that some people will have an overwhelming negative emotional reaction and quit when (not if) they find out is useful information to the letter writer. I do believe that Alison is objectively wrong with her statement “if you reframe it as a different type of disorder, it will read differently.” Alison is not physically disabled, I am, and she flat out does not know what it’s like to emotionally deal with the transabled as a physically disabled person.

                  Thank you for reminding me why I don’t comment here anymore.

                2. Thursday Next*

                  @SvW: I agree it’s important for the LW to have this information, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be alone in having a strong reaction. I hope you won’t be discouraged from commenting here.

            2. A Wheelchair User*

              I just wanted to say that, while I don’t have the “beat him” part of the reaction, I definitely do have the “this is incredibly offensive to me and feels like it makes a mockery of what I have to live with” part, so you’re not alone there. I kind of feel like some of the able-bodied people here aren’t really getting why this can be viscerally upsetting to people living with physical disabilities.

              I also have mental health issues. I’m genuinely sympathetic to mental health issues. I get that that makes things a whole lot more complicated than if Drew was faking a disability in order to scam people out of money or something. But to me, this reminds me of both the bird-phobia guy and the guy with hypochondria from a while back. In both cases, I understand that their illness is real, isn’t rational, and isn’t something they can control, and I *also* understand that it’s really not okay to deal with even the most real of mental disorders by shoving your colleagues in front of moving cars, insisting to them that you have every serious illness they or their family members are dealing with, or accusing them of spreading the plague. Similarly, I can accept that Drew may have a real mental disorder, but even if he truly does, that doesn’t change the fact that his behavior crosses a line for me and that I find it really upsetting. I think I’d manage to deal with it if he were honest about his condition and didn’t ask for or accept any accommodations that came at the expense of people with actual physical disabilities (which, to be clear, I’m not saying he does, although the parking space is concerning on that front – I’d very strongly suggest the OP make sure Drew isn’t parking closer than anyone with actual physical disabilities who needs the closest spaces more than he does, both because it’s the right thing to do and because the situation is way, way more likely to boil over if Drew is perceived as not just “using accommodations he doesn’t actually need” but “taking accommodations he doesn’t actually need away from people who do need them”). Seeing him use a wheelchair because he believes he’s “meant” to be disabled when I’d give almost anything to have the luxury of deciding that I was “meant” to be able-bodied would still bother me, but I could probably get over it enough to be civil and work with him as long as those two conditions were met. If not, though…that’d be seriously hard.

              I do get why he’d be hesitant to say “I have a rare mental disorder that makes me think I should use a wheelchair even though I don’t physically need one.” But I don’t really see a good reason why he ever needed to say more than “I use a wheelchair” and perhaps something like “eh, it’s complicated – but I don’t really want to talk health stuff at work” if someone asked why he used the chair. Instead he lied and explicitly claimed a disability he doesn’t have (and since he apparently acknowledges in this documentary that he’s not paraplegic, I do think that constitutes a deliberate lie). That, to me, is worse than the hypochondriac guy telling people that he really did have cancer and dementia and so forth, because at least he presumably actually believed it rather than thinking he was “meant” to have cancer – and people quit over that, because it’s really freaking upsetting to have someone falsely claim to have a serious health problem that you actually have. And I feel like in the rush to make sure we’re not unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill (which is a good goal, to be clear!), people are kind of glossing right over the fact that it’s possible to sympathize with someone’s mental illness *and* sympathize with the fact that physically disabled people are justified in feeling upset about this sort of thing, just as many people of color were to feel upset by Rachel Dolezal. I suspect she’s mentally ill to much the same degree that Drew is; she seemed to have the same sort of belief that she was “meant” to be something she isn’t. That doesn’t change the fact that claiming a marginalized identity that isn’t yours is likely to be very offensive and upsetting to many people who actually belong to the marginalized group in question, and that we really ought to be allowed to feel that way without being told that we’re the problem and we should just get over it.

              1. Statler von Waldorf*

                If I was less of a cranky jerk, (I’m slowing working on it) I’d like to think I’d write something like this. Very well said, thank you.

    4. Rat in the Sugar*

      He’s not mocking anyone if he’s got a genuine mental illness. There are people with this disorder whose brains have so strongly convinced them that certain limbs don’t belong to them that they actually get amputations to “correct” their bodies. This isn’t something that he’s just pretending about, it’s real to him and his brain.

    5. Penny Lane*

      He’s not mocking them IMO – but if handicapped parking spots are limited at this facility, he is taking away a spot from someone who is more deserving.

      It’s outside the scope of a work question, but he’s undoubtedly taking away handicapped spots from people who are more deserving when he’s using those spots at the grocery store, mall, etc.

      1. fposte*

        “More deserving” isn’t how accommodation works, though. And while he may not have a disabled parking tag (the current arrangement sounds merely like a workplace accommodation), I’d just as soon people with wheelchairs parked closer to the store to minimize the chance of being hit by cars anyway.

        1. envirolady*

          I think folks are also forgetting that in many states you can get handicapped car tags for many mental disabilities — depression being one example. Yes, you can still walk, but you are considered “disabled” enough by the government to warrant a spot. Even someone with a wheelchair can’t take it away from you. Or if you have a temporary disability like a broken leg: you aren’t less deserving of a spot than someone who has it “worse” than you. Legally no one cares *how* disabled you are, only that your accommodations are reasonable and are being met.

