update: my boss planned team-building activities that I couldn’t fully participate in

Remember the letter-writer in December whose boss had planned team-building events that she was physically unable to participate in? Here’s the update.

I’ve added in names because there are more people this go-round.

I emailed my boss, Peter, with what you suggested (I also added the part about why it didn’t affect my regular work, which a wonderful commenter suggested). I haven’t had any reason to interact with Peter since, but he sent me a nice email back thanking him for letting him know.

Pretty shortly afterward, another manager, Alice (not the same manager from the previous letter, who offered to talk to our boss about the company’s accessibility – Dora) planned a meeting with an item on the schedule that I realized was probably physical activity of some kind, so I emailed Alice a very similar email that I emailed Peter (minus any mention of the previous meeting). She emailed me back saying that I should participate in whatever I felt comfortable in and feel free to sit out if I needed to.

This was a relief, but I was still a little worried about my ability to sit out without drawing unwarranted attention to myself/my disability from coworkers, especially new hires who haven’t met me. When the actual day came, though, a pregnant manager, Lily, said she’d be sitting out because she didn’t feel well, and Alice took the opportunity to tell everyone that it was important to pay attention to our bodies and that there was no judgment for sitting out/doing what we needed to to take care of our bodies, both in meetings and in our actual work. That made it a lot easier to do what I needed to do without feeling scrutinized.

My workplace and industry in general still (like most of the world) have a long way to go in terms of understanding and accessibility (mostly in ways I haven’t mentioned), but I’m trying to work to improve things, and I’m encouraged to see that the people I work with are basically decent and are open to that improvement. I am absolutely saving the script that you gave me for future use.

Also, I didn’t mention this in the first letter, but I’m a contractor and my job is physical. My industry is largely (unnecessarily) obsessed with healthy bodies. I never thought anyone I worked with is ableist, but I do think there’s an ableist mentality in our industry that’s easy to fall into. I was concerned that my boss learning that I was disabled would make him think that I was bad at my job and would potentially be harmful for my next contract.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Naptime Enthusiast*

    Yay for a good update! I’m glad that Alice made a blanket statement to everyone rather than just letting you and Lilly sit out.

    I do think it’s easy to fall into an ableist mindset, we had an annual group event that was very physical (sports, races, tug-of-war field day events), and in the past few years we’ve added a number of non-physical challenges and activities that allow people of all ability levels to participate in whatever they are most comfortable in. Ideally we would have thought about this in year 1, but we didn’t and made adjustments accordingly. It’s still not perfect but we’re getting there by taking feedback into serious consideration during our planning.

    1. Specialk9*

      I love this update so much! That’s definitely not how I thought this would end up, I was imagining something more like the articles about Lululemon culture and how toxic ableist it can get. This was so the opposite! I’m so stoked, OP!

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Me too! I’m just happy that it worked out for the OP and all of the managers took her seriously

      2. TootsNYC*

        This update *IS* how I thought this would end up. I’ve never, ever worked with a manager or a company that wouldn’t say, “Oh, sure, of course you shouldn’t feel pressured to do physical activity that is harmful, or even just impossible.”

        Maybe I’ve known people who would try to encourage people who seemed to be just sitting out because they were crabby. But never if there was the tiniest inkling that it might be a difficulty thing.

        1. OP*

          It’s great that that’s been your experience, and I hope that your experience is common.

          I want to make it clear I wasn’t overreacting here, though, just because things turned out well. My experience hasn’t been like yours. I *have* faced that kind of pressure at work, at school, from friends, etc. because some people don’t believe me when I tell them I can’t do something. Many people are great and understanding, but many aren’t.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I also think like on the raises article from yesterday, you don’t need to have a consciously ableist mindset to create inequality – and all of us should spend a little more time thinking about the ways we might be contributing to these situations even if we don’t mean to.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      Am I the only one thinking that maybe Alice set it up ahead of time with Lily? That she might have asked Lily to make that statement publically, as a way of opening the topic more generally? Because pregnancy is a “safe” disability to claim: it’s obvious and it’s temporary.

      I think that Alice is one smart (and compassionate) cookie.

      1. Kala*

        I’m inclined to think that Alice and Lily may have had a similar conversation ahead of time as Alice and the OP did, and Lily spoke up first about sitting out since her pregnancy is obvious so she wasn’t worried about public perception.

    4. TheCupcakeCounter*

      I was thinking that I really like this Alice person – wonder if that is why OP gave her a name that is very similar to Alison :)

      1. OP*

        Unintentional, but Allison definitely deserves kudos for being great, especially today!

        (I was actually thinking of Order of the Phoenix members– with full apologies to Peter for not deserving that comparison, it was the first reasonably normal name I thought of)

        1. Coffee Cup*

          Haha, actually the reference is so subtle that I, a huge HP fan, didn’t pick up on it. Great stuff!

        2. JessaB*

          We could call poor Peter, Frank then, Frank was a hero.

          But I love your office. That’s exactly how you handle this. And it really has nothing to do with disability. If you come in one day and feel like garbage warmed over, you can still sit out x right next to someone who can never do x and not feel pressured. Amazingly great update. And the next step is to make sure there are things everyone can do too.

  2. RandomCommenter*

    It sounds like your managers handled that about as well as they could have! I’m glad it all worked out.

  3. Turquoisecow*

    This is a great update, OP! It sounds like your management is totally accommodating and understanding, which is awesome. I can’t think of a better response.

  4. Slartibartfast*

    As a vet tech with fibromyalgia, I totally get where you’re coming from. I have to limit my physical activity, that’s just a fact of life, but I know how many “spoons” I can commit to my work, and yes I have had back surgery but I can still lift Labradors. Very reluctant to let anyone know either of those things, though, because I know what I can do, and I have had assumptions made about my abilities. If I need accommodation, I will ask. Just because I can’t go rock climbing as a team activity on my day off (because I need to rest), doesn’t make me bad at my job.

