I had a meltdown during an office welcome back party in my honor

A reader writes:

I’m a 24-year-old woman and have worked for three years with a firm right out of college. The office is set up in different pods by team and pretty open within groups, but it’s still a maze of desks, MacBooks, and cubicles. It’s in a gutted old building in a downtown area. Everyone is around the same age and close knit, and work life has become pretty tied up with my social life. Pretty much my current close friends are the people I work with.

On top of the last year of shit, I was in a serious car accident in May 2020 and suffered a spinal injury. I am paraplegic (T12 complete) and need a wheelchair. The transition has not been easy, but work has been amazing throughout. They sent gifts, included me in remote events, and gave me an easy timeline to start back working remote when I got home (another nightmare). However, I really just want to get back to normal with life and work and not lose the closeness I had with my coworkers.

So back in March, the office opened back up for everyone to come back and pretty much my whole team did. My manager requested that I remain remote, saying that they were controlling numbers for social distancing and we would be rotated around. It was finally my turn this past week.

I showed up on Tuesday and there was an enormous banner and ribbon cutting for a new wheelchair ramp at the front of the building (there is already one in the back). I had my own parking spot (the handicap sign turned into a cartoon of me). The idea was sweet, but I was incredibly caught off-guard at the fanfare. Going inside, my desk has been moved away from my team (which is in the back of the building through a maze of cubicles but not impossible to get to) and now there’s whole pod cleared out for me next to a new family bathroom that is totally accessible (this was also new). They had balloons and cake and everything there.

I lost it. I started crying and left. My boss made me come aside, and I told her how embarrassed and hurt I felt. I did say things I regret, such as them making a performance and me being singled out and away from where the actual work is. I’ve been included in team meetings via Webex but have not really “hung out” with anyone since I left last year. I called my mom to pick me up and put in for PTO for the rest of last week.

My manager was very clearly offended, as apparently they had to spend a bunch of facility money to renovate. I get the idea and it was nice, but at no point did anyone tell me they were throwing me a f-ing cripple party and taking me away from my team. I am torn because I should be grateful but just feel embarrassed. My manager is visibly annoyed and condescendingly walking on eggshells with me. I’m back to remote at my request.

I have a new calendar invite for an HR meeting (at their request). I’m pretty nervous about the HR meeting and worried I damaged my reputation and place in our culture. I’d like to just get back to normal with everyone as it was a great place to work. What should I do?

I’m sorry you’ve been through all this!

They meant one thing and it landed a completely different way. They thought they were welcoming you back, and you felt singled out as Other. You wanted to rejoin your team, and you’ve been put in a separate pod far away from them. You’d been excited to get back to normal, and found a cartoon avatar of yourself in the parking lot. You wanted normalcy and you got hoopla and attention on exactly the stuff you’re trying not to center.

On their side, they probably thought they were showing you how happy they were to have you back and the work they’d done to make things comfortable and easy for you. Maybe what they did would have been welcome in a different set of circumstances or for a different person. Maybe they should have known from knowing you that this isn’t what you’d want. Who knows.

If they are as invested in you as their efforts to welcome you back make them seem, they’re going to understand that you’ve been through trauma and stress and your first day back at the office was no doubt highly emotionally loaded, and you lost it for understandable reasons.

But I do think you have to talk to your manager about what happened. Are you comfortable saying you appreciate the effort and expense they went through to welcome you back, but what you’d really been looking forward to was a return to normalcy — and all the hoopla and being moved away from your team was the opposite of that and hit you hard? And that it’s obviously been a terrible year and a hard adjustment and you just … lost it? And that you appreciate the intentions, but what you’d like most is to be part of the conversation about what accommodations you need, because you might not need or want everything they’d planned for? (Of course, if that doesn’t quite capture the way you feel, adjust as needed.)

As for the meeting with HR, you can say the same things. You can also say that what you want now is to get back to normal with everyone, and you’d appreciate their help in figuring out how to do that. There’s a very high likelihood that they’ll be relieved to hear that, because they probably set up the meeting to figure out what’s going on, not to take you to task.

I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough time! Let people know what’s going on with you and what you do want them to do (since clearly their instincts aren’t guiding them correctly) and I think you’ll be able to move forward from here.

{ 710 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    Not sure what to say other than sorry you went through all of that. I hope you can be open with HR about why you were upset. I kind of understand how everyone feels even if being condescending about it is bad behavior on their part.

    They just should have asked!

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Exactly this. Acting like “they had to spend a bunch of facility money to renovate” for a paraplegic employee is anything more than the bare fricking minimum required in 2021 is gross. LW is a competent adult. Ask. Her.

          1. Koalafied*

            Right? That guilt trip is basically saying, “How dare she not display sufficient gratitude for having continued access to frivolous luxuries like a bathroom she can actually use!”

          2. Wren*

            That all workplaces should be accessible for people with mobility issues unless it’s actually impossible for the kind of job. Even if there’s no current employees using mobility aids, having that be an option already really encourages people with disabilities to apply in the first place or remain in the workplace if they get hurt/sick. I have a condition that might cause me to need some mobility aids in the future and it’s something really important to me.

            1. Wren*

              I forgot to add: I mean this in reference to the fact that making it seem like it was a huge pat on the back to do this for OP is massively shitty when it’s the bare minimum to make an accessible workplace.

          3. lailaaaaah*

            I was once told by my former manager- we both worked in HR- that I should be ‘grateful’ for the expenses the company had paid to meet my access needs, and that she expected my productivity to rise enough to compensate them for it and then some.

            Y’know, because it’s not like IT’S THE LAW THAT THEY HAD TO DO IT or anything.

      1. Anonym*

        My only, louder and louder thought while reading this letter: “Ask people what they need. ASK people what they need. Ask people what THEY need. ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED. ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED!!!!!!!”
        I’m so sorry, OP. I would have been distraught and overwhelmed and legitimately upset too. I hope you can get things to a better place very quickly, and that your manager is receptive to your point of view (as, you know, the person at the center of all this).

        1. Heffalump*

          My natural instincts are towards restraint, so I like to think that I wouldn’t have made the mistakes the LW’s employer did, and in particular, I would have passed on the cartoon avatar. But I’ve never been in that position, so who knows?

          1. RJ*

            I think another important factor here is the manager’s reaction to the LW’s reaction. If all of this was truly a misguided but genuine attempt at welcoming LW back and making them feel safe and comfortable, manager would be apologetic. But the fact that manager is offended tells me manager did it for all the wrong reasons (e.g. virtue signaling how accommodating/diverse/whatever they are, wanting LW to grovel with gratitude, whatever)…

            1. CoveredInBees*

              I’ve heard from people with visible disabilities that people do seem to expect a whole lot of gratitude for the smallest of “help”; some of which was unrequested, paternalistic*, and/or far less helpful than the helpers assumed.

              e.g. Talking to someone in a wheelchair in a loud, slow voice and lots of hand gestures or, horrifyingly, patting them on the head.

            2. Observer*

              Given how the OP reacted, that may not be the case. Obviously, the company should have asked the OP what they need. And I’m not telling the OP what to feel about this.

              But they did not “throw a cripple party” with or without the F’s. And the two biggest things they did – new location and accessible bathroom were reasonable guesses. The OP says that they should be able to navigate the make of cubicles. But they could be wrong, there could be other issues with it (eg they are legitimately worried that three might be cables on the floor occasionally, which could cause issues) and it could even happen that the OP finds that in the longer term the whole navigation issue makes them move visible than they expected.

              It’s also possible that they just got really bad advice from someone who they had a good reason to trust. And, yes, I agree that just doing this was a bad idea.

              But given that reality it really is possible that the manager’s reaction is not because all they were doing is “virtue signalling.” In general, companies don’t spend a lot of money on virtue signaling, unless it’s on the PR necessary to broadcast the signal to the world.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                The bathroom and ramps are a basic minimum which didn’t need LW’s input.

                Moving her from her team zone requires a conversation where you say “hmm, we can’t reasonably accommodate LW at the same exact desk, let’s see what should work logistically and then talk to LW about the options.” Options including moving the team that includes a wheelchair user to a part of the building that’s fully accessible by wheelchair.

                1. Observer*

                  The bathroom and ramps are a basic minimum which didn’t need LW’s input.

                  That’s actually not the case. The ramp is certainly not required, as there is already an existing ramp. And it’s not a slam dunk that they need to go to considerable expense to create a new bathroom.

                  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should be gasping in awe at the magnanimity of the employer. Just that it’s clear that they were trying to do more than the bare minimum. Especially in the context of having been really good until this point – And I say “really good” because that’s what the OP said.

                  Which is not to say that it was ok for them not to talk to the OP. Of course they should have. ESPECIALLY about all of the other stuff. But that’s not the point I was addressing. I was addressing the idea that the only reason they did this was for “virtue signalling”. I don’t agree that it’s the only, or even most likely, motivation.

              2. Redd*

                It was a party based on unveiling basic accommodations like an exhibit. Look, a ramp! Look, an accessible bathroom! This is how we celebrate you, because we no longer care about your likes and interests–we literally put your face on a generic symbol for ‘disabled’ on display outside!”

                I’m sure it’s not what they intended, but even before getting to that line, I was thinking, they threw a hey-you’re-disabled party?

                1. WantonSeedStitch*

                  Yeah, this is what bugged me. Well intended, perhaps, but way far off the mark from what should have happened. It would have been so much better to have the manager greet her and say, “Hey, we’re so glad to have you back. Here’s an accessible restroom, here’s a new parking spot for you (without a cartoon caricature), and let us know if the ramp works for your needs. Then throw a “welcome back, we missed you, here’s a bouquet of lovely flowers to brighten up your new desk, here are some balloons with your favorite pop culture references on them, let’s all have some cupcakes from your favorite bakery” party that has nothing to do with disability or mobility aids or anything else like that.

                2. Observer*

                  I’m sure it’s not what they intended, but even before getting to that line, I was thinking, they threw a hey-you’re-disabled party?

                  That’s a very good summary of the issue. They surely did not MEAN it to read the way you described, but when you step back and look at it from outside, it’s easy to see why it it feels like it.

                  This is actually one of the reasons I read this site – I’d rather learn about other perspectives this way, than by doing something stupid like what was done to the OP, with all the best intentions in the world.

                3. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  That was my reaction too. I highly doubt they threw a Welcome Back Ribbon Cutting for every other employee’s first day back at the office. This isn’t a “we’re glad to have you back with us” party, it’s a “look at how thoughtful we are for doing all these things for you” party. Only, actually being thoughtful would be scheduling a meeting with OP to ask her what she needed before they started renovating and spending money.

                4. Koalafied*

                  Agreed – it may not have been intentional, but people don’t like to be singled out for being different. Even if done with positive overtones, it makes the singled out person feel like, “All I am to them is this one attribute, they do not see me as a whole person with multiple dimensions. Everything I do will be evaluated not just on the content of what I’ve done, but filtered through this lens of their limited idea of what people this attribute are like.”

                  It reminds me of a meme recently posted by the hilarious “Man Who Has It All” Facebook account that lampoons the disparate treatment of women in the workplace by posting gender-swapped stereotypes or cliches. The one I saw recently featured a photo of an upset man with the overlaid text: “Stop calling me a male CEO! I’m just a CEO!” shouts angry Jake, making everything about his gender as usual.

                  People at work want to be recognized for their work-related contributions and achievements, not have a bunch of attention drawn to their ascribed characteristics. To the extent the ramp and accessible bathroom facilitated her ability to do her work without undue hardship, those were appropriate actions. Calling a bunch of attention to the fact that they did it and expecting her to perform gratitude for it is totally out of touch, but for some reason a lot of people don’t see that until you point out how strange it would be to do this with someone who is straight/white/male/cis/able-bodied/etc – what society considers a “normal” (gag) person in comparison to whom every other quality is a deviation to be remarked upon.

                5. Archaeopteryx*

                  Yes, it seems like they didn’t think about “What would OP want?” and thought, “What do you do for someone newly in a wheelchair?” With the very understandable effect of making OP feel like she’s just “Wheelchair” now to them.

                6. Ellie*

                  Yes, and its really weird that they didn’t give OP a heads up about what they were planning as well. I can understand going ahead with plans like the ramps and the bathroom without input from the OP, but you’d think that their manager, or someone from HR, would have scheduled a meeting where they explained what the OP could expect to find on their first day. And moving them away from the team should have been a two-way discussion, where they discussed how it would work and who needs to be co-located.

                  I can see why the OP reacted the way they did, and I really don’t like how their manager is behaving after the fact. They should be mortified and trying to repair the relationship with OP, not treating them like an ungrateful child.

                  Is there any chance the manager can attend the HR meeting? Then OP can lay it all out on the table, and work through how to move forward from here.

                  Also… someone should be properly ashamed of that character icon in the car park. Do they never get any visitors? Are none of their other employees at risk of breaking their legs, or getting pregnant, or developing any kind of disability? There should be more than one handicapped park and it should not be marked out as the OPs. That really is insulting.

                7. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Yeah, I definitely see why OP felt overwhelmed and “othered” by it.

                  But I can also see how they probably were just excited to show the changes because it sounds like it probably took a lot of effort to get all that set up.

                  Hopefully they can take a second look and realize why it didn’t land the way they expected it to and will do a better job of actually talking to OP and asking what they actually need/want in the future.

              3. Kella*

                The two biggest things they did, if they are in the US, are legally mandated by the ADA. They aren’t extra, they aren’t special, they are just basic access that they are required to offer.

                The rest of the choices they made, yes, all could’ve had valid reasons behind the missteps, but that ignores the primary misstep, which is not asking OP what they need. If you aren’t actually getting that information from the person you’re helping, you aren’t actually interested in helping. The idea that abled people fully understand what a given disabled person will need, when they absolutely don’t understand at all, is something disabled people have to deal with all the time. It’s incredibly frustrating and even more so when, if we turn down the “help”, the “helper” says “I was just trying to help!!” This can be done incredibly politely and calmly and it still often provokes an angry and defense response from the “helper”.

                And then the other big misstep is turning the reveal of accessibility into a cause for celebration. I would bet if they had just thrown OP a welcome back party and not made the accesssible stuff a central part of that party, OP would’ve been a lot less overwhelmed. It’s awesome that they wanted to make OP feel welcome and invested in but speaking as someone who also became disabled later in life, your feelings about becoming disabled, ESPECIALLY in the first year or two, are super complicated and fraught with lots of conflicting feelings. They should’ve defaulted to taking OP’s lead on how they handled that. And instead, OP’s manager got mad at them for having a totally normal emotional response to a sensitive subject being made the center of attention.

                1. Observer*

                  The two biggest things they did, if they are in the US, are legally mandated by the ADA. They aren’t extra, they aren’t special, they are just basic access that they are required to offer.

                  Actually not the case. The ramp was certainly not necessary, as there is already a ramp in place – except that it’s in the back.

                  The bathroom may or may not have been required. It depends on a lot of factors that are not completely clear. eg If they were creating a new bathroom anyway, then yes it would need to be accessible. But to create a new bathroom JUST for accessibility might not actually be required, based on their size, budget and the last time they renovated the building.

                  If you aren’t actually getting that information from the person you’re helping, you aren’t actually interested in helping.

                  That’s just wildly untrue. I realize that the right way (both practically and morally) is to ASK. But it’s just wildly out of touch with the way people actually operate to assume that people don’t ask ONLY and ALWAYS because they don’t really care about the person they are doing things for.

                  They should’ve defaulted to taking OP’s lead on how they handled that.

                  Agreed. There is no question about that. But it’s easy to see why they didn’t realize. People made a lot of fun of Donald Rumsfeld when he said that there are a lot of unknown unknowns, but he was right. People who are familiar with disability accommodation are familiar enough with the issue to know that they just don’t know. People who have not dealt with it don’t even know the questions to ask – may not even know that there ARE questions.

                  And instead, OP’s manager got mad at them for having a totally normal emotional response to a sensitive subject being made the center of attention.

                  See, that’s a totally normal response. It’s not a GOOD response, but it’s totally not surprising. He probably had no idea what hit him – remember, he probably doesn’t even know enough to know that there are questions to be asked here. And the OP’s response was probably not very enlightening. That’s not surprising either, nor is it a reflection on them. But it does mean that the manager probably just doesn’t understand what went wrong.

                2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Did anyone else notice that the buildings ramp was in the back question mark and so was worth the original location of her desk?

              4. Finland*

                I can’t believe you’re refuting the OP’s lived experience merely to speculate about what the boss might have thought. Of course, the environment could change while the OP was away, but I’m sure she has the faculties to determine whether cables might block her path, or whether she has an easy or difficult time getting to a cubicle within her own workspace.

                She has always had access to the building through the back ramp entrance and has had the ability to interact with her coworker friends in a way that is obviously satisfying to her. The company wanting to add new accommodations to their facility has nothing to do with her, even though they are trying to make it seem as though it does. They basically relegated her to solitary confinement and have thrown a party about it while expecting her to be happy at the prospect of being away from her friends and being unable to enjoy her social life. You don’t know how isolating and how depressing that is, especially when it’s being done under the guise of helping, and it’s only being done to her.