          1. Becky*

            In some states, I could qualify for a handicapped placard/tags based on the fact that I am an adult under 5 feet tall.

      2. hbc*

        My mom qualifies for a handicapped placard for physical reasons, but I would argue that she’s less in need of a special space than Drew.

        I think this particular argument is only worth having if, say, there are only 2 spots anywhere close to the entrance and 3 employees whose situation would benefit from using them.

    6. lisalee*

      He has a mental illness. That’s a lot different from mocking anyone.

      Also, even if he were “deliberately” pretending to be disabled, I’m loathe to say that we should start questioning people using mobility aids about whether or not they really need them. Many disabled people are able to walk some days and not others, or switch between using different mobility aids. No one should have to prove to strangers that they really need their aids. That doesn’t help normalize disability. In the end it doesn’t seem to actually be impacting anyone for him to use a wheelchair.

      1. Zillah*

        This. I’d rather have a few people “fake” disability to get accommodations they don’t need than closely police based on whether people who present as disabled “really” need accommodations. (I’m not saying the OP is doing the latter, just that I agree with lisalee.)

    7. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I don’t understand this anger. I don’t feel as if my family is being mocked, and he’s not making it harder for my son (as I said in a comment above, my son is disabled, and profoundly so). Plenty of things DO make life harder. Someone with a mental illness acting as if his disability is physical rather than mental has approximately zero impact on my son, though.

      I would be right there with you if he were actually just pretending – as in, he had no physical or mental disability, but wanted a close parking space or some other accommodations just because he thinks it’d be easier and he’s lazy. Then, yeah, I’d be ragey. But…. this does not appear to be in that category at all.

    8. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Consider that it’s really ableist to decide that someone is managing their disabilities differently than you think they ought to.

      1. Thursday Next*

        Although there have been several letters at AAM that have led to discussions of managing disabilities, and whether it’s been done “appropriately” or not—usually these are letters about employees with mental illnesses. I’m thinking of the letter about the man whose hypochondria led him to say he had the same conditions as coworkers, for instance. Commenters discussed at length whether he was managing his hypochondria appropriately.

        1. Observer*

          True. But that’s generally in the context of when it hits other people. Even the hypochondira person, who didn’t physically harm people, was pushing his illness into people’s faces in a way that was disruptive across the board.

          If he was just taking off way too much work, then it would have been only management’s issue – and then it would also not have been their decision as to whether he was managing appropriately, but only whether giving him the time off he needed was an appropriate accommodation.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      Amy, I’ve grown to respect you a lot, and I hear a lot of pain in this comment. Please take some time to dig down and unpack your anger and pain before you do more commenting. Is there some specific incident of someone’s reaction to your friend, or your friend’s struggles to get accommodation, that leaps to your attention when you think of Drew? Is there a chance you’re projecting the pain of ‘my friend can’t walk anymore’ onto ‘but Drew can and it’s not fair!’ ?

      Because this post is ableist as all get out, and that’s not like you.

      Drew isn’t making people’s lives harder. How *other people* react to Drew or other people in wheelchairs may contribute to problems, but it’s not Drew’s fault that some people suck. It’s also not Drew’s fault that his brain doesn’t work in quite the same way as everyone else’s. The way he’s described as managing it doesn’t make other people do more work; harm to others is hypothetical. I didn’t even get any ‘he plays it up for sympathy’ vibe from this letter.

    10. tusky*

      Even supposing that he is knowingly pretending to have a disability, how is he making the lives of “actual disabled people” harder by doing so? And I fail to see how using mobility aids mocks disabled people (unless he is flagrantly displaying that he is faking, or using them in an obviously buffoonish manner, which doesn’t seem to be the case)–does it mock people with physical disabilities when an apparently able-bodied person uses an elevator? Frankly, there isn’t always a sharp line between able-bodied and disabled, and putting forth rigid boundaries around who is allowed to use assistive devices serves only to reinforce the notion that disabilities have to look a certain way, which (as lisalee points out below) may actually do more harm than good to disabled folks.

      1. Lissa*

        Even if he IS making the lives of “actual disabled people” harder, it’s not like he can tell his mental illness to just knock it off for being offensive any more than he could tell it to knock it off so he wasn’t seriously limited in his daily activities, had to buy expensive equipment, and risk alienating his coworkers.

        Man, I started off reading this post feeling a bit skeptical towards Drew but the comments here have really made me feel far far more sympathy for him, both because I’ve learned more about the disorder I have and because the angry/offended reaction to his illness seems so unfair for something he didn’t choose any more than “actual” disabled people chose it…

    11. Blue*

      So, Amy, as a physically and mentally disabled person, who can walk a little but often uses a wheelchair, I’m finding your behaviour in this post incredibly offensive and upsetting. I don’t find that anyone managing their own disability in the way that works best for them ‘offensive’ or ‘mocking’ or in any way damaging to me. What does impact my life and make it harder every single day is people presuming to know better than I do how my disabilities should be managed. As a person with concrete, provable physical disabilities, I still have to deal with people attacking my decision to manage my chronic pain, fatigue, and unstable joints with the use of a wheelchair – I am technically able to walk, albeit slowly, painfully and at risk of falling and injury, so in some obscure way I don’t ‘qualify’ for a chair.
      Drew’s decision to manage his incurable condition in the way that best minimises his suffering and maximises his functioning does not harm or offend me in any way. Self-appointed gatekeepers like you do.