    1. Oranges*

      I was wondering how having a disability and a physical job was possible. It didn’t occur to me that there are many ways of limiting physical ability capacity (aka amount of time doing activities) while not limiting the physical abilities themselves (aka range of things you can do). This now seems like a no brainer when I type it out though. Thanks.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yep, and to be quite honest, it’s way more common to have a tight budget of how much X you can do, rather than to be totally incapable of doing X at all. Hence the popularity of things like Spoon Theory to discuss disability.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          Sorry if this is a tangent, but why do so many people refer to having limited energy / limited endurance / limited pain management as having “low spoons”?

          I myself have a chronic respiratory condition and have had to have similar conversations with bosses, professors etc, but the spoons idea in online discussions seems like a funny metaphor. Is it because a spoon is a tool? Or it’s hard to wash spoons so you run out faster than you run out of plates? Or is it just one of those linguistic idiom things that has no real reason for it?

      2. Triple Anon*

        Exactly. And I’m really glad that there seems to be more awareness of this than in the past.

      3. Purplesaurus*

        I was wondering why meetings for a physical job would include yet more physical activity, but I didn’t consider that physical =/= strenuous.

      4. Jennifer Thneed*

        Physical ability is a lot like money: if you have more, you can do more. If you have only a little, you can still do some stuff but not as much.

        When you hear people talk about “invisible disabilities”, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about. For example, you don’t see them in a wheelchair because they *can* walk, but it hurts to walk, or it’s exhausting (or often both because they influence each other). So they limit how much they walk and you just don’t know that unless you know them personally.

        1. JessaB*

          And OMG those that are on a spectrum of mobility – today my cane, tomorrow my crutches, must have a scooter at the grocery store. Have a wheelie frame in my car with a seat on it for bad. And have had to be pushed in a wheelchair some days (cannot push myself, but don’t qualify for an electric wheelchair/scooter because my apartment is small and I don’t need it to get around INSIDE, that insurance rule sucks. Seriously.)

          Gods forbid you use a wheelchair SOMETIMES. Or you use one and are able to stand up to get the thingamajig on the top shelf.

          People do not understand that even people with mobility aids can be on a spectrum of use.

          I count spoons, but I also count getting in and out of the car. I can do unlimited errands/things if they are drive through. I can drive all day and sit forever. But getting in and out of the car more than three times on a trip? Nope. Unless the trip is really long and I’m sitting a lot in between. It’s not even the travelling outside the car, the energy it takes just to get in and out is a thing.

          So a trip has to be budgeted in both spoons, and getting out of the cars. And sometimes bosses don’t get that.

          Oh and spontaneous – do not spring things on me that involve energy or change the plans after I made my budget. My body can’t do that anymore.

      5. AKchic*

        It is a balancing act, for sure. Certain things affect different people differently. I have spine problems, and for me, I can’t stand for long periods of time or my back will lock up and movement will be difficult / impossible depending on what happens with my spine. If my lower back locks up and discs start leaking, I lose feeling in my left leg, I can’t actually bend at the waist to sit, I can barely breath from pain radiating up my spine. If its neck pain it can cause migraines (which has it’s own set of problems), arm/hand spasms, upper body spasms, vision problems, nausea, extreme pain, jaw pain, swelling, loss of feeling in my hands/arms, loss of movement and muscle control in my hands…

        How do I deal with standing for more than 20 minutes at a time? Oral steroids if I know I’ll be doing it. Sometimes I’ll have injections done beforehand (if I can afford it). Lots of medication 24/7 (better living through chemistry). Frequent sitting.
        I’d love to be able to afford fusion surgery, but there’s no guarantee it will work for as much damage as I have, and the nerve damage won’t be fixed by it anyway.

    2. AF*

      This also applies to my work. I’m in the fitness industry, and we have people who have physical jobs who also cannot participate in certain other activities.

      A lot of people who teach water fitness, seniors “chair” fitness, etc., are seniors themselves. They can teach the class at demo speed, but can’t run, rock climb, or ice skate. We have swim staff of all ages with bad knees/hips/backs, who are fit as a fiddle in low-gravity water, but can’t participate in strenuous land activities. We have Zumba teachers who can teach AquaZumba from the side of the pool, but would drown if they fell in and therefore can’t participate in pool parties. We have staff who can kneel down to perform flawless CPR in an emergency until EMS arrives, but find themselves in significant pain if they have to kneel for the full 6 hours it takes to do a certification class.

  5. Goya de la Mancha*

    Great update :) Love that Alice took matters into her own hands with the blanket health statement to everyone!

    1. No Mas Pantalones*

      Ditto this! I’m impressed with Alice’s “listen to your bodies, now and ALWAYS.” That’s a good manager.

  6. hayling*

    OP, I totally feel for you! I have an invisible physical disability, and the thought of these types of team-building activities makes me cringe. I panic any time I see a “surprise” event scheduled because I fear it’s going to be something I can’t participate in. I hate being singled out or seen as weak.

    I had a boss who was completely insensitive to my disability, even though she knew about it. She loved to plan “surprise” activities (which, honestly, give me anxiety even without the disability!). One December she took us to the holiday ice rink. I was completely crushed and could barely hold back tears. I took some pics for people from the sidelines for a few minutes and then just walked back to the office. It was such an in-your-face reminder of all the things I love to do and can’t anymore!

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Oh, that sounds so demoralizing! I remember days I would sit out when we did skating for PE, and while it’s fun to do, it’s painfully dull for anyone sitting in the bleachers. Add to that when you really want to participate and all you’ve got is lukewarm cocoa and waiting for someone to get too cold and sit with you, and I can see why you just went back to the empty office.