                For them to expect the her to not have any opinion about it, particularly when she wasn’t even consulted on what the company intended to do, and for a party that no one even obtained her input on, is absurd.

                If the boss were writing in, maybe it would be appropriate to speculate about their motives once you’ve gotten enough information from their perspective. But the OP wrote in complaining about people not taking her at her word and assuming they know better. You have just demonstrated a picture-perfect example of exactly what she was complaining about. Please don’t be that person.

                1. Observer*

                  I can’t believe you’re refuting the OP’s lived experience

                  What on earth? No one is refuting the OP’s experience. What happened happened. And it should not have happened. No one is “refuting” that, as though it was an argument. I’m not even saying that the OP is wrong for not being happy about it.

                  I’m simply making the points that if the OP doesn’t want to start job hunting now, it’s to their benefit to start their meeting assuming good faith, and that all of the people who claim that it’s impossible that there was good faith are simply wrong. It’s possible that it really was all just a selfish and self-serving exercise meant to other the OP. But it actually is not the most likely explanation of what happened.

                  Let’s be clear here. I am NOT talking about what the OP experienced, but how it came to be.

      2. Anonys*

        Yes, honestly! I mean stuff like building an accessible bathroom and a ramp when there wasn’t one before is kind of a no brainer and stuff they should have anyway imo. But I think they should have told OP they wre doing that instead of suprising them with big fanfare. at least say: “just so you know, we are planning x and y changes to make the office more accessible. Please let us know about anything else we can do”.

        what they should have 100% included OP in is conversations related to where they would be working and if they would like to stay close to the team or be moved to a more accessible spot.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I think the ramp and the bathroom are building modifications that are necessary but it would have been good to check in case the OP had any particular needs as not all accessible bathrooms are created equal and some are better than others. Also some floor surfaces are less good for wheelchairs than others.

          Things like moving the workstation and having a party are definitely things that should be discussed.

      3. Mayflower*

        Have you ever worked in customer service? If you have, you would know that when people are angry, they will be angry no matter what. You can bend over back over backwards trying to help them, you can go far beyond what is reasonable, you can agree beforehand on every step, and they will still lash out at you.

        As a recent example, I rented a house to a single mom. She was not financially qualified and had no rental history so she was over the moon when I offered her the lease. I also offered to install automatic flood lights and fake security cameras on the front and the back of her house. It was several hundred dollars out of my pocket but I felt bad for her as a single mom with young children in an area affected by George Floyd riots and wanted her to feel safe in the house. The day everything got installed she called me and absolutely laid into me for violating her privacy, hiring a male electrician, and so on.

        In this case, OP is very understandably angry about her circumstances, and that’s that. No need to dump on her management who bent over backwards to create a safe and welcoming environment for them. They did nothing wrong.

        1. TapDancingCats*

          That seems pretty condescending. OP’s responses are her own, and they are valid; there are no grounds for accusing her of misdirecting other feelings.

          Yes, management did a lot, and much of it will be of use in the long run, I am sure. But “bending over backwards” for OP would have involved actually *asking her what she needed.* A cartoon in the parking lot would not, it is clear, have been on the list.

          1. quill*

            When you go out of your way to do things FOR someone and they don’t actually tell you that they want or need them, you always run the risk of overstepping.

        2. bookworm*

          Hoo boy, there’s a lot here. Mayflower, I hope you take the opportunity to read other comments on this thread about how good intentions don’t always equal good impact, and that centering your intentions without checking with the person impacted about how they will be received is a recipe for hurt feelings on all sides. Can you see how much what feels like safety and welcoming is extremely individualized (in both your story and in the original letter)? Same advice applies– approaching someone with the question “Are there things I might be able to do that would make you feel safe/welcome in this space?” and then *listening to* the answer will get you so much farther toward actually achieving your stated intentions.

        3. quill*

          When you go out of your way to do things FOR someone and they don’t actually tell you that they want or need them, you always run the risk of overstepping.

          What you, and OP’s management, have both done in terms of installing a bunch of new ‘solutions’ as a nice, surprising gesture is no different from if you had baked me a massive cake without knowing that I couldn’t eat it, then got angry because I didn’t eat it, etc.

          It’s understandable that you want to be recognized for your effort and intention, but without communication ahead of time on what is wanted or needed – communication that allows for refusal of your effort – you dig your own special social hole of social resentment.

          1. Hazel*

            …then got angry because I didn’t eat it… and then decided that I was displacing my displeasure with your “surprise” onto you because I was really upset about something else. That’s an excellent excuse to NOT listen to what someone is actually telling you!

          2. Despachito*

            ” no different from if you had baked me a massive cake without knowing that I couldn’t eat it, then got angry because I didn’t eat it, etc.”

            But this is more as if YOU became angry at the (good intentioned, but a bit clueless) cake baker.

            I think the correct thing here would be to thank the cake baker for their effort, recognize their good intentions and explain to them that, unfortunately, I am unable to eat their cake.

            I understand the LW’s situation was emotionally heavily laden, and I can see why she was not able to do that. But as Observer very rightly said, the people who made the changes probably did not have enough experience to know that there were some stumbling blocks for them to avoid. They had good intentions which deserve to be recognized as such, although LW absolutely should explain to them what rubbed her wrong and what she really needs. I wish she was able to do that ( I imagine that the entire thing must be very raw and emotional for her), because I think that the colleagues genuinely love her, put a lot of effort into preparing her return, and will be probably willing to continue being helpful, but it will require clear communication from OP’s side.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              The place where the cake analogy stops working is that ableism is not cake.

              There’s a certain level of infantilization that happens to disabled people on the regular. The idea that abled people know what disabled people need and therefore don’t need to ask any kind of clarifying questions is incredibly common. The behaviors OP’s manager and coworkers engaged in came from a place of unconscious ableism. They weren’t coming at the ableism from a place of malice, but it’s absolutely, definitely there.

              There is no part of me that blames OP for her reaction here. I don’t necessarily blame her manager and coworkers either, because they seem to be coming at this from a good hearted place. But in general, when you know one of your employees has needs that other employees don’t, the best procedure is to ask that employee what those needs are and include them in the conversation about how to get those needs met.

              1. Despachito*

                I agree, but I think that those with special needs also bear their part of responsibility to clearly communicate to others what they need/want. At least it helps avoid many misunderstanding if you are on the same page.

                No one has a crystal ball, and I am afraid many people who are not familiar with special needs have no clue about a lot of pitfalls this can include, and often avoid the disabled person just for fear they might do something wrong unawares and it would be embarrassing for both of them.

                1. fluffy*

                  It seems like OP was completely blindsided by the efforts being taken by their abled management. Are you saying that people who are already being bogged down by a bunch of issues should be preemptively getting ahead of others, when they already have plenty of stuff to deal with on their own?

                2. Autistic AF*

                  I’ve communicated my needs as a disabled person clearly and had them ignored, while things I did not ask for were assumed as appropriate accommodations. Not only that, but I wasn’t even allowed to communicate my needs directly – I needed a doctor to sign off, despite me not having access to a doctor with any knowledge of autism. My experienced Occupational Therapist wouldn’t no, nor would the person who understands me best – me. Your intentions are also good, I’m sure, but they are naive and ill-informed.

                3. Tía Teapot*

                  LW here was supposed to telepathically be aware that the people at work were planning all these things, in secret, and pre-emptively tell them not to?

                  Someone in HR, knowing that a newly disabled person was going to be returning to work, should have reached out to the employee and discussed all these plans they were enacting. Sounds like LW thought they weren’t going to need extra accommodations (a ramp already existed), or that there would be time to figure things out now that remote work is more acceptable.

                4. Nina*

                  If someone doesn’t know how to do a task (fill out a spreadsheet, make an office accessible, make a cake the recipient can eat), the advice Alison has consistently given is that THEY SHOULD ASK SOMEONE WHO KNOWS!
                  Don’t know how to make the office accessible to your newly-disabled colleague? why not ask the person who is uniquely qualified to answer that question. It’s not hard.

                5. allathian*

                  All that could be avoided if people just took it for granted that you need to ask disabled people what accommodations they need, rather than assume. Sure, it was coming from a good hearted place, but it was still ableism.

                  The expectation that the disabled person should always be the first to communicate their needs is ableist. A non-ableist employer would ask first before doing anything. At the very least, this avoids any expectations of performative gratitude for an unnecessary accommodation.

                  That said, I hope the LW can go to the HR meeting in a state of mind that lets them acknowledge the accommodations but also let them know that they would have preferred a matter-of-fact tour of the new facilities without any ribbon cutting or cartoon avatars for the disabled parking (WTF?), and to sit with their team rather than isolated near the disabled bathroom, if this is in fact how they feel, that’s the impression I got from the letter at any rate.

                  The thing is, always ask. Requests can be easy, difficult, or impossible to accommodate for various reasons, but ask. Never assume that you know another person’s needs without asking, and above all, it’s utterly out of line to expect gratitude for an accommodation that the person concerned hasn’t asked for and doesn’t want or need.

                6. Despachito*

                  If I may post my reply to Fluffy here (it does not let me reply below their post):

                  “Are you saying that people who are already being bogged down by a bunch of issues should be preemptively getting ahead of others, when they already have plenty of stuff to deal with on their own?”

                  I am sorry for the confusion – I did not mean that OP should have done it in her situation, it is a new thing for her and she is struggling with it, and I think they absolutely should give her a pass for her reaction (and then together figure out what would REALLY work for her).

                  What I meant was that it can help if someone with a condition needing special accommodation who is already not in the state of the initial shock explains their coworkers the basics of what they need and what is to be avoided. I think it would prevent a good deal of awkwardness on both sides, and get the disabled person – at least with decent people – the wanted help while avoiding the unwanted.

        4. Momma Bear*

          I have worked in customer service and sometimes what you need to do when the person is angry, especially legitimately so, about a company interaction is to work with them on it and figure out if there’s a way to mitigate. If the company I worked for took away a feature and I was sympathetic and showed the customer how to use a workaround, people were often not angry anymore. What OP’s boss should have done when OP got upset was take her aside and apologize and then asked how to make it work for OP/listened to her concerns. Does not sound like that happened. OP has a legitimate gripe here. Even if they had good intentions, they did it the wrong way.

        5. Lenora Rose*

          Management decided what she needed without asking her. It sounds like you *asked* the person who was then upset at the changes you made. This is a key difference, and it’s interesting that you pass it over in favour of “They did nothing wrong”.

          Not asking a person what they need/prefer IS doing something wrong, even if it turns out what they need/prefer and what you were planning are identical.

        6. Ellie*

          They’ve isolated her – this is a very legitimate thing to be angry about, regardless of the disability.

          Did you tell your tenant that you were going to have the security cameras installed? I don’t like security cameras, and my mother (who was a single parent) likes them even less, it feels like a way to keep tabs on what you’re doing/whether you’re having men over – things like that. If you explained what they were for and when it was happening then all good, but if you sprung it on her, then I can understand why she took it the wrong way.

          There was an old episode of The Bill which opened on a scene where the new female officer walked in on the men in the officer’s locker room, and they made a few jokes about how they can’t walk around like that now that they have their first female officer. Later on in the episode, the head of the division unveils the new female officer’s locker room, with a party complete with pink paraphernalia. Of course she was extremely angry as she was now isolated from the other officers and being treated like some kind of novelty. This is the same thing.

        7. calonkat*

          Mayflower, in your example you twice used the word “offered”. The company in this letter did not offer, they simply did, which led to the issue.

        8. Rena*

          I worked in customer service for years. When people are angry, by far the most effective response is, “I understand, this is really frustrating. What can I do to make it better?” I can count on one hand the customers that stayed angry with me when I showed that I was listening to their needs.

        9. Starbuck*

          They didn’t “bend over backwards,” they failed to take the very simple and easy step of talking to her about what she needed! They did a bunch of stuff without her request or input! It’s definitely nice that they thought to do -something- but they didn’t put any effort into the most basic step of accommodating a disabled person, which is asking what they need.

        10. lailaaaaah*

          I have spent my career in customer service. Hell, I work in IT support, and I used to work in HR. I’m used to angry customers.

          The thing is, though? Sometimes that anger is legitimate, like it is here. OP was not at any point consulted about what she needed. She certainly was not asked ‘hey, do you want your face to be plastered all over the big DISABLED car parking sign out front?’ Having a bad reaction to having all of that dropped on her all of a sudden, in front of the ENTIRE OFFICE, on her first day back after what must have been an absolute nightmare of a time, is not a bad thing.

          Also, it might be worth looking at your own practices as a landlord (which is not customer service btw, it’s an investment that requires some human contact). Did you let her know ahead of time when the electrician would be coming over? My landlords in the past never did. I once walked out of a shower, dressed only in a towel, and found a total stranger of a man in my hallway asking where my boiler was. Scared the living daylights out of me. The single mother in your story may have had a similar experience.

          Also also, accommodations aren’t generosity. They’re literally a legal requirement. Employers demanding that staff perform gratitude for them are being ridiculous and frankly patronising.

        11. Kal*

          This comment (and the OPs management) sounds very “After Everything I’ve Done for You (That You Didn’t Ask For).

          Doing something because you think its helpful without asking the person if it is actually something they want or need is being helpy, not helpful. Expecting people to be grateful for something they never wanted to begin with is just poor behaviour that centers your desire to be seen as a good person over the “helped” person’s actual needs and wants.

          Did you ever ask your tenant what her specific issue with the electrician was? Did he just show up and let himself into the place without notice? Was she in a vulnerable position when he showed up? And why does her having an objection to the electrician have anything to do with anything of the rest you said about her? You offering her a tenancy without rental history is irrelevant – she’s your tenant now, you agreed to that. You are the one that offered the lights and fake cameras, why do you write it like you’re somehow offended that you paid money for something you offered to do that counts as an improvement to your own property? She doesn’t have to swear fealty to you and accept everything you do because you deigned to let her enter into a business agreement with you. You’re a landlord, not a feudal lord.

          And nor does OP have to swear fealty and never express unhappiness with the workplace’s decisions. Management made those changes so OP can continue working and producing for the company as per the business agreement – it was at least partly mandated by law and the largely mandated by their desire to make money by having OP work. That is not “bending over backwards”. Especially since some of the changes were misguided by not asking OP what they needed to actually work at the best of their ability. Working with a disabled employee to provide accommodations isn’t just in the best interests of the employee, its in the best interests of the company to make sure that they put their effort and money into something that will actually be helpful. Having that active dialogue before helping someone is important for everyone.

      4. Former Child*

        There must be resources for her, people w/firsthand experiences. She doesn’t necessarily have all the answers. She could have answered about her personal preferences but there’s a lot of information she can get from networking.

        She sounds very alone. Did no one hook her up w/counseling and groups who’ve been through this for their expertise and support? If she’s refusing that to “get back to normal” that could be part of the problem.

        Also, we all want to “get back to normal” after Covid, but now we’re facing Delta, so we have to look for any support that’s there for us.

        1. lailaaaaah*

          I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate about what OP may or may not be doing- the issue here is the employer putting her on the spot, which I imagine most people would find mortifying. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone making such a big issue of my disabilities at work, and mine are nowhere near as related to trauma as OP’s. All I need is for my managers to sit down with me, we can work out what accommodations are needed for the situation, and that can and should be it.

      5. Spicy Tuna*

        100% this! Although my example is NO WHERE near the same league as the OP, the CEO of the company I provide consulting services for thought it would be a great idea to have a birthday cake and celebration for me as a scheduled meeting with all of the C-level execs coincided with my birthday. Thankfully, her EA knew me very well and told her it would be a bad idea (I HATE being the center of attention). It would have ruined my day had they acknowledged my birthday.

    1. els*

      The condescension is really burning my toast. It just feels like such a jerk move to punish the OP for not being (in their eyes) appropriately grateful instead of apologizing for making them uncomfortable and overwhelmed in the first place. It’s one thing to feel put out about it; it’s another to display that put-out-ness as bad behavior. It reads like “Hey, we already displayed what we think empathy is; why should we display any more?”

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Everything they did sounds wonderful on paper. They only missed out on consulting with the person who is affected by all the changes and getting their input. The manager getting mad at the LW for not being grateful enough is the icing on the handicapped signage.

          1. JRR*

            Does everything they did sound wonderful on paper? It sounds cringe-inducing to me. I like having fun as much as the next person, but when it comes to things like ADA compliance I think stodgy and by-the-book is the way to go.

            1. quill*

              Yeah the cartoon in particular feels… overboard for a welcome back party.

              Ways to handle this that were potentially less condescending: communicate with OP about needed accomodations that aren’t isolating. Have a welcome back party that does not include any tour of the building improvements, if and only if it’s not a surprise and you can get a read on how much celebration is warranted. Do physical touring of new accomodations in private to check that they’re sufficient. Don’t put a cartoon cutout in the parking lot.