  24. The German Chick*

    I strongly disagree with us trying to arm-chair diagnose this person. There are many possible diagnoses, and there is also the possibility that this patient is mentally fine. At college, I took a class with a renowened psychiatrist specialized in sexuality (and sexual disorders), who told us about a person who used a wheelchair 24/7 because this was what got him off at night. Yes, it was outside the norm, but it wasnt a disorder – this guy was just fine.
    I agree with your advice Alison to proceed like he may have a mental health disorder, but please, let’s stop trying to diagnose him.

    1. SallytooShort*

      The documentary was about people with a specific disorder. No one is arm chair diagnosing. His having that disorder is why he was in the documentary.

      1. The German Chick*

        The OP stated that it was “a short film online about people who believe they are disabled but are actually not”. Where do you take the information from that it was about people with a psychiatric disorder?

          1. mf*

            The OP never said Drew has that disorder–Alison brought it up to suggest that it’s possible Drew has the disorder. We don’t know whether he has any sort of mental illness. The OP didn’t confirm it so we’re actually only speculating that he does.

            1. a1*

              Agree. He very likely has a mental disorder, and it very likely may be this, but we don’t know. However most people are commenting as if this is a fact.

            1. SallytooShort*

              The word choice describes a very specific disorder. She didn’t say it was about people pretending to be disabled for their own reasons. But people who believe they are. That’s a specific disorder.

          1. The German Chick*

            I want to be a nice guest in your virtual living room, so I just want to add why I believe we as laymen are not able to diagnose anyone with this specific disorder: a) Neither ICD-10 nor DSM-V provide diagnostic criteria for the classification of this disorder. b) The main symptoms stated by scientific publications on the matter that patients with this disorder have a persistent desire to be amputated or acquire a physical disability. We don’t know if this person has any of these symptoms.
            I think your advice of treating this guy as potentially having a disorder (who knows what) is spot on, and I also wanted to offer the alternative reading that he may be mentally fine and just likes living like a paraplegic, which is weird but not unheard of. In any case, I’m excited for the update!

            1. serenity*

              Thank you, German Chick, for your thoughtful comments. It’s helpful for us to take a step back and to realize that, despite hundreds of comments on this page declaratively stating that Drew has a mental illness, we don’t know that for sure at all and so much of this is pure speculation.

              I’m a little alarmed that dozens and dozens of commenters have leapt to that conclusion, solely based on Alison’s conjecture that this *may* be BIID. We don’t know that.

        1. SallytooShort*

          Like how I watched a documentary about people who have periods of depression and periods of hyper mania. But let’s not say it’s about bipolar people!

  25. Snark*

    Tough one. I firmly believe in not second-guessing how an individual chooses to define and embrace their identity – such as for LGBT+ folks. On the other, this is the kind of secret that gets out, and when it does, it’s going to be explosive – and he’s not going to look good.

    Alison’s advice is spot on, but I’d like to raise the issue of what happens when there’s a bona fide paraplegic in the workplace. Does Drew still get the closest parking?

    1. Iris Eyes*

      I was thinking in the same vein. I’m not sure how this is fundamentally different than someone who is transgender. I remember back during the whole Caitlyn Jenner transition many people complained about her advocating for woman’s rights as she had had the benefit of white male privilege to make her fortune, she wasn’t really a member of the disadvantaged group. There are lots of ways people live as something they are not, almost everyone does to a certain extent.

      IMHO the OP and their employee need to get firmly in their mind why this is a problem and evaluate if this problem is something they need to address within themselves or something that actually needs to be addressed.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      That’s a bit of a derail, though. It’s not an issue for the OP, who has given no indication that this might be an issue now.

  26. Marie B.*

    I read an article once about individuals with this disorder. People have gone so far as to blind themselves or self amputate a limb. There was one woman who was actively looking for a doctor to sever her spine.

  27. dr_silverware*

    I don’t know whether this is disability drag, and I don’t know whether it matters; in any case I would argue that the related accommodations problems–if they come up–are far above OP’s pay grade.

    As commenters and onlookers we don’t know if Drew is cackling evilly about owning a van with a handbrake; performing disability for whatever obscure pleasure he may derive from it; performing disability due to neurological or psychological conditions that make it necessary; or performing greater disability when he has a slighter physical disability.

    Those distinctions matter socially and HR and a lawyer must decide if they matter professionally. I’d make the argument that OP simply shouldn’t bring up having seen the documentary, and at the very least should attempt to divorce this knowledge from how they interact with Drew professionally; but it would be worth consulting HR.

  28. nnn*

    Putting aside for a moment any speculation on Drew’s situation:

    Some people who use wheelchairs can walk. Maybe they can walk some days but not others, depending on what kind of a day they’re having. Maybe they can walk for a short period of time but not long enough to get through the day. Maybe they can walk a short distance but not long enough for the day’s tasks, so they take their wheelchair so they don’t get stranded far from home immobile. There are all kinds of variations.

    So how you handle this may well set your company’s precedent for how people who use wheelchairs but are also physically capable of walking – for any number of different reasons – are treated by your company in the future. Do you want them to have to justify every detail of their medical situation, or do you want them to be able to simply roll in and get the job done? Do you want management and colleagues and HR speculating on whether they really need their wheelchair, or do you want them to be treated like any other employee?