    2. Anon for This Post*

      I have had to take a big step back from some of my friends due to their insensitivity. I don’t think they do it on purpose–I just think it’s impossible to understand unless you have a chronic illness or injury of your own. In August, I had to fly cross-country to attend a bridal shower during the worst lupus flare I’ve ever had. I felt like someone had beaten every inch of my body with a baseball bat, and I was soooo fatigued. I tried to take it easy in the days leading up to the shower, but I was a bridesmaid, so I ended up doing a lot of prep work–shopping, preparing food, setting up tables, etc. The day of the shower, we had to start setting up at 8:30 a.m. The shower wasn’t over until almost 5:00. I felt like I was going to die, yet I know for a fact people commented on my leaving “early.” It took me weeks to recover from that trip.

  7. Steve*

    What exactly is an “abelist”? If I think someone needs to get in shape so they can do more and need less accomadation, am I an abelist?

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*


      If you want to know more, there is plenty of good reading out there if you google “ableism.”

    2. HR Caligula*

      Ableism /ˈeɪblɪzəm/ (also known as ablism, disablism (Brit. English), anapirophobia, anapirism, and disability discrimination) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.

    3. Sue Wilson*

      if you’re not their doctor and therefore know absolutely nothing relevant about how their disability affects them or their treatment, and you still think this? yes.

    4. pope suburban*

      Possibly, yes. It’s generally not good form to tell people what they should and should not do. Unless you’re their personal physician, possessed of their full medical chart, there’s a good likelihood that your “should” is impractical, impossible, incomplete, or dangerous. And frankly, how someone is treated should not depend on their ability to run a mile, or lift weights, or look a certain pleasing way. This is a varied world and we all live in it, and it’s best to be kind and to trust people to run their own lives- even if they do not run them the way we run our own, or the way we imagine we would run our lives in whatever set of circumstances.

      1. blackcat*


        And even one doctor can have different opinions than another. My primary care doctor doesn’t have strong opinions about what I can or can’t do due to my hip, but my orthopedist does!

        I’m young-ish, pretty fit, and lost the genetic lottery when it comes to joints and clumsiness. I have really weird restrictions on what I can and can’t do, and frankly, those aren’t the business of the people I work with.

        1. pope suburban*

          Absolutely! Health and fitness and whatever else are incredibly multidimensional, ever-changing things. One person can need many different therapies or medications for a single given issue over the course of their life. The idea of treating someone well or poorly based on health, or perceived health, is just…nah.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        But don’t you know? Exercise and fresh veggies will totally cure your congenital heart defect!

        1. Liane*

          Yeah, this. I got a LOT of jerky, know-it-all-crap from a *nutritionist* when College Son was an infant and the doctors were working on first diagnosing and then treating his congenital problem. I had no choice about seeing the wench because we had WIC (voucher program for low-income mothers, expectant mothers and infants to preschoolers)

          PS: Am I a polite-ist because I don’t care for comments that are uncalled-for and potentially rude?

          1. No Mas Pantalones*

            Wait, wait. You forgot creative visualization and meditation. They can cure cancer!

            At least, that’s what more than one woowoo told me when I was going through chemo and radiation. Hmmm, I’m cancer-free now. I think I’ll stick with BigPharma, thanks.

        2. 2 Cents*

          +1 to this. DH has one, and that’s what a (former) friend once directed him to do: just eat well and exercise more! Um…no.

        3. Casuan*

          mushroom tea… purple rice… this diet… that opposite diet to this diet…
          Really, all you need to do is just not think of it & just do it!
          [that’s my personal fave]

          Everyone should spend 24 hours using a cane- ideally 72 hours- with at least part of that in a wheelchair.
          Seriously. 24 hours.
          The challenge is to look like your able-bodied self & use a cane. When you arrive to any store, use a wheelchair or electric cart. If you can’t find one & you know they have them, then you’ll need to track down staff to ask for help to use a wheelchair. You’re not confined to this wheelchair; if you need to get up to reach something on a higher shelf or to walk a few steps then do it. Spend at least 5 minutes cruising in the clothes section because navigating clothes is extra fun… just go to the middle of that area & then work your way back out. If you walk more than about 3 steps then don’t forget the cane. Have fun checking out because anyone who is watching you is probably really confused as to what you can do or not; probably people want to help although they’re not certain if they should or are hesitant to ask. Most will be glad ro help if you ask for it. You’ll need to sort out the best way to return the wheelchair & get your purchases to your car. If the store provides assistance you can ask for them to do so.

          Bonus if after a few days you go cane-free & just go for the wheelchair & extra-bonus if you go without any assistance one day & then go back to needing assistance a day or two after that. Not everyone needs assistance every time & you should enjoy the looks of people who are still trying to sort out if you’re legit or not.

          For anyone who thinks that this challenge will cause someone who legitimately needs a wheelchair to not have one… I’m willing to bet that most of us would be okay with that if it means that one more person can understand their daily struggles.

          cane hack: You might want a strap on it to minimise dropping it too much. Retrieving it is a hassle & it’s easy to get self-conscious when you realise people are looking at you like “If they can walk a few steps, bend to pick up something they dropped & look healthy enough to me, they’re just milking it & being lazy.”
          Oh- almost forgot- if you’re already overweight you’ll really feel the “they’re just being lazy” stares.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I ended up putting a quadfoot on my cane, not because I needed it for balance (though it was a major help in icy conditions) but because I was just So! Damn! Sick! of the cane falling over any time I tried to lean it against anything.

            1. Rookie Manager*

              I use an elbow crutch rather than a stick because it falls over less and it can kinda hang on my arm when I need both hands.

          2. Rookie Manager*

            Great idea Casuan! I wish everyone could experience this. Using a mobility aid only indicates that you need that assistance at this time for this activity.

      3. PlainJane*

        “How someone is treated should not depend on their ability to run a mile, or lift weights, or look a certain pleasing way” – this. I’m not disabled, so theoretically I could train hard enough to climb mountains or run marathons, but that level of physical activity is a much lower priority for me than other aspects of my life. How I spend my time and energy is my choice and aligned with my values. It says nothing about my worth as an employee or as a person.