              1. Lexie*

                I could see putting a “reserved for OP” sign on the parking spot to insure they always have an accessible place to park. The cartoon feels inappropriate.

                1. Fran Fine*

                  The cartoon was wildly over the line. It reads like something out of a workplace parody.

              2. Avi*

                The cartoon is absolutely indefensible. I mean… They put a f—ing caricature of her on a handicapped parking sign!? All the other stuff is already pushing the bounds of decency, but with that it’s hard to read this as anything other than them celebrating op getting her spine severed because it lets them put on some performative accommodations.

            2. LifeBeforeCorona*

              It was meant as everything that they did sounds wonderful on paper. A party! A washroom! A parking space! A ramp! Balloons! Everyone had an idea and every idea was incorporated into the welcome back.

              1. JRR*

                I see what you mean–any of those ideas in a different context might have been fine. But why were those ideas solicited from “everyone” in the first place?

                My workplace is wheelchair accessible, and I’m pretty sure it was made that way without a companywide brainstorming session.

                Similarly, I’ve known several coworkers who’ve returned to work after a long absence due to some serious reason. In each case the welcome they received was subdued, and not the result of everyone pitching in fun ideas.

          2. Kella*

            Speaking as a disabled person, it does not sound wonderful on paper. It sounds like it was designed to make the abled folks feel good about themselves for accommodating the OP. Of course, no one was doing this maliciously or even consciously. That’s just how our culture teaches abled folks to interact with disabled folks.

            1. meyer lemon*

              And on top of that–it’s clear that none of this was really about the LW at all. Not only was she not consulted about the accommodations, it sounds like the party was really accommodation-focused, with nothing specific to what they know about the LW as a person. Even though it sounds like they know her pretty well, the party reduced her just to her disability.

              1. Kella*

                That part. I feel like a lot of people are skipping over the fact that it was a choice to make the new accommodations such a central part of the celebration. They didn’t have to be. They could’ve just been part of a standard “what’s new?” walk-through instead of a public spectacle.

                1. onco fonco*

                  Yes – and maybe at some point they could throw a welcome back party for *actual LW*, with things she likes, expressing that they have missed her and are so glad to have her with them again after everything she’s been through. This wasn’t celebrating her at all – it was the office celebrating itself for providing basic accommodations and changing a bunch of stuff without asking LW if she wanted them to.

                2. lailaaaaah*

                  This! They could have walked her through and had a party with her colleagues at her desk/in their workspace. That was all that would have been needed, not putting OP on show and complaining that she doesn’t like it.

              2. Batgirl*

                I think the managers annoyance really drives it home that she’s just supposed to be a grateful 2d character. If I put my foot in my mouth this much with a totally mislanded gesture, I’d be speaking with the OP to genuinely fix it, and ask what I could do to make her feel the way I intended her to feel. But the way the manager intended her to feel was teary gratitude for celebrating a basic accomodation, so she’s more annoyed she isn’t getting that narrative than for misjudging.

            2. LifeBeforeCorona*

              Most people have limited experience with accommodating disabilities. There was a meeting and every idea was incorporated and to many people, it does look wonderful. However, they aren’t seeing through the eyes of the end-user. Make a sign for the handicap parking space, but leave out the cutesy icon. A lesson from years ago was, “Are you doing this to make yourself feel good or to give real help to the person who needs it?” Obviously, this office missed the mark by a long shot.

            3. HereKittyKitty*

              All that was missing was someone recording the video and posting it as “inspiration” porn with a clickbait title.

            4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              Yeah, this. The real trigger for me was the cartoon on the parking space. That feels cutesy/condescending. It also is a really public identifier to anyone in the parking lot that we have a real live disabled person in our office! And even, depending on the cartoon, here’s generally what they look like!
              There’s a lot of well- meant that went wrong here, but the through- line is that the party and cartoon all have that particular look- I’m- an-ally-I- accept- all- of- you flair that can a) both really chafe and b) be very delicate to explain to the People Who Meant Well.

            5. Spicy Tuna*

              Agree with you 100% Kella. My mom is disabled and she prefers that people just ignore her disability wherever possible. She wants to be treated like any other person except that she needs some additional accommodations that should be provided without commentary

            6. Orb*

              The f-ing giveaway that this was a big ego party for them is that when it upset her, the manager’s reaction was to get angry at her for not being appreciative and be overtly icy and condescending to her as punishment. That’s the whole story, right there! It literally had nothing to do with the LW! They didn’t ask her what she needed or wanted accommodation-wise and then expected her to praise them for providing her with, let me check my notes here, ah yes, the ability to keep working for them. So generous, so kind.

              It’s so goddamn typical. Abled people associate baseline accommodations as special treatment, unearned goodies they’re bestowing upon you out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s the same attitude that leads to the kind of overt hostility you usually get at work when you need something that leads to them making a bathroom accessible and expecting you to gush about how nice they are for it. I am so tired.

              1. Boxner*

                Yup, if it wasn´t for the managers offended reaction, I could have given them the benefit of the doubt and thought that the only reason they didn´t ask OP about this stuff beforehand was because they, naively, wanted her to experience it as a giant surprise, sort of Extreme Home Makeover-style (“OMG I get a personalized parking spot with a caricature? LOVE IT!”). The key is that had they truly wanted to make her happy, her being upset would have caused them to be very apologetic and concerned, not double down on their actions. I really feel for OP. I hope the meeting with HR will help clear this up and make the manager understand that this was not okay.

            7. CowWhisperer*

              Yeah, I pretty much read the letter and wanted to crawl under a bed for a few hours until the second-hand embarrassment on behalf of what the LW went through eased.

              I try to handle the awkward moments that come up with me, my sister or my son with some level of aplomb – but between the cartoon picture at my parking space (*shudders*) and the ribbon cutting for the finally updated front entry (*rolls eyes*), I’d have been completely emptied out of any dignity, aplomb or whatever keeps ya from rage-crying and cursing when I find out I’m now not present with my team.

      1. Hobbit*

        Besides reinventing the office to make it accessible is something they should have done anyway. They don’t get a gold start for doing the bare minimum.

        I’m sorry they treated OP like a prized pony. Op deserved better.

        1. Properlike*

          Yes. The changes were about how great management was to do this for OP. OP was merely the catalyst for them to show what great people they are, somewhat incidental. They made it all about them, and got hurt when the reaction wasn’t “you’re great!”

        2. Momma Bear*

          The other problem is that they “reinvented” the office….in a way that doesn’t work for OP. She’s not with her team. So what was the point?

      2. anonymath*

        It’s defensiveness. It takes a very gracious human to give a gift, have it rejected, and react with humility.

        I’m not talking about what should be here, just what actually is. In the world of “should”, co-workers/managers would have checked openly with the LW about what she wanted and needed, and balanced that with the firm’s responsibilities (I’d argue remodeling the bathroom is actually their responsibility, and not just for the LW). In the world of “should”, maybe a low-key welcome lunch would’ve worked better — I say that because we’re doing a lot of sort of delayed new-employee-welcome-lunches because it’s a nice way to get to know each other again.

        But what’s happened already happened. This is hard for the manager because they feel like they tried to do something good and it fell flat. If they were enlightened, they’d let it go and behave better going forward. But most of us are defensive and reactive creatures. The LW is thinking about this as a “cripple party” which will definitely influence her reaction (if she were in a different headspace, she might react differently: if she thought of these people like cats who lovingly bring in a dead mouse, she’d probably react differently, right?). The manager is thinking of this as now looking stupid, doing something wrong, trying to retain a valued employee and doing the wrong thing, looking bad in front of coworkers, etc.

        I’m not saying any of these stories is right or wrong. They’re all just narratives, points of view.

        1. Tía Teapot*

          IMO, seeing creating an accessible workspace as “a gift” is a huge part of the disconnect. Being able to get yourself to your workspace, having a useable bathroom at work, are not expressions of benevolent generosity.

          I mean, it’s great that the job was willing and eager to make substantial changes to ensure that this employee could come back & continue being successful at the work. None of it should have been a surprise, though. (I’m firmly in camp “if someone reacts differently than you hoped to a public surprise, that’s on you for creating a public surprise, not on them for not enacting your secretly-imagined gratitude performance”.)

          I’m not clear about whether the management here is also mid-20s-ish, in which case I’d give them a learning-experience pass on judgment. I think Allison’s advice is spot-on: explain how othering it felt, maybe (depending) how the extra “Now You Are Different!” celebration aspect really didn’t help with the stress of, y’know, all of life being different, and so: meltdown.

          1. Observer*

            Creating a second ramp, when there is already and existing one, so the OP doesn’t need to go to the back to get in is far more than the “bare minimum”. Going to significant expense to add an accessible bathroom, etc. is also above the bare minimum.

            I wouldn’t call it a “gift”. But it IS something good that someone tried to do that does go above the bare requirements. Even if it was the wrong thing to do, it’s still difficult to have that thrown in your face.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              It read to me like her old desk and the rest of her team are actually in the back, so I’m kind of inclined to think the extra ramp wasn’t necessarily beneficial to OP. Adding an accessible bathroom is bare minimum. It sounded to me like they didn’t have an existing one. They should’ve been in trouble for that sooner, not just putting one in once an employee needed it. If this is an extra accessible bathroom, and closer to where they moved her, it’s not a “bare minimum” thing but it’s also not necessary if she didn’t want to be over there and isolated from her team anyway.
              While it may be difficult to have “you’re doing kindness wrong” thrown in your face, in so so so so many cases, and I think definitely in this one, it’s necessary part of life. Like yeah, they went to significant expense – and if that was rough but they only did it because it’s “the right thing to do” and then it turns out it was in fact the wrong thing to do- well they wasted that expense themselves. That’s on them. Not OP for not wanting or needing it. And if OP did need, then it’s not a “nice” thing, it’s a “required” thing.

              1. Observer*

                The OP indicates that the new ramp was additional, which sounds like they thought it would be usable. If they are correct then the new ramp is not necessary.

                And, not they should NOT necessarily have been in trouble already for not having an accessible bathroom. Depending on a lot of factors, they may actually not have been required to have one.

                I don’t disagree that they handled the situation badly. But I think it’s a lot more useful to try to recognize good faith. It doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t be changed, and that some (possibly difficult) conversations don’t need to happen. But the OP is going to be much better off understanding that while it is 100% true that their company mishandled things, their company are not necessarily trying to be dismissive or othering.

            2. Tía Teapot*

              I didn’t use the term “bare minimum”..? And “gift” was in the post I replied to. Workplace accommodations, even those which are expanding a currently minimal situation, are not about giving someone a gift. A party to celebrate OPs return would’ve been fine, IMO. A celebration of “Surprise! Look at what we did for you without asking, you disabled person you!” is different

              Good intentions aren’t a magic get-out-of-mistakes-free card. I have no problem with the manager here having hurt feelings because their surprise wasn’t appreciated in the way they wanted it to be. I do have a problem with the manager making those hurt feelings the problem of the person whose own feelings they hurt with their surprise.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I’m firmly in camp “if someone reacts differently than you hoped to a public surprise, that’s on you for creating a public surprise, not on them for not enacting your secretly-imagined gratitude performance”.
            I’ve laid out the sleeping bags, I’ve lit the fire and I’m toasting the marshmallows for this one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a public surprise that was about the surprisee, rather than the surpriser. Private surprises are different.

            1. Willis*

              This. I feel like surprise parties are in the same bucket as pranks and jokes, in that you have to really, REALLY know your audience. They’re a risk. If they land flat, that’s on you and not the intended recipient.

              I feel like the office could’ve made accessibility improvements like the ramp or bathroom and then asked OP what additional accommodations would work for her. But coupling all that stuff with the welcome back fanfare strikes me as quite tone deaf, especially considering the pretty big fact (IMO) fact that she hasn’t interacted on a social level with anyone there for over a year. Like, I would have very little confidence my co-worker would like our “Meet Your New Accommodations!” party if I hadn’t even hung out with them in over a year during which so much traumatic stuff was happening to them.

              But the manager’s take on this is what’s really off to me. Like I would feel so apologetic and embarrassed if I hurt an employee’s feelings like that on their first day back. And like an idiot for not thinking more about how all the fanfare would come off. Hopefully HR can sort it out and really be helpful for the OP!

              1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

                I agree with that last part. I have only a couple times ever made someone cry. And I felt like such a horrible, horrible person. Just so, so, so sorry, and would have done anything to take it back or make it better. Mad at someone for crying is not a reaction I can easily identify with.

                I guess maybe the boss felt publicly humiliated? That can be a horrible, angry, lashing out kind of feeling, and maybe that feeling of humiliation was stronger than any “oh my God I messed up what did I do” feeling.

                1. DutchClog*

                  I am no stranger to shame and how difficult an emotion it is to handle. And to some ‘I messed up, what did I do?’ is already a such a serious blow to their self-esteem for defenses to kick in, and then to feel like a fool in public cranks this up to eleven. Yeah I think the boss felt humiliated. Doesn’t make his reaction OK of course.

            2. Le Sigh*

              I actually know a few people who would love a public marriage proposal on a jumbotron and everything — but every time I see them I’m internally thinking “I hope you really, really know this person and this is something they actually want, because otherwise this is dicey.”

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                I feel like the people who would most appreciate the big public proposal (etc) don’t actually want a *surprise*, though. They want enough headsup to have had a photogenic manicure and be wearing a nice outfit, even if they don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

                1. Your Local Password Resetter*

                  And I don’t think they want the proposal itsself to be a suprise either, just the exact when and how. Marriage is kind of a big deal, and not something you want to decide on the spot with thirty people staring at you to make the fairytale movie moment happen.

              2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

                I’m an introvert with anxiety. At ballgames, I’m always scanning for the jumbotron cameraman so I can hide under the bleachers. A proposal like that would be my nightmare.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  There is truly nothing I hate more than kiss cam.

                  Okay that may not be true. I think I hate chocolate fountains more. But it’s close.

            3. Observer*

              I’m firmly in camp “if someone reacts differently than you hoped to a public surprise, that’s on you for creating a public surprise, not on them for not enacting your secretly-imagined gratitude performance”.

              I agree with you. Public surprise parties are a BAD idea. But some people seem to think that they are the best thing ever, and simply cannot wrap their heads around people who don’t.

            4. Salsa Verde*

              Completely agree – in my experience, surprises are always about the surpriser, not the suprisee, which of course negates them as the very kind gesture they are meant to be.

              Of course, this could be my own prejudice. I have told everyone I know that I hate surprises, and they should never try to surprise me. Bah humbug :)

            5. Seeking Second Childhood*

              One of my favorite English teachers taught us how to parse out a story and see clues of what would be coming comma to enhance our enjoyment of the plot. I quote: “Anticipation is greater than surprise.”

          3. Yelm*

            The ribbon-cutting of the ramp is the dead giveaway. That is so unbelievably tone deaf it made my fillings hurt.

            1. allathian*

              Ouch, yes. And the disabled space with a customized avatar of the LW rather than the standard disabled parking sign.

              1. Kal*

                And it doesn’t even need a disabled parking sign at all! It could just be a parking spot labelled with OP’s name to say it is reserved. Disabled parking signs indicate anyone with an appropriate placard can park there, meaning if that is the only spot and they ever have a disabled visitor or another employee becomes temporarily disabled, OP might have to fight for their spot anyway.

                Its just so badly thought out.

        2. stopmakingsense*

          But this isn’t really a gift. It is required ADA accommodation. Really the only above and beyond parts were the cartoon avatar and moving the desk to be right next to the accessible restroom. I’m sure if they’d just had balloons and a banner inside to welcome the LW back, they wouldn’t have felt so othered, but making the required accommodations into a big deal in ANY way, good or bad, is just going to feel awkward. “Look at this amazing, legally-obligated thing we did for your disability! It’s just for you- the only disabled person who ever comes here!” I can’t get over that they didn’t have a ramp out front before an employee specifically needed it!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            She had worked there for three years before her accident and knew they already had a ramp. She was going back to work with no worries about bathroom access. That implies to me that the building already had an accessible stall.

            1. lailaaaaah*

              Still doesn’t mean it’s not an ADA thing, or that the caricature on the parking sign was okay, OR that they are entitled to OP giving them a loud public display of gratitude.

        3. Orb*

          Disability accommodations are not a gift. The LW is thinking about it as a cripple party because it was a cripple party. You’re reading the situation this way because you, like LW’s manager, are sitting in a headspace where disabled people do not inherently deserve to be able to participate in society via accommodation. You’re both interpreting baseline accommodations, chosen entirely by abled people without any input from the disabled person in question, as a special treat that a kind and benevolent employer can bestow upon her that deserves praise. That attitude is the entire cause of the problem in the letter, I really really hope you can step outside of it and learn something from hearing the experience of the LW and all the other disabled people in the comments.