    1. Eh? Non Y. Mouse*

      I 100% based on the title of this post (before reading what was actually going on) was prepared to come in and yell this from the rooftop

      1. Daffodil*

        Yeah, same. nnn has a great point that how the office treats this guy is going to affect how much scrutiny the office gives others with mobility issues. Erring on the side of graciousness is definitely the way to go here.

    2. Thursday Next*

      It’s different, in that this person didn’t ask to be accommodated through official channels. I don’t think second guessing him is a slippery slope toward the undermining of accommodations obtained through official processes.

      The accommodation processes I’ve gone through have been standardized so that once the medical provider offers the requested documentation, the accommodation is granted without stipulation. For example, my daughter gets to use Access A Ride on her “good” days when she’s be able to walk three blocks as well as days she wouldn’t.

      I thought HR departments have to follow similar processes, so that once the accommodation has been approved, it can’t be questioned bc someone with a disability is having a “good” day, or “doesn’t seem” disabled.

      1. lisalee*

        I don’t think this is so much about the formal process of requesting accommodations as it is about the day-to-day treatment of people using aids. If there’s an environment where people start questioning the extent of Drew’s disability, and if he really needs a wheelchair, and maybe he’s faking it, etc then it will impact how other disabled people are treated. Even if HR doesn’t allow people to outright question someone’s disability, it doesn’t mean that a disabled person wouldn’t be treated with general suspicion.

        And honestly, just the idea that you have to reach a certain threshold of disability to “need” or “deserve” a wheelchair and it’s wrong to use one unless you absolutely can’t walk strikes me as kind of ableist on its own. It doesn’t actually change anything for Drew to use wheels instead of legs–he’s not taking anything from anyone or getting anything special (the LW said he hasn’t even asked for accommodations).

        1. Thursday Next*

          To be clear (and I say this in a longer post) I don’t think anything should be done to question whatever workplace accommodations Drew has been receiving, and I don’t think any should be taken away from him.

          I do think HR should be looped in, because this is an unusual situation, particularly because of the existence of the documentary.

      2. hbc*

        But doing such a minor unofficial accommodation isn’t a slippery slope either. I’m comfortable saying that I’m willing to arrange a closer parking space for anyone who’s willing to spend the entire day using their arms to wheel themselves around. I’m pretty sure it’s a rare parking situation where that sounds like a worthwhile tradeoff.

  29. Desker*

    I would operate under the assumption that everyone in your office in short order will see the documentary. I can’t imagine seeing one of my coworkers in such a documentary and not showing it to my other coworkers – if not for the simple reason that it’s fascinating. People are going to respond in different ways. But that may be your biggest, actual concern. I’m just imagining the total chaos that would break out in my office if this happened here – and I work in a fairly normal place where I imagine most people would be totally okay with accepting it as another type of disability.

    1. Zillah*

      Idk – I can’t imagine seeing a documentary about a coworker like that and spreading it around work. I think there’s a wide range of normal human reactions here.

    2. Happy Temp*

      I agree! Imagining myself as a coworker of Drew, my first reaction would be anger–a purely emotional reaction based on my father being paralyzed by a series of strokes which made his life and his caregivers’ lives very difficult. I would have a hard time thinking kindly about someone who is “pretending” to be paralyzed. HOWEVER, that being said, this thread (and site) has taught me that other people’s situations and accomodations aren’t my business.

      As a manager, I would think you have to be prepared for Drew’s coworkers to see the documentary and have varying reactions, including confronting Drew personally. I would assume a good script–based on input from HR and any legal constraints–would be something along the lines of “We are aware [of whatever a coworker brings up about it] and the situation is being handled appropriately and legally” or something like that.

  30. KimberlyR*

    I wouldn’t say or do anything to Drew right now, but I would give HR a heads up if you have a real HR, not just some random admin people who function as HR. Maybe even consult an attorney about ADA just in case? I would think the company should have a unified answer if a bunch of coworkers start to question things.

    If someone else with actual mobility issues starts working there, I think the most reasonable ADA accommodations give the mobility-impaired employee the closest parking spot. I think Drew’s reasonable ADA accommodations would move him to a spot farther out. I can’t tell if there is anything else that the company has done that should be addressed but that would be the start.

  31. mf*

    Agreed that the OP should alert HR but otherwise leave this situation alone.

    I can see this getting out and damaging Drew’s relationships with his coworkers, but frankly, I don’t think there’s anything the OP can (or should) do about that. That’s the risk Drew took when he lied. Instead of saying he’s paralyzed, he could’ve just have easily said, “Due to a chronic health issue, I function better in a wheelchair than without.”

    1. CatCat*

      I think this is a good point, mf. He’s been lying to people. I would be pretty frosty toward someone telling these kind of lies.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        As others have noted, it might be more helpful not to think of this as a conscious lie meant to mislead you, but rather a delusion he’s suffering or at least his effort to express what is legitimately true to him.

        1. CatCat*

          But it is a conscious lie. Dude has insight into his own disorder. He was in a documentary about it. That he chooses to carrying on lying to support his delusions does not make them unconscious lies. I’d find it sad and baffling, and would lean on icy civility at work.