    5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yes, you are. And you’re also not that bright, since quite a lot of what people need accommodation for has nothing to do with getting “in shape.”

    6. BritCred*

      No, thats just rude. So don’t make those comments at all. Its utterly unnecessary and you aren’t the person who gets to choose someone else’s limits or rate their disability or figure or obesity or whatever you have in mind with that comment. You want to judge them? Do it silently.

      The “ableist” catagory to me means when you blindly design something (usually an event) completely ignoring that anyone may choose not to take part for good reasons due to their disability – whether registered, severe or just something of displeasure to them even. Especially when you then have people sneering or looking down on people for not taking part – something that I’ve seen happen often for bonding/teambuilding events.

      A strange example of something that was kinda Ableist in a tangential way: a firm I was with made it a mandatory thing to fly to a city for a “fun” day. Well.. I can’t be in an airplane without being extremely unwell for a day or so after and declined. Snarly bosses and my direct line manager all around because they didn’t like me not taking part on a trip I had no interest that would actually make me ill.

    7. Ramona Flowers*

      If you think those of us with disabilities need to “get in shape” then ableist is about right, yes.

      I’m going to engage with your comment just in case you’re writing out of pure ignorance and don’t realise how inconsiderate and spiteful your comment may feel to the people who need accommodations.

      An accommodation (or as we call them in Britain, a reasonable adjustment) means someone has some kind of impairment that has a serious effect on their day to day life. (Over here it needs to be long-lasting and affect your ability to carry out day to day activities.)

      What does that mean? It means it’s not chosen. It means the person can’t just do this or that and magically change it. It means your body or brain has failed you, and modern medicine has failed to fix it, and so you have to rely on those around you being willing to adapt a world that is not designed for you but for people luckier than you.

      And even someone who isn’t disabled but has reasons for wishing to improve their personal fitness level deserves more respect and kindness than your comment displayed.

      For the record, I’m in perfect shape (I just went to my outpatient check up and they weighed me in between doing bloods and ECG and I other tedious stuff and it turns out I have the ideal BMI for my height) but I can’t walk far without getting tired. It’s not a question of shape.

      Some of your comments seem to be designed to provoke, but I wanted to answer this seriously because it’s important.

        1. Steve*

          They are accusing me of making an argument i did not make. I did not say all inabilities can be fixed by exercise or diet. The word abelist is clearly perjirative and meant to insult the person it is directed at. But let people with your view insult those who hold a different view. And let people continue to post your view here.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I asked you to leave it and you didn’t. In fact, you upped the ante with an awfully rude comment (the one I removed). “Ableist” is no more insulting than “racist” or “sexist” — yes, it’s something you don’t want to be, but it’s a not slur; it’s a factual description of a way of thinking. It’s not pejorative to call out sexism, racism, or ableism.

            And yes, I’m leaving comments that explain ableism and how it plays out, because (a) those are educational and useful for people to read and (b) they’re not insulting to others.

            Please move on.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            “I don’t know what this word means but by god I’m sure it’s an insult!”

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            OP, we all heart YOU for updating us and for having the cojones to stick around even though the comment section has gone down several tired and unhelpful rabbit holes. I know from experience how much of a relief it can be to get decent treatment over this stuff and I’m happy for you!

            1. Lance*

              Very much agreed; it’s hard having enough confidence to do that, and deal with people sometimes, so kudos to that, and I’m glad things seem to be working out well on the ‘physical activities in group functions’ end!

    8. HannahS*

      Yes, because exercise doesn’t fix disability. If you think someone in a wheelchair should exercise more so that they could walk, you would be ableist. Do you find that hard to understand? Extend that to people whose disabilities aren’t visible. Like people with angina, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus.

      1. Steve*

        Make it a strawman argument. I did not say exercise fixes all ailments. I asked about people who need to get in better shape. Are you saying that no people with disabilities can overcome them? It us politically correct bs. Nothing is ever anyone’s fault. The smoker has an addiction, it isnt his fault he cant walk a flight if stairs.

        It isnt the same as racism, race is intrinsic. I specifically asked about simething non intrinsic, people who need to get into shape. But i am not a doctor so how could i possibly know someone being grossly obese is part of the problem.

        Alison will delete this I’m sure. But her opinion is just opinion and not the enlightened fact she wants it to be.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Dude, I don’t care if you think my opinion is enlightened or not. But I do care that you respect the rules of this site, and when the person paying for and hosting you in the space tells you to drop something, you need to drop it. As someone else noted, you came into a very kind, warmhearted update and crapped all over the discussion. You need to follow the rules here, and when I tell you multiple times to move on and you don’t, you’re no longer welcome here. I’m banning you from further comments.

        2. OP*

          See, the ableism part is where you assume automatically that my disability is because I need to exercise or because I’m a smoker or because I clearly must have done something to bring about my disability, and then you offer completely unsolicited medical advice on zero information.

          If you aren’t referring to me specifically, then the ableism is in the fact that you see the word “disability” and you want to talk about overweight people and smokers even though that has nothing to do with this conversation.

          1. Oranges*

            Can we open up the can of worms about how most “I just want you to be healthy” is a dog whistle for fat shaming? Especially since science has weighed in on the matter of weight gain and metabolism and… holy crap is it ever complicated.

            Like did you know:
            That eating raw food vs a cooked version of that exact same food actually changes the amount of net calories your body gets?

            That what foods cause your insulin level to spike can be vastly different than mine? It’s common to think that sugary foods will cause a spike (and they do) but for some people non-sugary/starchy foods can also cause their insulin levels to spike (such as a tomato)?

            That loosing a large amount of weight might trigger your body to actually reconfigure your muscles so that they’re more efficient?

            That what microbes you have in your colon can impact depression along with weight gain/loss.

            That the human body is a giant stew of chemicals/environmental interactions and judging others based upon what you think you’d do in their situation is worse than useless because if you WERE them you’d be doing exactly what they’re doing now because after all you’d be them. All you’re doing is making life harder for other people so you can feel good about yourself. Not. Cool.