          1. Batgirl*

            I really want to believe the best of everyone and I tried to believe it was LWs hard year that made her view it as a cripple party… because I don’t want anyone to be guilty of that…but it just was. It’s really an inescapable conclusion, and I say that as someone with enough privilege to not be massively on point and up to date with how to spot ableism. Look at the facts: it celebrated OP’s accommodations, instead of her, even celebrating the fact it moved her away from her damn team! It turned her into a cartoon for Christ sake and for what reason pray tell? “We still love you even though.. you know” reasons? How did this get off the ground without someone saying: “OP is a huge (topic) nerd and loves (band). If we’re going to have a party for her it should be about those things, not a huge pat on the back to the management”.

        4. Starbuck*

          Accessibility accommodations aren’t a gift, they’re a legal and civil right. Your framing is way off here.

      3. BRR*

        That stuck out to me as well. “My manager was very clearly offended” “My manager is visibly annoyed and condescendingly walking on eggshells with me” These are not normal reactions from your manager. Most people would feel bad and apologetic. I get the impression the LW feels like they made a huge error but they didn’t. I hope the LW can approach the meeting with HR and future interactions with their manager with a free conscientious.

        1. Observer*

          These are not normal reactions from your manager.

          Actually, these are very normal reactions. People often don’t react all that well when they are confronted with harsh evidence that they messed up. And the OP clearly did not do anything to soften the message.

          Don’t get me wrong. It’s TOTALLY to be expected that the OP did not soften anything. The company created a ridiculous situation and then the manager asked them about it in the moment. That’s not unexpected, but it’s also not too smart. And it is completely normal that when someone is already having a bad reaction to something, they are not going to answer questions about it in the gentlest fashion.

          1. Cringing 24/7*

            This is definitely true. These are not *ideal* reactions from your manager. These are not *wanted* reactions from your manager. But, general, average human-wise… these are pretty *typical* reactions from someone who messed up as much as he did.

            1. Batgirl*

              I don’t know that being condescending is a common reaction to messing up. Defensive reactions are common, but “do you need a naptime” reactions are usually just part of the ism that caused them to mess up in the first place.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I’d say the *feelings* are normal. Of course the manager is feeling bad about the way this all went down. I’d be having bad feelings too. But the *behavior* is not normal and should not be accepted. It’s fine that the manager feels bad, and I don’t blame them for it. It’s very, VERY not fine that those feelings are bleeding into the way the manager is now interacting with OP.

            1. Observer*

              But the *behavior* is not normal and should not be accepted.

              Unfortunately the first half is just not the case. Which is all the more reason why the second half should be enforced. And I hope that HR makes it clear to the manager that he needs to get over himself once they (HR) understands what actually happened.

              1. DutchClog*

                Of course, being mortified is entirely normal. But being so condescending is not. And the reason he messed up is also the reason why he reacted to LW like he did. He didn’t consider her perspective at all and that apparently included LW being upset. If LW’s feelings mattered he would have responded differenty. A bit put out? Maybe. Walking on eggshells days later? Hell, no!

          3. Lenora Rose*

            Normal or not, they’re BAD reactions. Let the manager have her feelings out somewhere ELSE, then deal with the OP like a grown up.

        2. BluntBunny*

          I’m not sure if the manager is walking on eggshells in a “condescending” manner. The LW says she had an all out melt down so it makes sense that they would be trying to avoid any further awkwardness. If they completely missed judged then being more cautious make sense.
          From the letter the whole team is really close so I assumed that a lot of things that happened were the result of many people an not just the manager. I can see them having a meeting and saying that LW will be back on this date we have made these accommodations and we want her to feel welcome and then suggestions of cake, balloons etc

      4. meyer lemon*

        I think it is a real failure in empathy from start to finish. It doesn’t take an exceptional leap of the imagination to guess that the LW might be eager to rejoin the team and to return to normal after this past year, rather than being singled out and made into a spectacle. And moving her desk to the opposite end of the building from the rest of the team just seems purely unkind. I’m kind of amazed that at no point did anyone think to ask what she actually wanted.

        1. ampersand*

          Yep. They forgot that OP is a person who has feelings, and was going to have feelings about this. Or they assumed the only thing OP would feel is overwhelming gratitude…either way, they messed up.

        2. Tara*

          I think they were probably thinking about how grateful OP would be, and how they would get some sort of ‘Company’s Best Ever Superstar Manager’ recognition award in the future, which has now crumbled away from them and are being subsequently bitter.

      5. Lauren*

        OP – how comfortable are you in saying this to HR? That you feel like you are being punished for not being ‘appropriately grateful for ADA accommodations that you were excluded from and manager’s reaction feels discriminatory and like retaliation for your disability’?

        keyphrases that make HR freak out and are necessary to stop your manager from being an ass.
        – ADA accommodations
        – disability
        – discriminatory
        – excluded
        – retaliation

        1. Observer*

          I would be careful of that. Given that they spent a large amount of money, they probably did actually go beyond the required ADA threshold.

          The OP says that the company has been really good till now. Which is a good reason for them to see if the situation can be adjusted. So, going in with such an adversarial attitude -and one which they can almost certainly bat away quite easily – is not going to do them any good.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            The ADA requires an interactive process. She wasn’t involved. And the amount of money they spent was their choice. Just because it’s an expensive way to exclude someone doesn’t make it not excluding.

          2. Princess Consuela*

            They may have actually violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, though. The ADA protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against, but also protects people from being regarded as having an impairment when they potentially do not. The OP may not have needed a different work area, it may have been fine for her but now they’ve singled her out in a way that could negatively impact her (she could miss out on important conversations with her team, be overlooked to work on projects, etc if she’s the only one sitting in a different area.)

            This is why the employer’s obligation under ADA is firstly to engage in the interactive process with the employee. If they had done so, they would have known how this would be received, and would have actually been helpful rather than harmful.

            But WTF is with a cartoon picture of OP? Just give her a space that says “reserved” if she needs one. That feels so gross.

            1. Ana Gram*

              I don’t think that’s quite right. The ADA protects whose who are disabled as well as those who are perceived as disabled (even though they might not be). It does not protect non-disabled people from being perceived to be disabled.

              Your larger point about engaging in the interactive process is definitely a good one. The employer here really trampled over that process and the LW’s autonomy in a lot of ways.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Just confirming this is correct. The ADA protects people who the employer perceives as disabled, even if they’re not. But there’s no ban on perceiving someone to be disabled.

            2. Observer*

              Interesting that they might have violated the ADA. I totally hear you.

              My point here, though, is that they really do seem to be trying to do the right thing, not just the bare minimum. The fact that they messed up doesn’t really change that. So the question here is what is likely to get them the best outcome?

              Given that they do seem to want to do the right thing and that until this point they were handling things well, I don’t think that it’s to the OP’s benefit to go in in an adversarial fashion. It is to their benefit to go in assuming good faith, and willingness to actually listen to what they have to say.

              Of course, if it turns out the the manager, HR or anyone else in a decision making capacity is not willing or able to listen and really have a conversation the OP can always move to deploying the ADA. That’s really the thing. Not leading with it doesn’t really harm the OP, as long as they can still continue to work remotely without being penalized till things are resolved. Worst case, there is a delay of a few days. But, best case, the OP manages to get what they need without the tension of an adversarial relationship with everyone.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                With respect, the fact that they messed up ABSOLUTELY changes the situation. Intentions are not magic and having good intentions doesn’t make an action stop being hurtful. What OP’s manager did was hurtful. The fact that they did not intend to hurt anyone doesn’t give them a free pass. Yes, they were trying to be nice and helpful, but they screwed up, and now it’s on them to accept that and get past the unexamined ableism that made them think it was okay to do this without consulting OP about it.

                1. Observer*

                  So? None of that changes the fact that the OP needs to act in a way that is going to get them the best outcome. And that assuming good intent and communicating with that initial assumption is most likely going to get them the best outcome.

                  Assuming good intent and communicating on that basis does not mean pretending that all was roses and the OP was being unreasonable. It means approaching the issue in a manner that makes it easi(er) for the employer to meet them where they are and handle things more appropriately.

        2. Sharrbe*

          Hopefully her HR is competent. A LOT of this is heavily rooted in how we treat people with disabilities in general. Yes, on the surface all of the things they did “looked” like they were being kind and compassionate towards her, but in reality they were degrading from the start. They didn’t think to consult her on any workspace changes, they isolated her away from everyone, they mocked her very serious life-altering event into a thing of comedy by turning her into a caricature and posting it for the world to see, and they forced appreciation out of her with the ribbon cutting and the cake. She was given no choice in ANY of that. She was told what was good for her and how she must feel about it. All of it is just awful. I REALLY hope HR gets this was humiliating.

          1. Observer*

            Hopefully her HR is competent. **snip** I REALLY hope HR gets this was humiliating.


        3. Autistic AF*

          HR was not helpful for me in similar circumstances. I would suggest a lawyer – not to sue but to give OP a neutral expert opinion. Also a union rep if relevant.

      6. nonbinary writer*

        Yeah I am furious on OPs behalf and honestly a little mad at everyone saying “but they had good intentions!!” This is like, textbook ableds thinking they know what’s best for disabled folks and then getting mad when disabled folks don’t swoon with gratitude. They didn’t intend to make OP feel good (or they would have asked her what she wanted) — they intended to make themselves feel good.

        1. Redd*

          When I was in community College, one of the buildings had crappy wiring. The flourescent bulbs were constantly blinking and popping. I have PTSD and petit mal seizures and was generally not doing well with the situation. So I went to the professor and explained my situation, and he sent me to the school’s disability resource center.

          Because it was now an ADA issue, the administration moved my class to another building and (finally!) got a crew to work on the building’s wiring.

          The first day in the new classroom, my professor had me stand up and he told the class why we’d moved buildings, how it was all thanks to me that we were now meeting in one of the nicest buildings on campus, how I was a great example of self-efficacy and overcoming disability, etc. It was completely humiliating.

          Good intentions do not make it okay to treat someone as though the accommodations they need to work/study/live are a curiosity, or a favor, or a cheat code, or inspiration porn. Ugh.

          1. allathian*

            Ugh! How awful. I’m so sorry this happened to you. At the very least, he was giving other people your private medical information without your consent. When you think back on it, did any of your classmates treat you differently when they found out about your disability?

      7. Despachito*

        But is it really condescension? LW says coworkers are kind to her and seemed thrilled to have her back. My money is on that they were rather clueless and did not realize that what might be otherwise fun can turn into nuisance given that the person concerned has to struggle with the thought she is disabled for life.

        I see the cluelessness but I find it pretty harsh to call them jerks and forcing them to apologize: they did what they thought was the best, probably invested quite a lot of money , and all they get is “you should be ashamed, go apologize”? If I were them, I’d be confused, disappointed and a bit angry, too, and it would be as legitimate as LW’s feelings are.

        I think the only way out is to explain each other’s standpoint, and be kind and understanding for the others’ negative feelings..

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          You can both be kind and thrilled someone is back AND be condescending and othering. Intent is no protection here, especially, as other posters have pointed out, that because general societal attitudes towards disabled people tend to be othering. “They tried” and “be grateful” and “this was expensive” are responses laden with a lot of baggage for a lot of us.
          We can understand and acknowledge the well-meaningness of the gesture, and the cluelessness of colleagues, without having to accept that as sufficient.
          Absolutely, the only way out is talking it through. As the people with the power, however, it is the obligation of HR and the manager to listen regardless of how LW expressed her distress. So far her manager failed that one. LW isn’t on equal ground with them and the “is so expensive” response really underlined that.

          1. Despachito*

            I understand that if you buy me something I do not want, it is absolutely not my problem it was expensive, and I have no obligation to be grateful.

            I agree that it is possible at the same time acknowledge the good intent AND say “but I am afraid this does not work for me”. I just cringe at the idea that I do something which is genuinely meant to help, I do it for the first time (so to say am not well versed in the situation in question would be an understatement), and I do not get a reaction “the intention was good and thanks for it, but this is not how it works” but “you stupid clueless boor, how could you”?

            And I also agree that the only way out is talking it through. I think OP’s situation has a very good potential to be resolved well – OP is well liked, and if the communication does not fail it is very likely that the colleagues will be willing to satisfy her real needs.

            1. DutchClog*

              This goes beyond buying someone a gift they do not want (actually I wish you would stop comparing an amenity LW needs to a gift, she did NOT get a gift). It goes beyond getting something that ‘doesn’t work for her’.

              The point is that her perspective was completely ignored. She was deprived of her agency, turned into a poster girl for her disability against her will and isolated from her teammates as if her physical handicap made it impossible to be around other people (or is really the other way around). LW was absolutely and totally humiliated here, by the very people she thought very highly of. To me it reads as performative with LW cast into a role against her own will.

              Nobody owes you gratitude or an acknowlegdement of your good intentions if this is the result of those intentions. LW’s manager should apologise and if anyone calls you a ‘clueless boor’ after your good intentions lead to a similar thing, you should be apologising as well.

        2. Pickled Limes*

          I don’t think anybody at OP’s office should feel ashamed of themselves, but I do think they need to apologize to OP. They made all these huge decisions about what OP’s work life was going to be like without even asking her if that was what she needed or if there was anything else that would work better. The decisions they made turned out to be decisions that will make OP’s work life more lonely and isolated and difficult, and they should apologize for doing that. When you hurt someone, you apologize. It doesn’t matter whether you meant to hurt them or not.

          1. Despachito*

            Why on earth APOLOGIZE for accommodations they made in good faith (the situation is new both for them and for her)?

            Wouldn’t it be better just to listen to her now and change whatever she wants them to and is doable?

            Like “I made you a welcome meal. You say you are a vegetarian. No problem, give me a moment and I’ll get you a veggie meal”.

            I’d of course make it right but I would feel no need to apologize.

            1. Pickled Limes*

              The apology is for making decisions for OP about the way her work life is going to go without asking her first. That was presumptuous and as we can clearly see, it caused the OP a lot of pain and upset. OP may be disabled now, but she’s still a fully functioning adult. Her manager making choices about how she’ll be living her life at work from now on without consulting her about it was not okay and it warrants an apology.

            2. Observer*

              Why on earth APOLOGIZE for accommodations they made in good faith (the situation is new both for them and for her)?

              Because, ultimately, they did something very harmful to them. Intent is not magic. You might want to google the “get off my foot” meme. The point is essentially that if you are standing on someone’s foot you need to get off of it, no matter if you had a good reason for stepping on that person’s foot. And if you are a decent person you actually apologize for stepping on someone’s foot even if the move you made was made in good faith.

              Same thing here. I agree that the employer probably actually did act in good faith. But they still did harm, and they should apologize.

            3. Redd*

              Reorganizing an adult’s work setup away from their coworkers, and installing a cartoon of them in the parking lot, and generally celebrating their life-altering crisis with building-wide fanfare, is very different from making them food. It just is.

            4. Tali*

              More accurately, they spend thousands of dollars installing a kitchen, had a ribbon-cutting ceremony, put OP’s face on the door to show “this is for OP”, and then when OP “said they were veggie”, management got offended and is now condescending and walking on eggshells.

              Yes it was an effort in kindness, but it was condescending and overboard and patronizing and inappropriate. That’s why they should apologize.

            5. Batgirl*

              It’s okay to not know that someone was vegetarian.
              It’s not okay to look at a cartoon of your colleague’s disability that you intend to use as a general logo in the car park without asking her, and not realise you’re just making shit up now and are way, way away from the guide rails of human interaction.
              It’s a bad analogy because one is a mistake anyone could make, the other is a mistake only some people would make.

        3. Coilette*

          But this level of ‘clueless’ really crosses into ‘jerk’ territory. OP has had a life-altering injury, and a long tough year. It was their first moment of stepping back into this part of their life. For all of them to let this go forward without thinking they needed to be sensitive to the position OP was in is baffling. I would have to make an effort to be this ignorant of someone else’s feelings. Investing a lot of money into the renovations is fine, but the the fanfare is really weird.

        4. lailaaaaah*

          Putting a cartoon of your coworker’s/employee’s face on a disabled parking space IS jerky. Putting on a public party unveiling basic accommodations (that were enacted without consulting the person in need of them) IS jerky. It doesn’t matter how much money was involved, they messed up, and the onus is on them to deal with that, not the person dealing with a life-changing disability and the resultant trauma.

    2. PinaColada*

      Agree, wow! I think what’s most important is no one wants to feel like a “token”. This is clearly tokenizing her experience and I think a lot of people would find this horrifying.

      OP, while you are still remote, I wonder if you can schedule some 1 on 1 lunches (or small groups) with different teammates? I think that will help you start to feel more integrated again. You described feeling like the manager was walking on eggshells around you, and I don’t want you to feel that way with the rest of the team. I think some personal connections will help people see that it’s still the same you, and you were just caught off-guard by the inappropriate over-the-top celebration aspect of your return.

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I would also directly ask HR to have your desk moved back to your team (or have your team moved to you). Being made to sit in the ‘corner’ away from everyone would feel so alienating and hurtful. That is a long term thing that can easily be made right, but could also continue to cause hurt if left unaddressed.

      1. BabyElephantWalk*

        Hard agree. What’s the point in being back at the office if you’re still remote and removed from the team?