          1. SarahKay*

            But this doesn’t address the fact that metal illness is still very stigmatised. When I had depression and someone asked me how I was I lied, and said I was fine. For many reasons, not least the fact that I didn’t want my employer to know I was suffering from depression because I worried it would negatively affect my career.
            I knew I was not fine. I knew I was lying. But it felt like the least bad choice at that time.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I did this too, to an extent – I was having weekly therapy sessions during work hours at one point and I always glossed over the details. I never specified anything beyond “recurring medical appointment,” which you could argue is a lie by omission. When it comes to mental illness, sometimes part of managing it is gliding over the truth a little.

          2. LBK*

            Perhaps he’s decided it’s simply easier to tell people he’s paraplegic than explain the whole situation and live his entire life facing the kind of vitriol being spewed in the comments today calling him a faker, a liar, an insult to “real” disabled people, saying they’d ice him out at work, etc.

            1. Thursday Next*

              I think (hope?) there’s some middle ground between telling people he’s paraplegic and “explaining the whole situation.”

              The comments here have by and large been supportive of Drew—even some of the ones that have taken issue with some of his actions.

              1. bonkerballs*

                And then there’s also the comment someone made where they said if Drew was their coworker they’d beat them with their cane until Drew became a paraplegic for real, so…

            2. KellyK*

              Yes, definitely. There’s tons of stigma around physical disabilities, but even more around mental ones. It totally makes sense to want to keep a mental/neurological illness hidden at work if you can, especially one as poorly understood and controversial as BIID. Ideally, he’d have found a way to skirt the truth without actually lying, but nobody owes anyone the full truth about their medical situation.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yes! Or that he just didn’t have the presence of mind to think of the “best” way to explain. I can think of a half dozen better explanations he could have given, but I can *also* imagine it must be hard to figure out how to explain his wheelchair use in a way that doesn’t invite nosiness/follow-up questions/prying into what might feel embarrassing or stigmatizing to him. Yup, saying he has condition “x” when he doesn’t is not ideal, but I can see how it happened. A little empathy goes a long, long way.

          Someone telling me they have a particular disability when in fact they have a different particular disability is just nowhere on my list of reasons to get angry at a coworker.

    2. Zillah*

      I think that what you’re suggesting is really problematic, regardless of how you feel about Drew specifically.

      People with disabilities or health shouldn’t have to be super specific about what’s “wrong” with them, and while I think you only mean it for this situation, the reality is that that’s a pretty pervasive sentiment in our society, and adding fuel to the fire has the potential to hurt everyone with a disability, not just Drew.

      I have used “I’m not eating here because I have a lot of allergies” as a shorthand for “I have some environmental allergies that trigger asthma attacks and some relatively mild food allergies and lactose intolerance and also I’ve been a vegetarian for long enough that meat makes me sick, and also wheat screws me up, it was an intolerance but it may be actual celiac right now, who knows, just please don’t give me anything with wheat because I will get really really sick.”

      The latter is more accurate, but it’s also way more detailed and invasive for me to want to share every time food comes up.

      It’s not reasonable to expect people to be specific and explicit about intimate health details if they don’t want to be. We don’t have a right to know.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        We don’t have a right to know, and I am also distressed at the number of people who are saying they would be angry at Drew because he said he was disabled with “x” when really he’s disabled with “y.”

        This is about a thing that makes no functional difference in the workplace – either way, he can use his wheelchair; either way, he’s disabled. He’s not being disabled *at* anyone.

      2. KellyK*

        It’s not reasonable to expect people to be specific and explicit about intimate health details if they don’t want to be. We don’t have a right to know.


  32. nnn*

    It might also be useful to perform a thought experiment:

    How would you feel if an employee were walking with a cane that you believe they don’t need?
    How would you feel if an employee were wearing glasses that you believe they don’t need?
    How would you feel if an employee were wearing a bandaid that you believe they don’t need?

    Would you feel that these situations require some sort of stance or intervention or position by your company? If so, why? If not, why is Drew’s situation different?

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah I suspect that some of the outrage, deep down, is that people felt sorry for Drew or tried to be kinder or nicer to him, and now they feel “tricked.” But a) it doesn’t sound like people actually had to do that much different for Drew – he didn’t require any special accommodations except *maybe* this parking space that sounds like it wasn’t being used – and b) he never really asked for your pity. And do we begrudge a little kindness now? So even though I empathize that there’s a moment of discomfort around this, I think Alison’s advice is spot-on.

      1. fposte*

        That’s a really interesting point there. This may be about that old problem of the “covert contract”–people gave Drew something that he didn’t ask for on the understanding that he was disabled the way they perceived.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I find that happens a lot when it comes to disability. People have a kind of unstated assumption that accommodations for PWD are really super special shiny privileges and get really upset when they think someone who doesn’t blatantly qualify for those accommodations gets them.

          How many times have we heard someone say “Oh, I saw someone who was OBVIOUSLY TOTALLY HEALTHY using a handicapped spot!” There’s a lot of outrage there, way more than the situation deserves.