            Okay, end rant.

            1. Oranges*

              Sorry, OP. Didn’t mean to rant at you. Was writing a nice reply about dog whistles and it got away from me.

            2. Indoor Cat*

              Heck, even smoking– I’m contemplating leaving a volunteer position that I’d initially hoped would become paid (many employees began as volunteers) because I have a chronic respiratory condition, and the majority of the employees smoke. I’ve worked there since September and had two asthma attacks in the past six months, and the day after I volunteer I’m kinda wrecked. I was in denial at first about the correlation, but it’s there. Post smoke-break, I start feeling sick. Plus, I think the carpet has fumes in it.

              Anyway, even though their smoking is affecting my health, I would never pressure anyone to quit. A lot of my coworkers are recovered from much more serious addictions or alcoholism, and part of what this office does is run addiction recovery programs, hence the appeal. There’s always going to be a trade-off; switching to cigarettes from, like, heroin is a huge positive step, and the idea that we should pursue progress, rather than perfection is a vital part of the culture here (which, incidentally, helps prevent burnout or getting too demoralized when we can’t help people 100%).

              So, you know. I’m in favor of the laws in our state that regulate where you can and can’t smoke, including the prohibition of smoking is restaurants, since I’d like to be able to go out to eat once in a while. But, frig, if smoking cigarettes is what keeps someone from falling off the wagon, more power to ’em. Smoking isn’t a character flaw. It’s not healthy, but it’s it’s a much better coping mechanism than a lot of other ones.

            1. Lance*

              As mentioned, ‘ableist’, like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’, is a word used to call out people who behave in an insulting, derogatory fashion. I’m really quite curious why you apparently take issue with that.

            2. Ramona Flowers*

              Look, nobody mentioned labelling except you. It’s just that the things you are mentioning have zero to do with the OP’s update. Quit raining on their parade, would you?

            1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

              Yes, labeling people as “just needs to exercise more” without understanding them or their lives is deeply unhelpful and insulting. We agree! You should probably stop doing it though.

        3. Lance*

          If they want to get in better shape, they will; it’s not on others, outside their own physicians and the like, to judge, especially since ‘getting in shape’ is by no remote stretch an end-all.

          Outside that, I’m just gonna leave it here.

        4. Ramona Flowers*

          “Are you saying that no people with disabilities can overcome them?”


          1. AKchic*

            I think his idea of “overcoming” and ours are vastly different. His is overcoming = cured, whereas ours is overcoming = learning to live with and work around the limitations of having said disability.

            I have to deal with this with my own family who cannot fathom that because I *look* healthy that I am *not* actually okay. They understand cancer. They understand diabetes (because half the family is diabetic). They understand high blood pressure. Basically – if it is affecting them, or has affected their parents, then they understand it. If it is a mental health issue it is a “newfangled make-believe thing to excuse laziness that ought to have been beaten out of a person as a kid” and if you try to explain pain conditions or anything that isn’t cancer or something that has been around for over 100 years, they just don’t get it.
            And the wellsplaining that is associated with anything they don’t understand. The well-intentioned yet judgmental advice. The cockamamie suggestions from grandmothers who saw commercials on tv, or know someone at church or bingo who had something they think sounds somewhat vaguely familiar (but isn’t), or hey – they know someone who sells something out of their spare bedroom, and they gave out your phone number and you should be expecting a call. *sigh*

            Sorry… I’ll take my soapbox and put the rant away.

    9. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      This is a very kind, warmhearted update. If you’re interested in learning more about ableism and whether or not what you believe does or does not fit into this definition, there are plenty of resources available online.

      This is not the time nor place for this discussion.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is not the place to debate this. There are lots of good educational comments in response, which I’m glad for, and I’ll ask that we leave it here.

    11. vw*

      This comment sounds like a combination of ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities) and fatphobia (prejudice against overweight people).

      I’d encourage you to critically think about why this is so important to you. If a person is working in a standard office job but they’re unable to participate in rigorous athletic activities (like the OP), why does that matter in the course of their employment? Being able to hike, run etc is not a BFOQ of being a programmer, for example. Perhaps you work in a more physically demanding field where someone not being able to fully engage in strenuous activity can be a workplace problem. If so, I can see where your view may be coming from. But not all jobs require much more activity than sitting at a desk.

      Overall, I’d caution you to think about any internalized ableism/fatphobia, especially as it impacts the way you interact with your colleagues at work.

    12. OP*

      If you assume that all disability is because someone isn’t in shape enough (especially since I’ve already stated that my job is physical in nature)? Then yes. I would say that definitely calls for some introspection on your views toward disabled people. You have no idea what my illness is or what’s causing it or what I’m doing to treat it, and it’s completely inappropriate for you to make a medical recommendation.

      If you’re implying I just made up “ableist,” ableism isn’t a new word or concept. Merriam Webster says the first known use of the word “ableism” was 1981, but disability rights activism dates back to long before that – Helen Keller is a famous example.

      The thing is, people are afraid of getting sick. We’re afraid of not having control over our bodies. It’s a totally natural fear, just like fear of aging or death. It’s far easier to blame disabled people for being disabled than it is to take ownership of the fact that you’re fragile and that your body has limitations. It’s much easier to pretend that all disabled people are lazy and a healthy enough diet and exercise routine will protect you from your genes, an accident, a virus, etc., than it is to acknowledge that you have no control over whether those things will disable you and whether that disability will be permanent. But blaming disabled people isn’t based on any factual evidence – exercising won’t take away my need for accommodation any more than it will take away my need for contact lenses.

      1. OP*

        (whoops, sorry, Allison, I took too long to type out my comment and now all the replies are here! thanks to everyone else for your good responses <3)

      2. EditorInChief*

        In addition to fear there is the moral judgment aspect as well–that disabled or people who are chronically ill are “bad” because they somehow brought on their condition themselves because they smoke, don’t exercise, don’t eat 5 servings of vegetables per day, etc., etc..