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        Yes, and this issue encapsulates a big part of what was wrong with their approach. Discussing this issue may help them better understand what was wrong with their process.

      1. Meep*

        I am too anxious. Surprise parties would send me into a meltdown. “Welcome Back, Crippled Coworker” parties would probably make anyone with anxiety melt into the floor.

      2. Sabina*

        I refuse to participate in surprise parties ANYWHERE, I’ve seen too many land poorly. My partner has known for decades not to even think of having one for me, it would be a relationship killing disaster.

      3. allathian*

        I’m so glad that in my culture it’s standard for the honoree to host a party, even if it’s at the expense of the employer. My employer pays for 50th and 60th birthday parties and for retirement parties.

        I hate surprises. Planning and anticipation are usually at least half the fun for me, I’d hate to be denied either.

    4. Librarian1*

      Yeah, that’s what’s mind-boggling to me. They didn’t even think to ask. Also they didn’t think it through at all. Why put OP so far away from their team? That makes work harder for everyone, not just the able-bodied people.

    5. Pennyworth*

      I would have had a meltdown too if I had been treated as a bunch of physical requirements to be met (without consultation) rather than a person with social and emotional needs following a life-changing event. I hope they come to understand how hurtful they were and apologize, and everything can move forward. Best wishes OP.

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, this is probably chalked up to well-intentioned but not really having a clue. Hopefully things can be straightened out in whatever way makes sense for you and them.

    1. Alex*

      I do believe that their heart was essentially in the right place but every aspect of the execution was wrong. To start with, making accommodations should have been done collaboratively with OP rather than just sprung on her on her first day back in the office! It also comes off as weirdly paternalistic, as in, “we know what you need better than you do so we just did it without asking. You’re welcome!”

      1. Colette*

        Things like the bathroom or the ramp aren’t just about the OP, though – they presumably are aware that they may hire other people who may need them in the future. I also think moving her desk near the bathroom she could use was reasonable – when I used a knee scooter, the bathroom I could use was on the other side of the building, which was a huge trek, and I also became aware of how many obstacles lie in hallways.

        Now, they should have talked with her instead of surprising her, asked what else she needs, and ideally moved the rest of her team near her.

        But the OP wants to go back to a normal that doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s not necessarily wrong for the company to make arrangements for the situation as it exists now.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          If they wanted to move her desk they should have moved her entire team. I feel like that was the worst offense of all, and the easiest for them to fix.

        2. Cora*

          When I was reading the letter I definitely took it differently – I thought the bathroom and ramp were things they needed in general, and I personally would have liked the handicapped sign thing. I agree that it probably makes sense to move her, but thats definitely something to talk to her about first because it may not be as difficult to get to as they think etc.

          In a situation like this I would think that of course things are very different, but I’m glad they’re making changes and being aware, and showing that they care. If they hadn’t added a ramp, built a bathroom (major expenses) and OP had to ask for all that, that wouldn’t be nice either.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Yeah, but these things are so personal (other than the ramp and the bathroom), that they shouldn’t have been kept as a surprise. The handicapped sign is totally a sense of humor kind of deal.

          2. Meep*

            I think it was more a slap in the face of reminding OP that they are (recently) crippled and the one place they were expecting “normalcy”, they got signs all over the place saying they weren’t “normal”.

            1. Kella*

              Just as a heads up, the word “crippled” is generally seen as a word that disabled people can use to describe themselves, or each other if given permission, but not a word for other people, especially abled folks, to use about them. “Cripple” has been used as a slur for many years now, and some disabled folks have reclaimed it.

          3. meyer lemon*

            Right, I don’t think the LW would have had a problem if she just showed up on the first day and the new bathroom and ramp were in place. But making a public performance of it and demonstrating that they expected a show of gratitude from her for providing basic accommodations is pretty gross. And they definitely should have consulted her before moving her desk away from everyone–and they should have also, you know, just asked her what she needs in general.

            1. Colette*

              Oh yeah, the public party/ribbon cutting put a lot of unnecessary pressure on the OP, even though it was probably meant kindly.

            2. quill*

              Yeah, they needed to separate the welcome party aspect from the spiffy ADA accommodations building tour.

              It also strikes me that, since any of this at all was a surprise to OP, they can’t actually know exactly what was needed for accommodations! For example, not every wheelchair is the same size, not every wheelchair user can stretch or bend to reach lightswitches, elevator buttons… cabinets of paperwork…

              Much kinder, and more practical, to consult on OP’s needs – especially as they may still be changing or being discovered – than making the whole thing into a circus

          4. Be mad!*

            This exactly. Having an accessible main entrance and bathroom are generally good things that the office should have had, full stop, whereas things like moving the OP’s desk *are* specific to her individual needs and preferences. Expecting her to perform gratitude for baseline accessibility is gross and upsetting, as is making decisions about individualized accommodations someone without their participation or consent.

          5. Observer*

            I thought the bathroom and ramp were things they needed in general,

            Not the ramp – the OP says that they already have one, but it’s in the back. So they do already have handicapped access. It sounds like they were actually trying to be more welcoming and inclusive rather than othering.

          6. Observer*

            In a situation like this I would think that of course things are very different, but I’m glad they’re making changes and being aware, and showing that they care

            On a separate note.

            There is a story about a great Rabbi who was looking for a secretary. He interviewed three people and asked them all the same question: If you found a wallet with $2,000 in the street, what would you do?

            #1 Said “I’d keep the money. I think everyone would do that.” The Rabbi dismissed him as a thief.
            #2 Said “I would figure out who it belonged to and return it.” The Rabbi dismissed him as either a fool or a hypocrite.
            #3 Paused and then said “Rabbi, that’s a grave temptation. I would like to think that I’d do the right thing and figure out who it belongs to, and return the money.” That’s who the Rabbi hired.

            I understand what you are saying. But you REALLY do NOT know how you would react in that situation. I hope I would react that way too. But I do NOT know. Because this is a very difficult situation and there are a number of pieces here – and while the employer did some things right, they definitely did some things wrong. That’s a really tough mix and one that you simply can’t predict how you would react.

            1. Student Affairs Sally*

              What are you saying they did right, exactly? From where I’m sitting, they did nothing right.
              * They didn’t consult OP to see what accommodations they actually needed/wanted.
              * They guessed wrong on most of the accommodations they decided for her (and the only one they got right – the bathroom – is actually required by law and should have already existed prior to OP’s car accident, so I don’t think that one really counts).
              * They made a big “show” of all these GRAND things they set up for OP (that she didn’t ask for or want) and expected OP to perform gratitude that OP did not feel (because OP did not ask for or want the choices that were made for “their” benefit).
              * They singled OP out for being different, also known as “othering”.
              * They reacted defensively and angrily when OP was not grateful for the accommodations that they didn’t want and that made them feel othered.

              I’m just not seeing the “right” or “good”here.

              1. Observer*

                (and the only one they got right – the bathroom – is actually required by law and should have already existed prior to OP’s car accident, so I don’t think that one really counts).

                Not necessarily true. And the ramp was a positive as well. Furthermore, the OP says that they were excellent till this point. Ignoring that is totally not useful.

                They reacted defensively and angrily

                Actually, we don’t know that. We know that ONE person reacted poorly, but we don’t know what reaction anyone else had.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  They HAD a ramp–on the side of the building where OP’s team is located. Where OP was moved away from.

            2. Starbuck*

              Some of us do know, because we have coworkers, friends and loved ones with disabilities, and have dealt with the accommodation process in real life – it’s not some fantastical, outlandish scenario. OP’s workplace really messed up here, their presumed good intent doesn’t negate all that. If they can’t recognize how and why they went wrong, I’d be really concerned if I was OP.

          7. Librarian1*

            Yeah but they should have the ramp and bathroom anyway. They didn’t consult OP about any of the other stuff when they should have. And then they threw a whole party centering on OP’s disability, which is not what they wanted.

        3. JB*

          Some of these changes she certainly didn’t need to give input on (the ramp and the bathroom) because as you say, they’re not just for her.

          However, moving her desk without talking to her first about her needs – not great.

          Getting her an assigned handicap parking spot – good. Putting a cartoon caricature of her on the sign? Instead of just her name or the words ‘assigned parking’?!?! That’s egregiously bad. I don’t know many adults who would appreciate that at their workplace.

        4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Thing is, the company doesn’t actually know what the situation is as it exists now, because they didn’t talk to LW first. They made a hell of a series of assumptions about her mobility and needs.

          Sure, some of it might have been general improvements, but they then presented it as FOR HER, which also isn’t helping either her reaction or theirs, as they try to untangle emotions here.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        It’s such a mixed bag.

        Some of these accommodations would be a great idea regardless of whether LW needs/wants them. For example, a wheelchair-accessible front entrance and bathrooms are a great idea regardless of LW’s specific situation… those accommodations will be helpful to future workers or visitors.

        Others are the type of thing that really should have been collaborative. The cubicle and dedicated parking space, for example. Those are specific to LW’s situation and needs, so it’s important to have her input to know what those needs actually are! And the cartoon of LW on a handicap parking sign is just way over the line – no matter how well-intentioned it might be.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          It makes sense with some of the basic accommodations like a ramp, parking space, and the washroom. The rest seems like everyone threw in an idea of what they thought someone in a wheelchair might like and it got a little bit out of control. A cartoon on a handicap sign?

        2. Starbuck*

          Right, adding new ramps and making more bathrooms accessible is totally fine, no one other than an architect needs to be consulted for that. The problem comes in where they made unveiling those things (that presumably many people, not just OP will now use) all about OP.

        1. allathian*

          That sums it up perfectly. It’s also applicable to many other kinds of situations.

    2. anonymouse*

      I can’t help but think that the people who did this had some serious Hannukah balls to think OP would be happy to be other-ed out.

      1. Observer*

        A LOT of people get annoyed when their well meant attempts to help someone go wrong. It is not a good response, but it’s too common to ignore.

        1. Despachito*

          And rightly so, if all they get for their well meant but misplaced effort is not recognition of the good intention and explanation why it was misplaced, but just tongue-lashing about how horrible it was and how clueless they were.

          Not-so-kind comments when caught off the guard are very understandable, but if things are left at that and not explained when the situation cools off a bit, it can turn into a completely unnecessary source of bitterness on both sides.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Actually no, they do not deserve to be treated politely here. They made a whole series of big mistakes that resulted in someone getting seriously hurt. Someone they were trying to help. The LW is entirely in their right to be upset at them for all this unwarranted pain that was inflicted on them.

            Intentions are not magic. Just because they meant well doesn’t mean they get to avoid the consequences of their actions.

            1. Despachito*

              Do you really think so?

              The situation was new to them, and even here there is no unanimity in what would be OK and what wouldn’t.

              A lot of what they did will be really helpful, and they did not HAVE to do that (the ramp, the special bathroom). Other things were done based on some perfectly logical assumptions (the seating) and can be easily changed if LW does not approve.

              Some things were cringeworthy in the context (the ribbon cutting), but possibly they did it before in other contexts when it seemed fine and did not realize that in this case it was a bit different?

              I understand why LW had a meltdown and would not hold it against her but I also understand the need to walk around her on eggshells (as the manager possibly does not and cannot understand all the nuances of her situation, and is not sure whether whatever he does will be right or wrong).

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I get why the manager would feel trepidation about talking to OP, but I have to wonder if that trepidation is happening for the right reason. Is the manager walking on eggshells because they think OP had a disproportionate reaction to their nice gesture and they don’t know what will set her off next? Or are they walking on eggshells because they know they did the wrong thing and don’t know how to fix it? We don’t know one way or the other, but the first reason is a really self centered and ableist reaction to this situation, and I’m really hoping it’s not that.

                If the manager wants to stop walking on those eggshells, all they really need to do is start using their Adult Communication Toolbox and say “Hey, OP, your first day back at the office clearly didn’t go the way either of us wanted it to. Could you tell me what made you feel so upset so we can talk about ways to fix it?”

                You keep repeating this idea that this is a completely new situation for OP’s abled manager and coworkers. And it is. But the fact that this is new for them is exactly why they shouldn’t have done anything about it without asking OP what she needed.

              2. Tía Teapot*

                All. they. had. to. do. was delegate someone, probably from HR, to discuss OPs necessary accommodations for returning to work with OP before they started making plans.

                That’s all.

                Could’ve been HR, could’ve the direct manager, could’ve been a top-level manager, could’ve been whoever’s job it is to call the ramp- and new bathroom-building guys.

                All they had to do was make a call “we’re glad you’re going to be able to return to work, and want to talk about any accommodations you might need now that you’re using a wheelchair.”

                That’s it.

          2. nothing rhymes with purple*

            “And rightly so, if all they get for their well meant but misplaced effort is not recognition of the good intention and explanation why it was misplaced, but just tongue-lashing about how horrible it was and how clueless they were.”

            No matter how much you try to explain that the OP is In The Wrong and should Apologize to the Well Meaning Coworkers, you are not going to be right on that, because OP is not At Fault For Insufficient Gratitude And Piety. Furthermore, following your advice towards self-abasement would be horrible and dehumanizing for any disabled person.

          3. Starbuck*

            I think there’s a serious gap in someone’s good intent when they take it on themselves to help someone without their request or input on what they actually need. It’s a pretty inherently patronizing way to do it.

    3. CaliUKexpat*

      Yeah, I call this “their heart was in the right place but their brain sure wasn’t”. The bathroom renovation and ramp? Necessary. The cake? Nice thought, could go either way but nobody would usually make a stink over it. Everything else though, WAY too much and actually kind of awful.

      I became disabled during my first year of uni, had to completely change my plans and move back home. After coming home, this exact attitude became the driving force behind my leaving the church I’d grown up at. Just months of being treated like a condition, not a person. I’d expected a big brouha with my parents when I switched, but my mum saw how things were going and actually helped me find a different one – which ended up saving both my sanity and my faith. Staying would have killed both. Disabled people are people, not conditions. Never make a big deal about it without the permission of the person!!

      That’s what bugs me about this. I think every disabled person has, at one point or another, been treated like a prop in someone else’s drama. And every time, it feels absolutely shitty. LW – so sorry you had to experience this.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        “Being treated like a condition, not a person” – that sounds like exactly what happened to OP.

      2. Observer*

        being treated like a condition, not a person

        There was an interesting side discussion yesterday about AAM merch. If Alison ever does do that, I’d love something with this line or the positive form of it.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    The cartoon avatar on the parking sign is what puts it over the top for me. Like they’re trying to turn OP into a mascot.

    I could roll with the sign and the party atmosphere just fine. It sounds like they’d do that for anyone who returned after a long illness or injury, regardless of any permanent effects.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, it all seems very well-intentioned but just… too much. I think it would have been better for HR/OP’s manager to talk about what she wanted and needed to return to, and had the expectations clearer.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        This is a classic case where making things a “surprise,” while seemingly more fun for the organizer, made it a lot harder on the recipient of the “happy surprise.” This is not uncommon in my experience. If the company had have done all these adjustments and *told OP about it in advance* and had a very different reaction. OP could have steered them away from the banner and the customized sign, and had time to reflect on the space accommodations that might be most useful, like the bathroom or parking space, and been prepared.

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          +1 they should be making accomodations! But not as a “favor” that LW needs to be grateful for, just that it’s the right thing to do. And absolutely she should’ve been involved – maybe not in things like installing a ramp but they could’ve asked if it would be helpful to relocate her work space or if there were other changes they hadn’t thought of. The banner and cutesy stuff still might’ve been Too Much but it would’ve been easier to see it as welcoming/kind if she was being treated as a team member for the important things. And it’s really unacceptable for the boss to be pouting now – when something you thought was nice isn’t received well you apologize and move on!

          1. StrikingFalcon*

            That’s a big part of it for me. Workplace accommodations are not a gift. They are not a favor. They are a legal right, like getting paid on time. I would need some accommodations to work in person (I use a wheelchair now myself), and sure, I would appreciate them, but I would appreciate them in the way I appreciate things like getting a paycheck, having a desk to sit at, and the existence of a lunchroom—that is, as a normal part of the workplace experience. Putting up a banner on the ramp is proclaiming “look at this gift we gave you!” But it’s not a gift, anymore than a new set of stairs to replace a broken one would be. Is it expensive to make accessibility modifications? Sure. But it’s also expensive to replace the copy machine, and even if that’s only used by the one person in charge of making copies, it’s still just a business expense. You don’t replace the machine and then throw a big party and expect the secretary to be grateful for the gift. You just do it because it’s necessary for the workflow of the office.

            1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

              I mean I have worked in an office where we threw a ‘going away’ party for the dinosaur copy machine that finally died (it was over 30 years old and no one knew why it was still there since there were plenty of other/newer machines), but it was more of an inside joke and excuse for cake.

              The problem with this situation was that a) it was a surprise so OP had no time to mentally prepare and b) it was framed as “look at what we did” rather than a “welcome back” party

              1. Dark Macadamia*

                I think “look what we did” vs “welcome back” is a good way to frame it. If they just had the cake and balloons it would’ve been a nice gesture even if it was overwhelming. It’s the “haha this isn’t a wheelchair spot anymore, it’s a LW spot!” and the ribbon cutting and combining the personal celebration with professional accomodations (that LW wasn’t involved in!) that turns the whole thing into an awkward mess.