          1. jm*

            Not sure about that. In some instances, like parking spots, there are limited resources to accomodate those who have disabilities. For example, my office parking lot has 3 spaces marked for those whose cars have handicapped placards/tags. Once those spaces are taken, someone with a handicapped placard/tag must park in one of the regular spaces, with no ramp, so extra room, potentially far away from the building.
            So yeah, since the resources are limited, I do get super frustrated when my co-worker, who has no diagnosed disabilities, parks in a handicapped parking spot — which she gets away with doing because her car has a handicapped placard for her husband, who is disabled.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Your situation doesn’t take away from Countess Boochie Flagrante’s point, though. Sure, if there’s someone who you have an actual reason to know doesn’t need a close parking space is taking advantage of the ability to use the space and thereby actually depriving a disabled person of the space, sure, get frustrated. But Countess Boochie Flagrante was talking about the many, many, many real instances of people assuming people are not disabled. Ask any person with a disability who doesn’t look like what many people think a disability should look like what kinds of experiences they have had parking in a handicapped parking space or sitting in a reserved seat on public transit. Most will tell you they’ve had push back from people accusing them of faking to take advantage of a “perk.”

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Or all the people who told me that I didn’t have a disability, I was just using mobility aids because I was too fat to walk (!)

                Thanks, but the screaming pain in my feet begs to differ.

                (Happily, I had a really wonderful healing of that issue, but I’m still low-key mad about those folks.)

              2. jm*

                I must have misinterpreted this — “How many times have we heard someone say “Oh, I saw someone who was OBVIOUSLY TOTALLY HEALTHY using a handicapped spot!” There’s a lot of outrage there, way more than the situation deserves.”
                I thought Countess was saying that there’s WAY MORE outrage than necessary for people who are wrongly using handicapped spots. At my office, there’s not enough outrage. I really wish one of the managers would talk to the employee who is not disabled who still uses the handicapped spot. And yes, I’ve mentioned my concern to my manager.
                I definitely understand visible vs. invisible disabilities and would NEVER try to judge whether someone is disabled. I just know for sure that my co-worker is not…and yet she still uses that handicapped spot!

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Yep, I was talking about invisible disabilities that attract ire because obviously if the disability isn’t visible it’s not real.

                  People who actually don’t need to use a handicapped spot but do anyway are inconsiderate as hell.

          2. PlainJane*

            There seems to be a subset of people who are very preoccupied with what other people do and don’t “deserve.” It comes up with disability accommodations, as you say, but also with any form of public assistance and sometimes with health care too. I’ve met a few people who are way more offended that an occasional person gets something they “don’t deserve,” than they are when a bunch of people being denied something they desperately need.

    2. Murphy*

      I don’t disagree with Alison’s advice, but the situations you’re naming there are speculating on things that are none of your business (and don’t affect you at all). The information OP has about Drew isn’t speculative (though there may be more to it).

        1. Murphy*

          No that’s not what I meant at all. In the three situations that nnn describes, they mention “you believe they don’t need”. That’s speculation. OP isn’t speculating about Drew’s physical abilities. They have actual information about them, which isn’t the same thing.

          1. nnn*

            The thought experiment could also be done with “they don’t need” rather than (or in addition to) “you believe they don’t need” – whatever the person doing the thought experiment feels most reflects the situation.

            The point is to identify and process any internal feelings that are biased/hypocritical/unreasonable and therefore shouldn’t be informing LW’s approach to HR. This would also be helpful for LW’s credibility if the HR person they go to says “And this is a problem…why?”

    3. Tea*

      Some more thought experiments:
      – How would you feel if an employee claimed to be Japanese but was actually white, but believed they were transracial.

      – Or claimed to be deaf, but wasn’t actually deaf.

      – How would you feel if an employee requested accommodations for a mental illness– let’s say they were relatively minor accommodations you were happy to grant, but you later found out that they do not have the illness. Would it make a difference to you if they requested accommodations because they regarded them as “perks” they were also entitled to? Would it make a difference if they had Munchausens and merely believed they had the illness?

    4. Triple Anon*

      If someone wore glasses and told me and other people they worked with that they were far sighted, but had also been in a documentary in which they said they have 20/20 vision but choose to wear glasses, I would have questions about their honesty and judgment. Just like in this situation.

      Although I think the glasses analogy doesn’t completely apply. Using a wheelchair tends to have a bigger impact on one’s life. There are more limitations that come with having a mobility impairment. More accommodations are needed. And the social stigma is a lot greater. I’m on the fence about it and I’d want to hear from the person making that choice. I respect people’s choices, and I get that mental conditions can be hard for other people to understand. On the other hand, if it’s really a choice, then it sort of makes a parody of the real thing, or creates the potential to use the advantages while going back to presenting as able bodies when there are disadvantages. But I think that is sort of a can of worms and I’d want to talk to the person, have a real conversation about it.

    1. fposte*

      Whatever would ordinarily happen if you have two wheelchair users. It’s not a promise of the closest spot evah–just that you don’t have to schlep in from the Outer Mongolia of regular parking.

  33. Thursday Next*

    Wow. I’m impressed with the evenhanded, thoughtful advice Alison gives here.

    Two possible analogies were raised by other commenters: transgender identification and cultural appropriation (e.g., blackface). To me, this seems like cultural appropriation. The idea of choice plays out in particular ways for culturally disadvantaged minorities: in really broad terms, majorities can appropriate minority cultures, but the reverse is not possible.

    My daughter can never be anything other than “disabled.” She may be other things *in addition*, but disability is not a chosen identity for her. She will never be able to choose to avoid the struggles that come with her disability. As much work as this employee is putting into living life as a “disabled” person (or how he perceives that life), I guarantee that a medically documented paraplegic has to work harder. I don’t think this employee can “earn” the right to claim a disability status simply because he’s practicing it so consistently.