          1. fposte*

            Setting aside the dubious pleasures of the just-world hypothesis–from an organizational standpoint, it doesn’t matter how people got there. You lost your leg because you were speeding and drove your car into a tree? You don’t get any less accommodation than somebody who lost a leg because you hit them with your car. It doesn’t matter if you have lung cancer from smoking or coal mining or bad genetic lottery. It doesn’t matter if you have a TBI from a mountain-climbing injury or a drunken stumble. If you want to privately disdain anybody who lets alcohol or meat touch their lips and doesn’t grow all their own produce, cool, you do you, but that’s not how a workplace policy can operate.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Yes, my congenital heart defects were definitely retroactively caused by eating too many cookies.

          3. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

            I smoke, don’t exercise, and eat like garbage. But no one makes any assumptions about my health or my worth as a human being for those things because I won the genetic lottery and am a skinny white woman. So yeah, go ahead and make all the sh*tty assumptions you want about other people’s bodies, but then don’t be surprised when people call you out for being sh*tty.

    13. Coughing over here*

      Yes. If you spell it correctly – “ableist” – Google will be able to help you learn more do you can do better in future.

    14. Triple Anon*

      Second question: I think it depends on the situation. Generally, deciding that someone needs to get in shape would be over stepping appropriate boundaries. But I’m sure there are exceptions.

      Ableism is prejudice against disabled people.

      Common examples of ableism:

      – Behaving condescendingly towards people with disabilities.
      – Assuming that people have impairments that lie outside of what their disability actually is (a common one is assuming that physically disabled people also have intellectual disabilities, and that psychological and intellectual disabilities have a greater or broader impact than they do for that person).
      – The opposite: believing that someone is not or less disabled because the disability is not obvious to you.
      – Believing that you know what’s best for people with disabilities.
      – Not wanting to be seen with a disabled person.

      And so on. There are many examples. But here’s a sort of litmus test for ableism. In the US, we don’t think of people who wear glasses as disabled even though they actually do have a visual impairment and use an assistive device. To cute the example you gave, would it be weird to decide that someone needs to eat more carrots so that their vision might improve and they might need a lower level glasses prescription? In most cases, that would be weird, but maybe not if it was a family member or someone who had brought up that subject with you. I hope this helps.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I love your glasses/carrots example, especially because the carrots thing is so apocryphal.

        1. Bryce*

          The story I heard is that it started with the development of radar in WWII. Until then enemy planes were spotted with sharp-eyed observers, and when the British started spotting enemy planes much more reliably and at longer distances they didn’t want to let on that they had new technology. So they claimed to have found a miracle-food quality in carrots and did a big propaganda thing about it.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


            And it turns out that vitamin A is good for maintaining your current level of eyesight against degradation (or so Dr. Google tells me), but it won’t actually improve it from where it stands.

    15. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

      I’d really love to hear how you think my genetic disorder that made me legally blind can be cured by diet and exercise. I’ll wait. :)

      1. Lance*

        ‘If I think someone needs to get in shape so they can do more and need less accomadation’

        Right there. Perhaps you didn’t intend it to be so broad, but with just that, it gives a rather bad impression.

        1. Steve*

          I am quite sure you did not read that and think i meant getting into shape would cure your blindness. Did you really think that is what i meant? Really?

          You just want to make a strawman argument.

          1. artgirl*

            you just want to justify not having to accommodate people if you decide what they actually need is something else (which is exactly what you said in your initial comment–and is not the way accommodations are decided or implemented. so deal.). this thread is shaping up exactly as expected.

        1. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

          Yeah, but that entire cursed life thing has me pondering if it’s the right diet change. ;)

  8. Mimmy*

    Wonderful update OP! I am personally and professionally interested in disability inclusion, and I am very pleased that your employer gets it. Also, it’s awesome that you are working to improve understanding and accessibility in your workplace / industry.

    1. Lance*

      Agreed; good on her for understanding the OP’s situation and at the same time not singling anyone out!

  9. Penny*

    Good update, but I’m confused as to how the OP can be disabled and unable to participate in physical activities but also work at a physical job? It just seems odd without more details.

    1. vw*

      Depends on the nature of the disability/issue. For example, I can do some pretty advanced yoga asanas, but I can’t run, ski or ice skate due to a torn ACL. So I could have the (very physical) job of yoga teacher, but I couldn’t work the ski patrol.

    2. Dee-Nice*

      We don’t know how different the OP’s work is from the team-building activities. It’s also possible that in the course of OP’s daily work, they are able to pace themselves and take more time to do things they are slower at and make it up in other ways, or otherwise accommodate their disability. It’s harder to do that in a roomful of people all doing more or less the same activity in a coordinated fashion and expecting you to do it the same way. I also think we’re supposed to take OP’s word for it that the team activity was hard in a way that the daily work is not. The How is irrelevant.

    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      “Physical Job” is a pretty broad umbrella. You could be great at running, but unable to grip things due to to arthritis or something that effects your hands. Not every activity requires every body part

      1. sstabeler*

        To be fair, Penny’s comments sound more like someone saying “I don’t understand this- could you explain?” which isn’t quite the same thing. (basically, Penny seems to acknowledge the OP has a disability and more wants to understand how it works rather than dismissing it. In some ways, it’s slightly poor wording for a question that is actually fair- trying to find out what the limits imposed actually are)

    4. Triumphant Fox*

      I don’t think we really need to know the details. OP can do the job, but may not have the energy/ability to engage in further physical activity on top of that job. The job may also involve one set of physical skills which are fine, but running, moving quickly in a jarring motion, jumping could be impossible.

    5. Elemeno P.*

      I am young, in okay shape, can walk for hours, can lift heavy weights, and do a lot of highly physical things, but I can’t carry something light in my hand for very long because I have arthritic fingers. Physical activities are varied!