            2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              You put me in mind of a viral photo captioned something like “the time my dad got my mom a new vacuum cleaner for Christmas” in which a woman in 1980s clothing sits dejected on the carpet between a Christmas tree and a boxed vacuum cleaner. Yes, it was useful, but it wasn’t a gift.

              The word that springs to mind is “reductionist” – reducing LW to her mobility, with no apparent consideration for her ongoing needs or productivity *as a coworker*. In the one place where she might reasonably expect to be thought of first and foremost for her professional contribution.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        I agree with this. I’m sure there was some talk about how great it would be to have OP back and that they should welcome her in some way. And then there were a million ideas and they tried to incorporate as many as possible without thinking of the OP or asking her what she wanted, which was obviously not this.

        On the one hand, I can see them being disappointed and, in a way, hurt that all of the work and what they considered thoughtfulness was spurned. But further, I think they are also embarrassed and guilty that this got so far away from them and actually ended up hurting OP, to whom they wanted to show appreciation. I wonder if part of the annoyance and condescension OP feels is actually just masked guilt and embarrassment on their end?

    2. Littorally*

      Right, yeah. Facility money for actually accessible stuff is great, but really, a personalized parking spot with a cartoon of the LW’s face? Moving her away from her team? Putting a giant party on about it? That’s all very “look at us and how awesome we are” and not at all “hey let’s support and center LW’s comfort and smooth work experience.”

      1. OhNo*


        Fellow paraplegic here, LW, and this sort of behavior is way too common. So many people are more interested in putting on a show and get patted on the back rather than actually ask you what you want.

        Because of that, I would NOT follow Alison’s advice here. Instead, bring it to HR saying that the effort was clearly well meant, but that you were not consulted at all about these accommodations, that you neither wanted or needed many of them, and that the whole situation was handled inappropriately. Because it was! Make them understand that in the future, you must be involved in the discussion for any and all accommodations the company makes for you.

        1. Someone somewhere*

          I agree. What stood out to me most is that the OP was not asked about their needs at all.

        2. Homebody*

          I can’t imagine it was easy…being shown in physical form “Hey, not only are we signaling you that you are different from us but we’re removing you from any sense of normalcy that you once had before your lifestyle changed. Compliment us on our hard work! Or else!” I think you’re spot on that OP deserves to have say in her accommodations, and it’s a huge problem if their company is not allowing them to be a part of that.

          Speaking as someone who also has accommodations for a health issue, people are so insensitive and often hurt more than they can help. On my worst days I cannot tell you how much I wished that people would think before saying or acting…I just want to give the OP a big hug and tell them that it’s OK, that it reflects on them and not you, and that though some people may imply otherwise you are a beautiful person inherent of value. No one can take that from you.

        3. Forrest*

          >>So many people are more interested in putting on a show and get patted on the back rather than actually ask you what you want

          And it’s like compliments– if you’ve done all this thinking it’s a lovely thing to do for OP, *and it’s not*, your go-to response is “oh gosh, I’m so sorry, we messed up, how do we fix it?” It’s natural to feel sad and disappointed that the stuff you hoped would be cool is actually Not Cool, but you centre the person you claim you’re trying to help! Anger as a response is a demonstration that you were treating the person at the centre as a bit part in your own personal show.

        4. eons*

          Is it appropriate to soften the language that much in a circumstance like this? “I know you meant well, and I appreciate the thought…” – the company was wrong, and her management and co-workers were wrong, and LW was hurt by it all. Is this a situation where LW should be totally direct about how inappropriate it was, and if they feel foolish or embarrassed – it’s okay, because they should?

          I wonder if this is a question that should have been put forward on an Ask the Readers day to other disabled readers?

          1. PuzzleObsession*

            Yes, I think softening the language is just too accommodating to the offenders. What they did was paternalistic and not helpful- I would be upset too! I mean obviously I think we all try to be kind and diplomatic while communicating with others, but situations like these don’t deserve any special care in communicating your discomfort. Thats become what able people expect when this sort of thing happens—be grateful and cheerful and nice and demure—and I’m not sure it ends up helping them understand.

          2. OhNo*

            Depends on how comfortable LW is with drawing a hard line on this. I’ve been disabled for nearly 15 years at this point, so my patience for people who “mean well” but hurt me in the process is absolutely zero – on this, I would be firm and not use any softening language. It’s that old chestnut about how if you’re standing on my toe, you can mean well all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact that you still need to get off my dang toe.

            However, being newer to the situation and maybe not as comfortable with the situation, the LW certainly could soften the language up a bit when talking to the supervisor! I’d still suggest leaning hard on HR because they really should know better about involving the affected employee in the process of accommodations, but YMMV.

            1. Rebecca1*

              Yes, it is a matter of the LW’s comfort level. She shouldn’t feel obligated to soften anything, but she can if it goes better with her usual conversation style.

              Incidentally, I’ve mentioned before that I work in the special education field, and we as a profession spend a lot of time shutting down this kind of thing! It’s not at all uncommon.

          3. Coder von Frankenstein*

            “I know you meant well and I appreciate the thought” frames the conversation so that when you follow it up with “But this was really unacceptable,” you’re more likely to get a cooperative response instead of a defensive one. It’s allowing the other person to save face, which is important when you need to work with somebody.

            The problem with softening the language is when people do things like say “It would be nice if I could sit near my team” instead of “I need to be seated with my team”–turning a firm requirement into an optional request.

        5. Momma Bear*

          The more I think about it, the more it feels like OP wasn’t treated like a valued professional and more like a child. I do agree that OP needs to speak up about how it was handled because it’s not that there’s a ramp, but how it was presented. Do you have any specific links or guidance OP can bring to HR?

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. The cartoon really did it for me. It comes across as laughing at the OP instead of with her.

            1. Qest*

              It´s a form of: see, we are having so much fun! You could have fun, too, so why don`t you give us a little smile? Condescending, minimalising the now and future problems of OP and others with chronic disabilities/diseases. I often have problems to keep a stern face with these people and no patience left. Please take the problems of the OP serious (to team/employer), don`t think she is a child that can be happily cheered up by a balloon! and forgets the real world…

            2. Yelm*

              It’s making her a mascot. It’s been astounding, in my adult life, to witness how poorly conventionally-abled people tend to handle dealing with disability and chronic illness, both physical and mental illness. Otherwise decent people behave appallingly—it’s as if a kind of panic overrides the capacity for empathy or simple good sense. I grew up around wheelchair users, people with chronic illnesses and people with limb differences. I’m realizing now how lucky I was—children just take their cues from adults, and adults can instruct children without it being loaded or fraught in the way it might be in the workplace. How does the impulse to simply ask get so lost? Just ASK. “Hey, LW, I’ve looked up the ADA requirements—what else/other do you need? What would work best for you?” I feel like this simple impulse gets overtaken by a hysterical response, “EVERYTHING IS GREAT AND WE ARE ALL GREAT WITH IT BEING GREAT, NO ONE IS BEING WEIRD HERE! LET’S CUT THE RIBBON ON THE NEW RAMP!” ?? Calm DOWN.

          2. OhNo*

            Not really, aside from the general suggestion to check out the AskJan for info about accommodations in the workplace in general. There’s some info on their “For Individuals” page about requesting/negotiating accommodations that might be helpful.

            Unfortunately, in my experience, this is just something where each individual finds out their own comfort level and preferred approach as they go. It’s one of the aspects of adapting to a new disability that no one really prepares you for!

        6. Hobbit*

          Exactly it doesn’t matter what their intentions were, they were in the wrong. The manager is incredibly toxic. Op doesn’t owe them for anything.

          The amount of cringe in this post is overwhelming.

        7. LifeBeforeCorona*

          “So many people are more interested in putting on a show and get patted on the back rather than actually ask you what you want.”
          There is a term for that, but I can’t recall what it is. It’s used when people film themselves giving food to homeless people to show what a good person they are.

          1. BabyElephantWalk*

            I’m not sure if it’s the word you’re looking for, but the one that comes to mind is performative. This whole things seems like such a performance, using the OP as a prop, to make the manager/company look good.

            1. LifeBeforeCorona*

              That’s it! Interestingly enough I first came across it in All Quiet on The Western Front. The young soldier returns home on leave and refuses refreshments from a worker because they were doing a “look at me, helping this poor soldier!” It’s old human behaviour.

        8. NotJane*

          “So many people are more interested in putting on a show and get patted on the back rather than actually ask you what you want.”

          This definitely describes the feeling I had while reading OP’s letter – that these “festivities” ultimately became more for/about the people who planned and organized them then they were for OP. It’s like virtue signaling run amok or something.

          I’m sure the intentions at the outset were good, but it sounds like at some point OP became a “cause” of sorts, the “token” handicapped person, as someone upthread aptly described it. And my heart breaks for OP, because it sounds like she was excited about returning to the office and saw it as one step closer to “normal”, but when she arrived, there was literally a banner sized reminder that she is not “normal”.

          Ugh. The more I think about this, the more upset and angry I am on OP’s behalf. Can an entire office be this tone deaf? Did no one think to ask OP what she wanted and needed? Or realize that the “Welcome back, cripple!” banner – at the main entrance to the building (!!!) no less – might not play how they think it will? Was there actually a ribbon cutting (not doubting OP, just having a hard time wrapping my head around that)?

          And then OP’s manager had the temerity to be “clearly offended”, “visibly annoyed”, and is now “walking on eggshells”???

          Yup, it’s all about them.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I feel like- at no point did anyone ask “what would I feel like if we did this for me?” or “what would my friend who is less social than me feel like if this was done for her?”.

        I wouldn’t even want this for my birthday, wedding, or any other big (positive) life event. Coming back from a life changing injury? I would want people to be aggressively normal.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah, there are people who love a big to-do for their fiftieth birthday, or a big engagement party, or a baby shower – but there’s just as many people who would prefer to keep those things low-key. And in general those are 100% happy events, while recovery from a serious injury is bound to be full of mixed feelings.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            I’m currently planning my wedding, and having my engagement happen in the middle of the pandemic was such a blessing for me. It also happened right after another coworker got engaged. It really took the pressure off me.

          2. Isabel Archer*

            Agree so much with your comment. “Cripple party” is crude, but it’s not inaccurate. It’s almost like they were trying erase the horror of what happened to her by….celebrating it?

            1. meyer lemon*

              People can be really weird about things like injury, loss and grief. I think this kind of aggressive cheer is sometimes used to paper over the existence of negative emotion. Just skate right over those complicated feelings and reassure us all that you’re going to be 100 percent upbeat now. I have noticed those tactics coming into play during the pandemic too.

              1. Another health care worker*

                I had this reaction too. Some of this is probably coming from the colleagues’ own discomfort with LW’s accident and injuries. They’re managing it with toxic positivity, at the expense of the person who actually went through it.

                I’m also not as confident that the HR meeting is going to be about them asking what went wrong. Based on what’s happened so far, I’m afraid it will be more of the same.

      3. Allegra*

        Right? Reading this, I feel a LOT like they were crafting a cutesy inspiration p*rn Buzzfeed video of “Look how welcoming this office was to their newly paraplegic employee” and are angry she wasn’t appropriately grateful. It’s gross.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I couldn’t find the right word but you did. Being the ‘mascot’ is what bothers me about much of this. It’s one thing to be supportive, but OP’s employer got carried away.

      OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and hope you can have a productive meeting with HR and your manager. Please keep us posted.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, the cartoon of OP is kind of odd. Like OP can’t figure out where the handicapped parking is on their own? And a banner and ribbon cutting for a new ramp? That’s…a lot. I’m of the camp that you allow the disabled person to control how much publicity their disability gets, so they absolutely should not have used OP’s return to the company as a way to advertise their great new ramp. The party, sure, that’s great, but also I feel for OP that their desk got moved away from where they were happy near their team. Company definitely should have asked OP what they wanted to do about that. I hope OP gets to move back to their old spot.

      And if OP’s manager is a decent human and the company is a decent company, they probably should understand completely about OP’s meltdown. It’s been a crazy year, after all, and even more so for OP. Good luck, OP!

      1. Van Wilder*

        Moving away from their team is the worst part, IMO. That has prolonged, negative work implications. WTF

        1. sam_i_am*

          I’m not sure this wouldn’t run afoul of ADA guidelines. Moving someone away from their team because of a disability seems like a problem.

      2. anonymouse*

        Especially OUTSIDE the building. If someone wanted to do this (and to anyone thinking maybe, err on Don’t) put it in her cube.
        Or ask if she wants a caricature of herself.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yeah, but even that seems like too much. Just having parking for disabled people is all they really needed to do, not reserve a whole spot just for OP. I think singling out OP was not the way to go here.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Yeah, or you know… asked. It also depends on if it’s the kind of company that already has reserved spots.

              “We’d like to give you a designated parking spot near the door. Would you like us to put a sign saying “reserved for OP”?

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      For me it was the sign and the ribbon cutting. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it sounds like none of them told OP what was going to happen – I think a lot of people would have felt ambushed in this situation.

      1. Forrest*

        Also providing a ramp should be a basic standard part of making sure your building is accessible to everyone, not, “look OP at this lovely nice thing we did especially for you!”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Sounds like there was a ramp in the back – this was a second ramp in the front. I don’t think the construction projects were bad – but making a big deal out of the construction was a problem.

    6. Spencer Hastings*

      That was where I initially went “uh, what?” as well.

      It also sounds like they didn’t talk to her much about the specifics of her coming back…if they’d said “We’re thinking of having you sit in X area for Y reasons, how does that sound? Is there another setup that would be easier?”, that would have been quite different from this strange “Aren’t we great for building another wheelchair ramp? We did it for you! Also, surprise! You don’t get to sit with your team anymore!” type of thing that they did. That sounds like a heck of a lot all at once (and makes even the most reasonable parts of what they did more difficult to interpret as such, being bound up with the whole thing).

    7. FrenchCusser*

      See, now I’m the opposite – the practical stuff like the new ramp and the accessible restroom I’d have appreciated, but dear gods, don’t throw me a party for being handicapped. ‘Cripple party’ is right.

      1. Kaiko*

        “You’ve been traumatized and your body has changed forever! Those of us not in your body have decided on *consults notes* cake and a party!”

          1. NotJane*

            Probably all shave their heads in solidarity and then spend the next however many months britching about how long it takes to grow back.

        1. OhNo*

          Lol! As someone who has been through exactly this (more than once, even!), this comment made me laugh so hard. So accurate!

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Alternatively… they should have separated out the “welcome back!” part from the “we have come to some accommodations!”

        3. Anhaga*

          *Exactly!* Did anyone think about the fact that perhaps OP is still dealing with this transition and that celebrating these hard changes may be completely and utterly not okay for OP? Ugh. I don’t have a disability that affects my work and general existence, but if something did happen to make that the case, I feel like I’d probably want to have things be as normal and like before as was possible under the circumstances . . . being singled out and having the change highlighted would make me feel awful.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Me as well. The one thing that sticks out to me is that the sign is going to be visible to anyone who comes to the office, or just passes by. And it might be easily noticable that she is the person the sign represents. It’s one thing if someone did a cute sign for her desk, not a sign out in front of the building.

        1. Amaranth*

          OP does say they are all fairly young so while that doesn’t preclude professional behavior, I do wonder if that is a factor in not having an experienced manager to pull back on the reins when the party planning got started. They seem to have forgotten that a year really isn’t a long time when your life has shifted so drastically.
          The cartoon sign sounds cute if done for everyone, but to have it only on her handicapped spot seems like it would start a subconscious game of ‘spot the disabled person’ to anyone who visits. (Though its unclear if they added the cartoon permanently or it was just for the party)

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            I was thinking that maybe they were all a very joke-y kind of office and that they figured that OP would think a cartoon of themselves would be highly amusing. (I mean, they obviously thought that, right?) But even if that were true before this past year – that OP was a caricature enjoyer – the fact that it didn’t occur to any of them that maybe joking about someone’s recent injury is NOT the way to go on that person’s first day back in the office is pretty appalling. And maybe someday OP will be the kind of person who jokes about their disability, but OP should be the one to start the joking, not their workmates.

            Ugh, this is all so cringey.

          2. Jackalope*

            That was one of my questions too. It’s a lot cringier if it’s permanent, as opposed to a little sign out for the day that can then be taken down.

    8. Botanist*

      Oooh, the mascot line got me. I know this is not the same thing at all, but I’m pregnant right now. I recently figured out one of the big things I dislike about telling people I’m pregnant. It’s that to a lot of people, I become a pregnant person who happens to be named Botanist, instead of being Botanist, who happens to be pregnant. I suspect our OP is feeling something similar, but on a much bigger scale, right now.

  4. Hills to Die on*

    I am just so sorry you have had all of this. I hope you are able to successfully help them understand and that you are reunited with your team at some point. Hugs.