    All that said, I wouldn’t challenge him—I’d do as Alison advises. But privately I’d feel angry.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah I think that’s the issue, is that for Drew, presumably, he has the option of being disabled at some times and not at others (as OP states he was walking in the video). Presumably, if he got to a hotel that couldn’t accommodate him, or needed to take the stairs in a fire, or whatever, he has other options. So it’s painful for people for whom this isn’t a choice. However, a) it’s probably a mental illness anyway, so he’s not really “chosing” any of this as far as we need to be concerned – I don’t jump on my depressed friends if they laugh or smile ever and say “AH HA, you’re not really depressed, I knew you were just faking it!” and b) in this case, it’s hard to quantify what if any benefits Drew actually got from this, or who he injured by living this way.

      1. fposte*

        Though “choice” gets interesting with all kinds of disability. Some people are disabled because they engaged in risky or deliberately self-destructive behaviors, which involved some element of choice. Do they get treated differently from those with congenital challenges? (I’m always intrigued by the way discussions about fat people on airplanes always involve somebody fulminating about obesity being a choice, but apparently the person with a broken leg from crashing while driving drunk gets a free pass.)

        1. AMT*

          I’m a social worker at a hospital and have had people on my unit with various disabilities and disorders stemming from self-destructive and/or attention-seeking behavior. I have also worked with countless people whose problems stemmed largely from their own choices, or whose behavior and personalities have caused them to drive away the people who have helped them in the past. It gets murky sometimes — like, how much time should I take out of my day to help someone who is screaming at me and probably won’t follow through anyway, versus the person who is easy to work with? My responsibility is to help everyone, of course, even people who are rude and abusive, but I also sometimes fall into the trap of giving certain people 90% of my attention just because they’re demanding and difficult (while potentially neglecting the politer ones). I only have 8 hours in a day.

          It’s tough to allocate resources — for example, does this person’s difficult personality mean they’re more “in need” and I should feel okay allocating a lot of my time/resources to them, or should I be telling them (in so many words) to sit down, wait, and let me help other people? I think these are questions that society grapples with in a lot of ways. You hear it during elections, usually in the form of “why should the taxpayer help people who make bad choices?/what conditions and life circumstances deserve the most help?/is X thing a real disability?” It goes back to the English poor law of 1601 that set the standard for the “deserving” (elderly/infirm) poor versus “undeserving” people who were considered to have the ability to get by on their own. I don’t think the debate has been anything close to settled yet.

          1. fposte*

            And when you bring in hospitals it becomes relevant for the physical care too–there are definitely people who want only “innocent victims” to get medical care, period.

            1. Goya de la Mancha*

              From what I know (very little, I assure you ;) ) – Organ transplants often operate on the “innocent victim” idea.

              1. fposte*

                That’s ringing a bell–I’m thinking mainly of liver transplants and alcohol use, and I bet there’s a drug use component too.

                1. fposte*

                  Oh, good point. And while I have some support for the view that if you are currently engaging in behavior that means this valuable donation will be quickly too damaged to work we will prioritize patients who will get longer use out of it, I still think that’s sticky, and it gets a lot stickier when we’re talking about people who are no longer engaging in the behaviors.

                2. Goya de la Mancha*

                  It’s a greatest good thing and reducing human beings to numbers. My economy major self geeks out on stuff like that, but it’s hard when you have to attach a name/face and say – sorry, you’re not worthy enough.

                3. query*

                  Isn’t that also a matter of sheer practicality, though? Like, an alcoholic who needs a liver transplant but is also unlikely to give up alcohol long-term is going to damage their new organ.

              2. Thursday Next*

                Organ transplants are unique in that transplantable organs are a finite resource with an unpredictable supply. This probably makes the leap to “deserving recipients” much easier.

        2. Penny Lane*

          I’m not sure I agree that the person with a broken leg from crashing while driving drunk gets a “free pass.” I think most people absolutely *do* distinguish between the person with the broken leg who drove drunk and the person with the broken leg who was in the vehicle that the drunk person hit. I think there’s plenty of judgment that one is “less deserving” of sympathy, etc. than the first. I get that the medical professionals who treat both people have to treat them equally regardless of the situation, but as for those not involved in their medical care? Guess what? We can be judgmental.

          Somehow on AAM this notion has arisen that we can never be judgmental about situations. Odd.

          1. fposte*

            I’m just reporting on discussions I’ve been involved in. Some disabilities get prejudged negatively, some positively, some neutrally.

          2. Natalie*

            Well, the employer probably shouldn’t be judgmental either – they can’t provide different accommodations to two wheelchair users based on their personal opinion of how each person ended up using a wheelchair.

      2. AMT*

        Exactly. I can speak to this from a trans perspective, too — I can’t exactly stop being trans or switch between identifying/presenting as a man or a woman when it’s convenient (and it’s be pretty horrible if I *had* to conceal it or live as the wrong gender, as some trans people do). Being trans is just a biological reality for me.

        However, I also acknowledge that Drew’s identity/mental illness/whatever is probably not something he can change or control, either. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that he’s taking scarce resources (parking space) that could be used for someone who is in true need, but I’m also sympathetic to the idea that his need to be recognized as disabled is “true” in some sense. I hope the company figures out a way to accommodate him without inconveniencing anyone with a mobility impairment who might need the space.