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      A couple ways:

      1) Types of work. When I walked with a cane and couldn’t stand for long, I did my exercising via weight machines. My ability to walk was entirely unconnected to my ability to do lat pulls. If the OP’s job involves different muscle groups than the optional activity, then obviously different needs apply.

      2) Conversely, there’s also the matter of capability budgeting. Spoon Theory is a good read for this. Someone who can walk a mile one day can’t necessarily walk a mile every day.

    7. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Because she can. Because disabled doesn’t mean incapable. Because when you have a chronic illness, you make choices about what you can and can’t do within the scope of your limitations. That may mean doing your job and then going home and spending the rest of the evening in bed with an ice pack instead of going out clubbing. The choices are the LW’s to make and not ours to judge.

    8. blackcat*

      I have a variety of joint injuries. Unexpected movements are my enemy. So I can weight lift, do yoga, even run, but I cannot do anything that could possibly end up as a contact sport. I cannot play even flag football or tennis, even though I could spend the entire game running around the perimeter.

      This is super common for folks with joint injuries/problems/connective tissue disorders. It’s not that our bodies don’t work, it’s that they’re extra fragile.

      1. CheeryO*

        +1. I have a mystery autoimmune-ish condition, and I can run marathons and hike mountains but get crippling pain from sitting in certain positions for long periods of time, driving long distances, and making certain sudden movements like shrugging my shoulders. So I could do certain physical jobs, and maybe even excel at them, while simultaneously being unable to do certain physical activities.

    9. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      That’s really not our business. She, like all of us (currently able-bodied or not), can do some physical activities and not others, or can do some physical activities easily while others cause pain or long-term damage.

    10. Plague of frogs*

      I can climb 70 flights of stairs in under 15 minutes, but I can’t jog more than a few feet without knee pain.

      Everybody has stuff they can do and stuff they can’t do. Think about it for a few minutes and you will identify yours. When the things you can’t do significantly deviate from the norm, we call it a “disability.”

    11. seejay*

      I rode in a bike marathon a few years back and did 80 km in 3 hours.

      Don’t ask me to run any distances or my asthma will freak the hell out and I’ll blow my knees out. I also need to take the elevator when we have fire drills because walking down 15 flights of stairs (our office is on the 15th floor) will blow out my calves and I can’t walk (or ride my bike) the next day. I don’t know why it does that, but it does. I’ve experimented with how I walk down the stairs, but anything beyond 6 flights and my calves will hate me for 24-48 hours and I’m pretty much crippled. They’ve been like this for 10 years. Sure, I’ll go down them in an emergency, I can *do it* but please don’t make me do it just for a drill.

      Disabilities and physical activity can have a wide range of what people can and can’t accomplish and can even fluctuate based on the day, week, month. Take someone’s word when they tell you what they’re capable of.

      1. Rainy*

        I walk/bus/bike everywhere (we don’t own a car), but I Don’t Do Stairs, for similar reasons. My knees and hips are shot from a couple of really bad accidents as a kid (11 and 13) and while I can walk long distances just fine (well, until the pain from my congenital foot defects kicks up, which happens kind of randomly), stairs are exhausting and very painful. Down is worse than up, but up isn’t great either.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        I also don’t do stairs due to both knee pain and intermittent balance issues. I can hike for days though.
        This is what annoys me about all those workplace health initiatives with the signs to take the stairs! Get up and move!
        What if I can’t, huh? Or what if I just don’t want to, am I lazy? Not a team player? Ugh.
        I’ve also seen people apologize to me in the elevator that they’re only going one floor. Or justify it.
        My response is universally “I’d never judge you for that” because it’s faster than the full rant on how other people’s exercise choices are really none of my business and it’s maybe an extra ten seconds on my trip and I wish society weren’t making them feel bad about this. But I don’t have time for the full rant when they’re only going one floor.

        1. Ruth ok*

          I need to use lifts alot of the time because of my knees. If I don’t then I can struggle just to walk or my knees spasm. I learned the hard way that I have to get assistance in airports, otherwise I arrived at the other end unable to walk. Some places seem to randomly lock lifts and you have to get special permission to use them, to encourage people to use the stairs and it adds unnecessary stress. Others like a place I used to work had no lifts and so many stairs, so I had to work from a different office from the rest of the team. I would occasionally trek up the 5 flights of stairs to the team office in the loft conversion of the old Victorian building. One time I did it and half an hour later there was a fire alarm, which turned out to be giving out surprise ice cream on the green outside and awards been given out. I was so pissed off, there was no way I could make it back up to the office and because I had done up and back in one go I was in much more pain. People’s mobility issues need to be considered for fire drill etc, because obviously it it’s an actual fire getting out beats painful consequences, but having to leave work and go home because the pain is so bad from a drill is ridiculous.

      3. sstabeler*

        to be fair, you taking the elevator isn’t actually a particularly good accommodation, since the fire evacuation procedures really should account for people who can’t evacuate under their own power- it’s better to have people designated to assist those in need of assistance to evacuate.

  10. Jules the First*

    Sounds like you have a pretty awesome workplace. Despite working for a firm which is supposed to be aware of this stuff (hello, we *design buildings*), I’ve still had no luck in getting contrast strips applied to our stairs…it adds about ten minutes to my day because I have to feel my way up and down the stairs all the time.

    I do bring up access for all during design reviews, but more often than not I still get looked at like I have three heads…

  11. Jar*

    OP, thanks for the update. In it, you mention:
    “My workplace and industry in general still (like most of the world) have a long way to go in terms of understanding and accessibility … ”
    Your workplace sounds very understanding once they were made aware of the issue – they don’t know unless you tell them.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I dunno, I’d say it’s standard best practice not to include physical activities unrelated to the business purpose as a team building activity. Because you’re forcing people to come forward and disclose their personal stuff to you, and if it doesn’t really relate to the job, why not just pick something more inclusive, like a picnic? Or make it a very optional, opt-in type activity.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


        My last company picnic offered a number of totally optional physical activities. You could play ultimate Frisbee, you could do a beanbag toss, you could participate in pie-ing managers in the face. Or you could just sit under the awning, eat the food they provided, and chat with others (and laugh at managers taking pie to the face).