    1. Clorinda*

      Yes! They should have given her the choice: The accessible bathroom has to be in Location A because of architectural reasons, and we aren’t moving the whole team because of other reasons (giving benefit of the doubt here). We can put you near Location A where you’ll be close to the bathroom but away from your team, or we can put you near Location B where you’ll be close to your team but the bathroom won’t be as convenient.
      If she could have chosen, she might even have chosen Location A, but it would have been her choice.

  5. 3DogNight*

    Oh, man! I can see both sides of this so clearly! After any kind of trauma, a lot of people really, really just want normal. I agree with Alison, just talk to them. They clearly love you, so are probably panicking at the idea that they hurt you. I know it’s hard, but once the conversation starts you, and likely everyone else, will feel so much better. ((((HUGS))))

    1. Reba*

      Yes, I am *hoping* that the manager’s appearance of being offended and standoffish is actually just caused by awkwardness and not knowing how to recover, not that they are really pouting at OP. Not confident, but hoping.

      HR reaching out to you could be a good thing, if they are coming from a place of wanting to understand. Best wishes OP!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Honestly they may be childishly miffed that they didn’t get the reaction they were expecting or looking for. I really hope that HR can mediate for OP and take it off her shoulders to also deal with their hurt feelings, because she shouldn’t have to work through that with them – but sadly it often happens.

        1. Lana Kane*

          I don’t see it as childish, if only because there are so many feelings surrounding all of this. I don’t think they intended to sideline or other her (although that’s how it landed, and I completely agree this should have been a conversation with OP), and I would imagine there’s confusion, hurt, and fear around having hurt her. They wanted to show her they cared and it went exactly the opposite. Just as OPs initial reaction to this was spontaneous, I’m sure her boss’s was as well.

          Ideally, everyone would be willing to take a breather, and come together to talk it out with open minds.

          1. NotJane*

            I wouldn’t call it “childish”, per se, but it is self-absorbed and myopic. I’m sure they did have good intentions, and I can understand them feeling confused and disappointed. To an extent. But it sounds like OP’s manager, at least, is making it all about herself and taking things way too personally, when all of this was presumably supposed to be about/for OP. I
            I can understand an initial, spontaneous reaction of disappointment from the manager, but after that, she should have regrouped and done her best put on a happy face. Instead, she’s continued to make OP feel badly for not being sufficiently grateful for all of these things OP never asked for and/or wanted, and I wouldn’t be surprised if OP now feels responsible for managing her manager’s feelings, even if that means grinning and bearing it and faking appreciation every time someone points out how awesome her new work space or the “family bathroom” must be.

            I’m exhausted just thinking about the amount of emotional labor involved.

            1. NotJane*

              Sorry for the wall of text ^ It was broken up into paragraphs when I hit “submit”, not sure what happened…

            2. Sloan Kittering*

              I agree with you. OP has had her whole life altered in a permanent way. The manager should be mature enough to know “comfort in, dump out.” The hurt feelings of someone who threw an ill-advised party are less important than the person trying to grapple with adjusting to life in a wheelchair, and the latter shouldn’t have to comfort the former. But that’s not always how it goes in real life.

            3. Despachito*

              “wouldn’t be surprised if OP now feels responsible for managing her manager’s feelings”

              I wouldn’t say “responsible”, but from my own experience I know that if you are in a situation which is new to those around you, it is extremely helpful to explain them what you need/want and what you don’t.

              ” even if that means grinning and bearing it and faking appreciation ”

              But absolutely NOT this. If you do not feel comfortable you absolutely should say so, but at least at the beginning a little appreciation might go a long way (in this case, it is very likely that they meant well, and it is possible both to acknowledge the good intention AND say that it was not what I needed and why, and ideally what I REALLY need)

      2. Aquawoman*

        I too am hoping that the HR meeting is to fix things/apologize and better address LW’s needs. I can absolutely understand and sympathize with the LW’s breakdown and I can also understand how that might make the manager walk on eggshells around her, too, and especially if HR said not to talk about it at all until they’d gotten involved, which I think most HRs would.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes, I would be much more sympathic to the office if the manager had reacted more appropriately.

      OP, please remember that your manager may not represent how the whole office feels about this, and she may not have accurately reported back to the rest of the team how you felt (either deliberatly or through misunderstanding).

    3. JustKnope*

      I actually don’t agree with this! People get extremely weird and condescending about disability, and I don’t think they’re upset that they hurt the OP. I think the office and the manager wanted to be applauded and make themselves feel good without thinking for a second about the actual needs and feelings of the OP. The manager is mad that they weren’t appreciated enough, and probably thinks the OP is being ungrateful or whatever. I wouldn’t necessarily ascribe good intent to the leaders.

      1. Batgirl*

        Can both things be true? Genuinely don’t know. I do think the condescending manager is a true jerk but is it possible he wanted both to be applauded AND for OP to be happy and comfortable? Although I don’t know if his angel or devil will win that one, now he can’t have both. Then there’s the other people in the office. They may not have had the standing to object or even the knowledge of exactly all the details of what would happen. They may have both wanted to be good guys, but also for OP to genuinely enjoy her party, and could easily feel mortified she didn’t.

  6. Roscoe*

    This is, to me, just an example of how you never know how people will react to anyone.

    As Alison said, “Maybe what they did would have been welcome in a different set of circumstances or for a different person”. There isn’t a right or wrong way to react to all of this. And, while I know people like to act like “intention doesn’t matter”, I don’t think you can completely ignore the fact that they were literally trying to make things as easy as possible for OP. Again, I’m not saying her reaction isn’t wrong, but it really sounds like they did a lot to make this workable. Maybe the “party” was too much (again, that will depend on the person), but I do think that, had they not done a lot of this stuff, people would say how crappy they were for just acting like nothing had changed.

    I don’t want to say you should apologize, because I feel like saying that is loaded. But if depending how bad the things you regret are, apologies may be in order, while still expressing your feelings on the overall event.

    Good luck

    1. Roscoe*

      A couple of typos I made.

      You never know how people will react to *ANYTHING*

      I’m not saying her reaction *IS* wrong

    2. Littorally*

      Nah, they should and could have done much better, because there’s a giant missing piece in their response here that should have been 100% a no-brainer for any even halfway competent HR person:

      Ask the LW about her needs, preferences, and comfort.

      They did a bunch of stuff that didn’t particularly help her, and topped it all off with singling her out in a massive display that she very clearly did not want or welcome. Nothing about accommodations should be a surprise to the person being accommodated!!

      1. dealing with dragons*

        I think the point is that there’s a difference in making these choices with kindness in mind vs with hatefulness or meanness. Like yeah, the whole thing was a miss but if it had been done with the end goal of upsetting the OP then that’s look-for-new-job time. This is an “I appreciate the effort, but it didn’t do what you intended” talk

        1. Forrest*

          Yes, but the other side of this is that disabled people *repeatedly* have to deal with People Doing Stuff They Think Is Nice With Good Intentions, and get told over and over again that they have Be Nice, Because They Meant It Kindly. It’s like disability studies 101. OP can acknowledge the good intentions if she wants, but “niceness doesn’t count, asking me what I need and want” has to be the bigger message here or they’ll screw something else up very, very soon. And it’s *really* common for that to be stuff that literally puts the disabled person at risk of illness or injury.

          1. dealingwithdragons*

            They don’t have to appreciate it, but I think the point is that the reaction is different based on the intention. Like if the actual intention was to be hurtful, then that’s an entirely different ballgame.

            1. wincing with extreme dignity*

              Nobody thinks they did it to be hurtful. But it’s still wrong to treat disability accommodations like they’re gifts and these people have totally disregarded the fact that OP has been through an incredibly traumatic, life-changing ordeal.

                1. Botanist*

                  Yes yes yes. I think the other main thing that’s bugging me about what dealingwithdragons is saying is that it leaves to door open to expecting the recipient to do a bunch of emotional labor if the intent was good. You’re right that it would be a lot worse if they intended to be hurtful, but in a way god intentions are harder to work with for this very reason- because you get people popping up all over saying “but they MEANT well! They wanted to make you happy!” like the expectation is on the hurt person to just grin and bear it rather than hold their boundaries or honor their own pain, or forgive and forget. If the coworkers really have good intentions, the best way they can show that is by how they regroup and apologize now, and how they treat the OP going forward.

            2. Yelm*

              I’m honestly wondering if the LW’s co-workers googled “ welcoming back disabled co-worker” and found this article at the top of the list, because I did, and it’s got some pretty sketch blanket advice:

              “How Coworkers Can Welcome the Disabled Employee Back to Work:
              Additional ideas for welcoming an employee returning to work following a disabling illness include these ideas.

              Provide balloons, flowers, cards, and/or a welcome back banner in an employee’s workspace to show that the individual was missed. One employee group decorated the returning employee’s whole cubicle with plants and motivational pictures.”


        2. Autistic AF*

          Impact matters over intent. This doesn’t mean intent doesn’t matter, but bringing up intent as a counterpoint draws focus from reducing the offendee’s distress to reducing the offender’s discomfort.

      2. Reba*

        I don’t like surprises, even nice ones. A surprise that:
        -made a spectacle of me, unexpectedly, in front of all my coworkers
        -occurred on an important day that I had been anticipating/had nerves and mixed emotions about
        -related to a major traumatic event with ongoing impacts on my life

        No one should be shocked that the unsuspecting recipient of all this — which amounts to a command performance of gratitude — would react in some kind of way.

        To me it reads as yes, they did this *for* OP but not *with* her.

        And the whole nonsense with the ribbon cutting is really demanding a pat on the back in a way that would get me riled up, too. It sucks that OP’s return to work was made all about these oh-so-magnanimous alterations, rather than about OP! and how excited they are to have OP back! The changes are requirements (even where they went beyond the legal minimum, accessibility is just good planning) they are not gifts.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah like I can’t open Christmas presents in front of people, I can’t imagine how I’d feel trying to perform gratitude at my own surprise welcome back party.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Honestly a welcome back OP sign at their desk – and a brief announcement later in the day about cake in the break room is probably fine.

          Doing the construction and letting OP know about it before their return, but not making it a thing after that is also just fine.

          But they did it all, turned it into a circus of “look at us”, and didn’t include the OP in any of the accommodation conversations. That all together was just way over the top – and I think many people would have been overwhelmed by it. The year of Covid and the lockdowns just made it even more emotionally fraught.

          1. BluntBunny*

            Yes I viewed it as more as a welcome back than a party for being disabled as she was the last to return to the office. I think that a lot of blame is being put on the manager but most likely a lot of the ideas can from her friends.
            When our colleague came back from Chemo we treated them normally we just sent a card and flowers when they were out. But it can feel just basic and like you should do more but there’s people who don’t like fuss.
            I’m also remember when during and I&D call an AA woman said she was upset when her manager didn’t ask her how she was feeling after Trayvon Martin because she had sons at the same age. However as another black woman I would hate to be singled out and asked how I feel about those events.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      This feels to me like on one side the party was too much (I am not a party person myself), but on the other the party was an easy target for all the frustration and crap of the past year, lockdowns, the accident, etc. that aren’t the fault of the workplace. And while I agree that the LW should have been included more in the discussion, a lot of what they would have to do to renovate for her would be pretty standard ADA guidelines and it might have been frustrated for them to ask for input on things that are required by law, anyway.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yeah, I can see something of the things — a wheelchair ramp in front instead of OP having to go around to the back. but the ribbon cutting was OTP. A family restroom will make it easier to take care of things. but moving OP’s desk to be near the it AND away from her team wasn’t cool. reserving the handicap space for OP was the right thing to do, but putting her picture on it was not.

        So they HEADED in the right direction, they just went past the destination.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah but why NOT tell OP about these things in advance so she’d have time to mentally prepare? Why make it a surprise? There is no reason except it’s more fun for you, the gift-giver.

          1. Jackalope*

            I’m not arguing that what the employer did was a good idea, because it clearly didn’t come across as caring to the LW. But a lot of people do actually like surprises; they like surprising and they like being surprised. Surprise parties are a thing in part because of this. Obviously that didn’t work well here, and I can see that returning from a traumatic event could make you less likely to want a surprise party. But just calling surprises across the board a bad thing isn’t true to what many people experience.

            1. KWu*

              What people do in personal and social lives is one thing, but I think in a professional context, unless you specifically know that someone likes surprise parties, it should default to not surprising people.

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              But surprises are for presents. Surprises are not for “We’ve made major changes to the way you’ll be expected to do your job from here on out.”

              You wouldn’t hold a surprise party to tell your receptionist you ordered them a new headset, or to tell the head of finance you’ve signed up for a subscription to a new money management software she didn’t get a chance to review and give her opinion on. You would check with the staff who are going to be using these things and make sure the model you’re ordering is one that will work for them. Same goes for accommodations. You don’t get to just pick them yourself and throw a party. You check in with the person who will use them to make sure they’re the right ones.

              1. nonegiven*

                > tell the head of finance you’ve signed up for a subscription to a new money management software she didn’t get a chance to review and give her opinion on

                Oh, were you new here? It’s pretty common to do things like that.

        2. Grace*

          This. They turned it from making things easier for OP to singling OP out in really unhelpful, norm-breaking ways. Thing is, I’m concerned that even if they had involved OP in the conversation about accommodations, they might still have done some of this mess. Maybe not moved her desk, but all the rest of it–the party, the ribbon-cutting, the cartoon.

          I cannot get over the cartoon on the handicap space. WHAT. WHY. Everything else, you can theoretically explain as trying to make things easier and just being stupid or over-exuberant about it, but…just…how did people not see how messed up that is?

        3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Sorry, OTP?

          Yea, the parking space really turns my stomach. Best would be “Reserved for <Job Title>”, followed by just the normal Handicap signage.

          1. Zephy*

            I would do either a reserved-for sign with a title OR just a normal handicap sign, not both, and probably lean toward just the handicap sign. Otherwise you might as well have the mascot caricature up, and maybe a big banner that says OUR LLAMA GROOMER IS DISABLED!!.

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Yeah, the reserved for sign would be nice. Especially if you did it without a cake.

      2. PT*

        A lot of older buildings are exempt from meeting ADA guidelines. Buildings only have to meet ADA guidelines when they are built or renovated, they don’t usually have to retrofit as the guidelines change.

        1. Codes are complicated*

          It’s not quite that straightforward, doing substantial enough work on any one part of a building can trigger compliance requirements for that part (whether ADA or local codes). So, for example, milling, resurfacing, and striping the parking lot might require them to meet whatever the current code’s accessible parking rules are.

          It’s not uncommon for older buildings to be a hodgepodge of codes, especially in bathrooms and parking lots since they get refreshed somewhat regularly.

        2. Llellayena*

          But the OP’s building already met ADA guidelines. There was already a ramp in the rear, HC spaces near that entrance, and it’s implied that the previous bathrooms were at least barely meeting ADA (they may have been multi-stall bathrooms with minimum clearances, but I think they existed). All the constructed changes were improvements, but were not required to bring the building up to ADA guidelines.

          1. SnappinTerrapin*

            Sending the disabled employees or customers to the rear entrance doesn’t comply with the ADA.

            1. Run mad; don't faint*

              Thank you for pointing this out. So many people think a ramp at the back makes a business accessible. So often it doesn’t.

              1. nonegiven*

                If it’s a choice between being seated with her team and having her parking place at the rear?

              2. nonegiven*

                If it’s a choice between being seated with her team and having her parking place at the rear?

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My honest thoughts – if it was just a welcome back banner and cake (with the new ramp and bathroom built but no attention paid to them) it may have been okay. But they turned the whole thing into a huge to-do, and some of their accommodations really aren’t well thought out at all (especially the one about moving her away from the team that she works with). I think just talking to OP a bit more before that first day back would have smoothed out quite a few of the bumps that led to them feeling overwhelmed and “loosing it”.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          See I think the banner and the cake are pretty far over the line. The ramp and the bathroom stuff would have been more understandable in terms of practicality (I can absolutely imagine an equally heartbreaking letter, “I just wanted to get back to normal and then couldn’t get in the front door / there was no parking I could use / I couldn’t get to my desk”) – but for God’s sake *tell OP* what you’re considering so she can flag things like, “I wouldn’t want to be seated away from the team.”

          1. Despachito*

            “I wouldn’t want to be seated away from the team.”

            But she can easily say it now, can’t she?

            “I know you meant well but I’d very much prefer to be seated back with my team. ”

            (They probably did it because of the poorer accessibility of the cubicles AND the proximity of the bathroom, which I find perfectly understandable and even thoughtful and nothing to be angry at them for. If they guessed wrong, where’s the problem in simply asking them to change it?)

            1. Batgirl*

              The problem is the whole conversation is now taking place with a butthurt manager making OP feel ungrateful, which makes it unnecessarily difficult and stressful. I think what you’re suggesting “Here’s what we did, no biggie, and we can change it if you don’t like it” would have been fine, but it was delivered as a big deal, she was practically commanded to like it and it’s actually not fine for her to dislike it apparently.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I do think that expressing some gratitude for the effort would help, and if she feels like any specific thing she did/said was over the line, she could apologize for that.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Gratitude for the legally required stuff the building needed to have anyway? Or gratitude for the completely unnecessary things they did?