        In some ways, it’s a bit like that letter from the person who got major headaches (allergies? can’t remember) from strong scents, but whose coworker was treating her medical conditions with smelly essential oils. It’s like, whose condition should take priority? On a visceral level, I felt like the scent sufferer should have prevailed just because of the dubiousness of the “treatment,” but I also know that I shouldn’t be in a position to tell other people what treatment is and isn’t effective for their condition.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I also personally think you’re probably already on the wrong track if you’re trying to figure out “how disabled” someone “really” is. This is just … not a great question for you as an employer to be thinking about. I understand there’s an instinctive response – “is so and so faking it?” – but in general you probably want to defer to the person with the limitation’s own account of what they need, and just think about what you can reasonably provide.

      3. Zillah*

        Presumably, if he got to a hotel that couldn’t accommodate him, or needed to take the stairs in a fire, or whatever, he has other options. So it’s painful for people for whom this isn’t a choice.

        It’s worth pointing out, though, that there’s a wide range of how “disability” impacts people. There are people who have physical disabilities who could also take the stairs in a fire. I understand what you’re saying, but I think that when we define disability as “worst case scenario,” things can get really problematic really quickly.

    2. Beep*

      I understand where you are coming from, my brother is mentally disabled and it would strike a nerve with me if i knew someone had a normal IQ but was acting/identifying as a person with down syndrome.

      However, I have watched a few things on the internet (i’ll admit, i was looking for Drew) and individuals with BIID will do just about anything to make their bodies feel like their minds’ amputating arms or legs, blinding themselves, etc.

      I think drew’s situation is just stickier because he HASN’T made any action to sever his spinal cord making him legitimately paralyzed.

      Also, side note, in one of the clips a BIID blind woman came out to her friends that she purposely blinded herself, and while there was initial shock (understandably) her blind friends accepted her because even though she may not have become blind or been born blind like the rest of them, she still goes through similar if not the same adversities.

    3. To your point*

      Several things:
      1. Blackface is straight up racist, it’s not cultural appropriation.
      2. He is disabled (assuming he has BIID). People with BIID will literally do anything to make their bodies reflect how they feel they should be. They will make themselves paralyzed, perform self-amputations, poison themselves, etc to make their outsides reflect how they feel they should be. It is, in some sense, analgus to being transgender though it clearly isn’t the same thing.

      1. Thursday Next*

        1. I was quoting the earlier comment that cited blackface as an example of cultural appropriation. I agree that it’s racist.
        2. Drew is manifesting BIID in an especially complicated way for this point bc he says he “should” be paraplegic. And he is shown to be walking in a video. That makes this less straightforward than the examples you mention.

        There are two issues that are getting debated in the comments: how should LW handle this? And the larger question of the different ways we’re responding to Drew. For the first, I have my “workplace hat” on, and agree completely that there’s no reason for LW to challenge this, and also that Drew may well have a documentable disability–it’s just not paraplegia.

        But the second is extremely complex and some of us bring our own personal histories and struggles to bear upon it. I think many of those are equally deserving of empathy as BIID.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “Drew is manifesting BIID in an especially complicated way for this point bc he says he “should” be paraplegic. And he is shown to be walking in a video.”

          I’d love to see the video, honestly. I tried looking for it online but I can’t tell which shows “Drew.” I don’t think we know much of how Drew’s illness is manifesting based on the LW’s account of the video – because “he was meant to be a paraplegic” could mean, I suppose, he just thinks “yeah, this is me!” or it could mean he feels “I was meant to be a paraplegic because I just can’t make sense of my legs, I have to remind myself they are there, it’s like they are these foreign, alien objects and aren’t a part of me and it is SO HARD to make them work.” (Not that LW’s description of how she saw the video isn’t accurate, but just that it was vague, and in addition, documentaries come with agendas and editing, and we have not actually heard at all from Drew about any of this).

    4. Saby*

      Yes, this is about where I line up as someone who works tangentially with disability accommodation. And I would definitely loop in HR. if you later end up hiring someone who is actually a paraplegic or an amputee (two of the most common identities “borrowed” by these “transdisabled” folks) they may feel strongly about this subject for the reasons Thursday Next outlines.

  34. Lady Glitter Sparkles*

    As soon as I read this, I immediately thought of Chloe Jennings. Just google “Chloe Jennings Body Integrity Identity Disorder” and you can see her stories. I think the most recent update was like 2016. She tells how she saw a psychotherapist who diagnosed her with BIID. It’s very interesting.

  35. Spider*

    Just throwing this out there — Multiple Sclerosis can manifest as “remitting/relapsing,” which means someone’s symptoms will periodically come and go. (For example, I have a family member with MS who periodically goes blind in one eye for months at a time, and then her vision will return for a few months.) MS can cause paralysis, extreme muscle weakness, etc., so it’s at least within the realm of possibility that Drew could legitimately need a wheelchair now, when he hadn’t needed one in the recent past, and in the future may not need one again.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I mean, if he wasn’t in a documentary about people with BIID that’s plausible. But I think it’s probably safe to assume here that’s not the case

    2. Spider*

      Ah, jeez, I’m embarrassed — I totally blipped over the line in the OP about the nature of the documentary that Drew was in!

      1. Goya de la Mancha