        I chose the last option because I was an idiot who forgot sunscreen, and it was also over 100F that day. No thank you! And no judgment involved. Plenty of other people made the same choice, and there was no “but whyyyy” interrogation.

      2. fposte*

        I think the optional opt-in is the key. There is really no activity that isn’t going to be a problem for somebody, so the opt-in framing and offering a variety rather than one thing on which everything hangs are the optimal approaches.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, I think that’s really important.

          Some folks can’t play frisbee, some can’t eat the ice cream you bought, some can’t sit for long periods of time, some can’t be outside in the heat, etc. The goal can’t be to find something that works for everyone, but to make it ok for folks to make choices that work for them.

          1. Triple Anon*

            I completely agree with this. As long as, from a big picture perspective, everyone is being included. If you have physical activities as team building events, also have some non-physical ones. Or just let people participate in different ways. For example, I can’t usually play sports, but I’m cool with cheering for the teams, helping them strategize, designing logos, making posters, etc. You can have physical events with roles for people who don’t do the physical things.

          2. JessaB*

            Some can’t really be outside long either, especially where there’s food – bee allergic, asthmatic and allergic to pollens person here. I don’t DO outside stuff when it’s more than around 60 degrees out. Winter outside, great. Summer outside not happening. I just skip those big company events at outside venues that have no indoor cover.

            We have a huge farm complex here that does mini golf and all kinds of outdoor stuff. They also happen to make their own cheeses and ice creams (They’re called Young’s Jersey Dairy in Ohio if anyone cares, they’re AWESOME.) They do a LOT of company events cause they’re huge. They also have a cafeteria style restaurant/ice cream bar and a sit down restaurant. Guess who stays inside and eats their incredibly kill me it’s so rich ice cream. Seriously you visit Sountwestern Ohio, go have ice cream. (note, I do not have a fiscal interest, nor family relationship to the Youngs.)

      3. Yada Yada Yada*

        Depending on the size of the group, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to have 2-3 activities. I am in agreement with you about 70% Lil Fidget, but I think you’re forgetting some important considerations: that disabilities aren’t just physical in the way most people think, but can be physical in terms of difficulty with fine motor skill or can be related to learning, communicating, mental illness, etc. Let’s say we go to an event where we wrapped presents for homeless children–many people have restrictions or pain with fine motor movements, but we’re not going to avoid this activity for that reason. Or a team building dinner at a burger and fries type place, which can make it really hard for people recovering from ED to participate comfortably. Tons of people struggle with this, but we wouldn’t avoid food-centric activities for this reason. We wouldn’t provide optional written handouts for every team building event that includes verbal presentations because somebody might have an auditory processing disorder. And before anyone says these are far-out examples, they’re not! Everything I mentioned is way more common than you think, and there is such a wide range of physical, emotional, learning, etc disabilities, although most people think primarily of lower limb/back when talking about disability. If you know a team member has a restriction, of course you shouldn’t plan something that they couldn’t do! But the reason why I also agree with Jar is because you can’t predict everything. If you’re not aware of any limitations within your team, then I think you should choose activities that you would expect the average American of working age to be able to do comfortably and enjoy. And yes, I know this varies widely. So….running? Nope, lots of people wouldn’t like that or couldn’t keep up for a variety of reasons. But bean bag toss? Sure, some people have shoulder issues or difficulty standing for prolonged periods, but the average person would be ok. Drinks on a super tall building balcony with one of those glass floors? Nope, lots of people would be freaked out about the height, even though this isn’t a disability per se (but might be for some). Drinks on a normal-type balcony overlooking a river? Sure, people have OCD/anxiety/phobias of heights, water, etc, but most would be fine. You get the gist. Everyone should absolutely be accommodated and planned for, but you have to know what to accommodate in order to make this happen.

    2. OP*

      Nearly everyone I currently work with has been great to me so far. Unfortunately, I do have solid reasons for saying that. I work in an educational branch of my company, and at least once a meeting someone goes on a long tangent about how ADHD is made up / how difficult people with learning disabilities are /etc.

      In my parent company, it’s incredibly frowned upon to take time off for any reason. Working long, strenuous hours is considered an achievement, to the point that Peter’s predecessor used to brag about missing a family member’s funeral to work. If people get sick, they mostly just work through it. I’ve heard rumors regarding steroid abuse. A coworker I’m close friends with sat in on a lecture where the lecturer handed out sodas and candy and advised that his audience basically load up on sugar and caffeine on a regular basis, because that would be the only way they would have enough energy to handle the workload, and that was the priority above all else. That’s what I mean about obsessed with healthy bodies – probably more like obsessed with superhuman bodies – it’s not a place where having a body with needs is okay.

      My actual workplace is MUCH more healthy than that, thank goodness, but I feel like I’ve seen that culture and those priorities carry over to my workplace in small ways.

  12. Meagan*

    As a blind person with chronic pain and mental health issues, it makes me so happy to see such a productive, positive ending to this situation! It could have gone very differently, especially in an industry that’s still in the early stages of accessibility adoption, and I can’t express how encouraging this was to read. I’ll be sharing this widely as an example to other employers. :)

    1. fposte*

      Thanks for the link to your blog, Meagan; I’m really enjoying it (and it’s relevant to the conversation).

      1. Meagan*

        Why, thank you! I love hearing from new readers, and I’m glad it interested you. I wouldn’t normally put my blog here but it did indeed seem relevant today. I wouldn’t want anyone questioning my blindy credentials simply because I can use a computer (this happens way too often).

Comments are closed.