        1. Green great dragon*

          I think there were some things that were both useful and not legally required. I’m not sure whether apologies are appropriate, but recognising that some things are helpful seems good since LW has to keep working with these people (and reinforces that if they’d only spoken to her, they could have done the useful things and not the rest).

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Of the listed stuff, the only did-but-not-required thing that’s actually helpful is the dedicated parking space for her, rather than just the required accessible spots in general. But then they ruined that good gesture by putting the cartoon on it, instead of just “Reserved for NameOfOP”. Although I’m not actually sure what they did there was even legal since it sounds like they replaced the existing sign with the one with her face, which might mean there are no reserved accessible spots for anyone else who might need it? Unless they had more spots than required and thus still have the appropriate amount even with one assigned to her.
            The extra ramp at the front maybe was useful but not required since there was one at the back, but only because they moved her desk to the front, which she didn’t want. Possibly the ramp at the back would’ve been preferable for getting to her original desk? It’s unclear.
            The bathroom being accessible was necessary. Any needed widening of her cubicle opening was necessary.
            Banner, cake, party, balloons, ribbon cutting? Not necessary.
            I get the impulse to throw them a bone for good intentions to smooth things over, but then that makes it seem like they only do good things for the recognition, without regard for whether any of this was helpful.

        2. ThatGirl*

          I mostly meant that if OP felt like she needed to smooth things over, that would be the way to go. Do I think she’s required to feel gratitude? No, of course not. She’s been through a lot of trauma, and just wanted to feel normal again, and the company went wayyy overboard.

          It’s more just — IF that’s what she was looking to do, that would be my suggestion, vs. apologizing unnecessarily.

      2. Batgirl*

        Maybe. I might … MIGHT… try to weaponise their own enthusiasm against them and just say: “I wasn’t expecting that, but really appreciate the energy you’re willing to put in to make me happy. That’s how I know you’d want me to tell you what the teething problems are and how to fix the problems and actually get me back to full speed here.” But they wouldn’t deserve the face saving phrasing one bit and I’d only deploy it for my own ends.

    5. Pepper*

      The building renovations were not *required* to come with a big fraught party, though. I don’t think the lesson that should be taken from this incident is “this is why we can’t have nice things.” And the most likely way to know how someone will react is to talk to them.

    6. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Well, the definitively wrong way to react is for them to be sniffy and defensive when OP points out that their attempt to make her feel included backfired.

    7. BabyElephantWalk*

      Please check your own ableism here. The company treated OP like a mascot or poster child and used her injury to single her out, isolate her, and embarrass her. Doesn’t matter what someone’s intentions are, this was cruel and damaging.

    8. Yet Another Admin*

      No. Everything about the stuff they built is a minimum under ADA but they made it all about the OP *and* moved them away from the team. This is unacceptable and being grateful is not required. No-one should apologize other than those who sideswiped the OP.

    9. RainbowTribble*

      See, this is a conversation where I feel like you have to be disabled to get it. I’m not sure if you are or not, but this kind of sounds like you are. The person ABSOLUTELY should not have to apologize because they threw a cripple party for them without acknowledging their needs/wants. You don’t get brownie points for not even communicating with someone about their needs and just assuming it. Yes; they should have made accommodations. That’s their job. But they should have consulted OP and they shouldn’t have asked for a pat on the back for it. This reply seems super tone deaf.

      1. EleanorsMom*

        They do not owe their boss anything, but if the OP regrets saying something hurtful, which the letter indicates, there is nothing wrong with apologizing for those specific words. They can be rightly angry while also acknowledging that what they said caused unintended pain. I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive.

    10. Starbuck*

      There’s a super easy way to resolve all those tricky issues though – just communicate and ask people what they want. Then you’ll know how they’ll react.

      The fact that just asking OP would have been SO easy, and yet they didn’t do that while they also clearly put SO MUCH effort into all those changes and the party to unveil them, is just wacky and shows their priorities are way off. They couldn’t take that one simple step but they could do all of that other stuff. Ugh.

  7. Sleepytime Tea*

    OP I’m so sorry everything went down the way it did. I am sure you can see that it was well intentioned, but they didn’t consider how you would want your return to work to be after such a traumatic event. Moving you away from your team is the one that baffles me – unless you’ve expressed a need/want to be close to a bathroom that one just blows my mind.

    I think Alison is spot on with telling them you want to be included in the conversation about what you actually need from them. It was thoughtful for them to preemptively try and figure out what they could do to help you, but it’s very personal and you’d rather not have everyone tripping over themselves reminding you that you’re different, and instead just let someone know if you need something. And yep, you were just overwhelmed by so much fanfare when you returned when you were hoping work would bring back more of a sense of normalcy.

    Good luck to you, and I hope it all works out.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      my desk has been moved away from my team (which is in the back of the building through a maze of desks, MacBooks, and cubicles but not impossible to get to)

      This is the reason that they moved her desk. Understandably concerned that her old desk was not accessible in a wheelchair. I’m not saying it’s a good decision, but somebody took a look and said that their cube farm is hard to maneuver through and moved her desk instead of fixing the cube farm setup. BTW sounds like the cube farm could be hard for someone with crutches or canes to get through too so a better decision might have been to redesign it, but instead they singled her out.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Or just hard to navigate for anyone period. A better idea would have been to do a better layout of the cube farm. Which benefits EVERYONE just like the larger bathroom and and the ramp in the front (some days I just don’t want to take stairs even a few).

      2. Littorally*

        They should not have done it without consulting her, though. That’s really what this all boils down to for me — accommodations should not be a surprise to the person being accommodated!

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        I’m thinking they should have moved her entire team if they were moving her. It might make great sense for her office to move, but isolating her from her team has obviously done her a lot of harm, way more than having to navigate to the bathroom would.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          OP wanted to get back and feel included – how included would most people feel when being isolated from the rest of your work team.

  8. mean green mother*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I can see how they thought they were being welcoming and supportive, but as a fellow disabled person I think I would have felt exactly the same way you did. If they can’t understand and feel mortified that they got it so wrong, then maybe this was all a performance and not really about supporting you at all. But I hope when you’re able to explain they’ll apologize and try to make it right. Sending hugs.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Agreed. They should really reflect on how this made you feel, OP. Not about how their feelings are hurt.

  9. I should really pick a name*

    I’m kind of surprised that they went to the extent of making renos without any consultation with the person that they’re trying to accommodate.

    1. Cranky lady*

      This. Accommodations are supposed to be an interactive process. OP, you are completely justified in melting down. As much as we want to say “their hearts were in the right place”, your company blew it.

    2. kittymommy*

      Some of it I get doing without the input. Adding another ramp? probably not a bad thing. Adding (another?) accessible bathroom? Again, all good. Moving the LW’s desk around and separating them away from their team? Not cool.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      The renovations are the most reasonable part of the whole thing.

      A wheelchair-accessible front entrance and bathroom will benefit future visitors/workers, regardless of whether LW finds it useful. Increased accessibility is almost always a good thing. The problem is treating it like these are FAVORS for LW that she should be grateful for, instead of a generally good idea that they hadn’t considered before because it wasn’t on their radar.

      1. Yet Another Admin*

        “The problem is treating it like these are FAVORS for LW that she should be grateful for, instead of a generally good idea that they hadn’t considered before because it wasn’t on their radar.”


    4. Anonymous Hippo*

      There seems to be a very large subset of people that think surprises make everything better, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    5. azvlr*

      I’m surprise with an org as presumably large as this, that they are completely new to having to make accommodations. How many other employees are in need of them, but have not idea how to approach the topic or who to ask. At my org, we have advocacy groups for different communities. Sounds like this company is in need of somthing like that, too.

    6. Koala dreams*

      I’m surprised that it took one of their employees becoming disabled for them to install a family friendly bathroom and a ramp at the front door. That strikes me as overdue. It’s a sign that accessibility in general isn’t a priority for the company.

  10. Holy Carp*

    It’s understandable that you got emotional and said a few things. It’s been a rough year for everyone but a life-changingly cr*ppy year for you. I don’t think anyone is going to fault you for having a meltdown, but I do think you should do with HR meeting with Alison suggestions in order to set the situation right. A soft reboot, as it were.

    1. KELLS*

      I just hope that the regrettable statements made by OP aren’t the reason for the meeting itself… it could take a nasty turn if OP is going in expecting to talk about what triggered her reaction and what she needs from the company and it is instead about possibly inappropriate language and hostility. Outbursts like that can get even good employees suspended or terminated if what they said crossed a policy line- regardless of how valid their emotions were.

      1. azvlr*

        In that case, would OP have grounds for a lawsuit?

        As Alison says, this shouldn’t be the default, but the company sounds like they need to step up their accessibility game.

  11. UKDancer*

    I think this is why it’s so critical to talk to people with disabilities about what their actual needs are and not assume you know. My company’s disability support network has the strapline “nothing about us without us” meaning that you need to include people in decisions affecting them.

    The company look like they’ve tried to make things good for the OP but without actually discussing their real needs. I think use the HR meeting to set out what would work for you which may be a combination of things that work out over time.

    Also I know diversity training gets a lot of criticism but it could be worth getting some for the company just to think about how they do it and get their heads around how inclusion works best.

    1. cubone*

      I don’t want to detract from your excellent point and being specific that this is a failure to include and respect the LW’s agency and autonomy in knowing what their own accessibility needs and preferences are – that’s first and foremost the most important thing here.

      I also wanted to add that this letter made me think about how the best bosses I’ve ever had have always asked me questions about how I liked to be recognized/rewarded (in public, in private, in writing, etc.?) and stuff like how I prefer my birthday to be acknowledged (public cake and spectacle, privately delivered team card, or absolutely nothing at all).

      Can “ask people what they want” just always, always, always be the bare minimum?

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, asking these questions is just generally good management. When I had to leave for a family emergency, my boss checked in to see a) what I was comfortable with her sharing with other coworkers and b) what I needed when I returned. In my case, I was fine with people knowing some basic details so they knew what was going on and how to proceed with projects I ran. When I returned, I didn’t mind people expressing support but I wanted zero fanfare — I had been through the longest month of my life and I just wanted to do nothing other than exist and focus on work. I could barely handle that, let alone anything more.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes! I work with someone who is amazing but hates public displays. Private compliments & one-on-one gratitude are the way to go.

        People with disabilities have been on the receiving end of well-meaning paternalism a long time. It’s not hard to ask everyone what they want/need to be successful & feel supported, regardless of disability status.

  12. mcfizzle*

    Oh LW. I can’t imagine how upsetting all of this must be for you. From the moment in the parking lot all the way in was one unexpected (and bad) surprise after another.
    Definitely the way forward is for them to communicate with you before implementing *anything*. They absolutely should’ve told you any and all accommodations they were considering and included you for your input. It sounds like they really value you, even if they botched this. Hopefully they can listen and do better in the future.
    All the best to you.

  13. KHB*

    This kind of thing falls under what Gavin de Becker (“The Gift of Fear”) calls “loan sharking.” Someone does a bunch of stuff “for you” that you never asked them to do, and then they make you feel like you owe them something in return (even if it’s just gratitude or a particular reaction).

    De Becker talks about it in the context of dangerous people who are trying to maliciously manipulate you, but I think that understanding it as manipulative behavior helps make sense of why it feels so uncomfortable even when it’s well-meant, as it presumably was here.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, OP, and I hope that your employer can get past this and work with you to figure out what kind of workplace modifications actually make sense for you.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      This seems especially relevant considering how OP’s manager appears to be offended and condescendingly walking on eggshells with her.

      1. EPLawyer*

        This reminds me of the letter from the manager that went waaaaay overboard on crafting a new family leave policy for a new mother, putting in all the things she wished she had gotten when she was needing company support for leave. Then the new mom was all, well yeah umm, my partner and I have completely different plans. The the manager was miffed that this person was grateful.

          1. nothing rhymes with purple*

            Coincidentally, that one’s actually second under “you may also like” above.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Depending on how exactly the OP worded the things she said she regrets, the perception of “walking on eggshells” could be the manager afraid of a potential discrimination lawsuit and trying to protect themself/the company. It does seem like the company values OP and had good intentions, however Impact > Intent and OP felt othered instead of valued.

        OP, my advice to you for your meeting with HR would be to have a list of points in front of you that you want to make so that you have something to focus in case you get emotional during that call. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and I hope that you’re able to get a good resolution.

    2. cubone*

      I’m glad you mentioned this…. I don’t think the LW’s office/manager would take too kindly to pointing this out, but it seemed super obvious to me as I read this that really this celebration was for THEM.

      Like, I get that the individual actions (parking space, desk area and bigger bathroom, etc.) are genuinely things that could meet the LW’s accessibility needs (not that they asked, cough cough), but the whole celebration and unveiling of it just really strikes me as a way for the whole office to paper over any feelings of discomfort or uncertainty with unbridled positivity and cake.

      1. Ooh La La*

        Yes, totally. And it requires the OP to put on a performance of gratitude and humility just as she is making a complicated transition back to work. I can’t imagine how overwhelmed and upset I would be by this kind of ambush. Keep it low-key, put OP back with her team, and let her acclimate! Like, just let the woman breathe for a second.

      2. Botanist*

        Oof. You are reminding me that I am a recovering gift giver- giving gifts used to be so, so my love language. I slowly realized that I was too often giving gifts because it made ME feel really good, started reining it in, and have tried to become much more judicious about giving gifts (sometimes I’ll snap a picture of something fun or funny to send to the person in question rathe than burden them with the physical thing they didn’t ask for). It can be really tough to pull back the layers of excitement and ask yourself who you are really throwing the party for. Not nearly as much fun. But so important.

    3. Wisteria*

      It’s a bit of a slippery slope from “misplaced good intentions that missed the mark entirely by singling LW out and cutting her out of the accommodation conversation” to “LW’s manager and coworkers are predators looking to harm her.”

      1. Onyx*

        But that’s what KHB suggested. In fact, KHB *explicitly* acknowledged that the coworkers are probably well-intentioned when they said that the book presents this in the context of malice and dangerous people, “but I think that understanding it as manipulative behavior helps make sense of why it feels so uncomfortable even when it’s well-meant, as it presumably was here.”

        Problematic behavior doesn’t become harmless just because it is done without malice. Nor does lack of *intentional* malice inherently keep people from engaging in behaviors that are functionally similar (or even identical) to those used by intentional manipulators and abusers. The difference is that the truly well-meaning should be upset when they realize that they caused harm and want to avoid repeating it. Now is the chance for the OP’s coworkers to try to understand and learn from their mistakes rather than continuing. Understanding the reasons a behavior hurts/manipulates people, even if that was not the intent, is part of that learning process.

      2. Batgirl*

        That was honestly the first place my head went to. Not physical harm, but professional harm.. yep, checks out. If a manager makes costly adjustments to the building and says this is *for you* not the building and anyone who needs it, and makes a show-me-gratitude party out of it, I’m going to start to panic about my future pretty much straight away. What if my performance doesn’t adequately make them feel it was worth it? These are people who can’t tell the difference between a building and a person! How to impress them and thank them enough?! If I’m also moved away from my team I’m going to move into double anxiety mode about my professional future interactions (which seems to have been dropped from the agenda and I need to just be grateful to be there?), but oh! Look! My future is apparently as the company disabled cartoon mascot so there’s that.

  14. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Oh my, OP, I’m right there with you!

    Over the years and especially since I became a manager, I learned you have to meet people where *they* are, not where *you* are or where *you* think they should be.

    I’ve gotten parties, gift cards, and cards when I didn’t want them. I WISH I’d been more honest how I felt at the time, but I felt social pressure to smile and be grateful. The irony is that my office asked me what I wanted, I told them, and I didn’t get it. Why ask me then, eh?

    So I paid forward the favor. My fantastic boss was leaving, and I heard the big boss, who adored her, wanted to throw her a surprise going away party. During the planning, I asked, “Did anyone ask Jane what she wanted as a parting gift?” Big boss said, “Oh she said she didn’t want a part, but we HAVE to do it.” Right. So I went and told my boss what they were planning. She was PISSED, but she was grateful to me.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I learned there is the golden rule, but there’s another level.
      The platinum rule: treat others as *they* would want to be treated. Sounds like you nailed it! I too would have given a heads-up to someone I knew wouldn’t want the party.

    2. Grace*

      Oh, that happened in my office once! Thankfully it turned out a little better. We had someone retiring, and they DID NOT want a party, and made it clear through multiple channels. One of the coworkers (on the party planning committee) could not fathom not having a party. She tried to plan a party anyway, but thankfully our grandboss shut it down. Cue said coworker bitching for weeks after the retiree left that she “just can’t believe we didn’t throw them a party, everyone likes parties, I really wish we’d had a party.”

      Of course, this is the same party planner who wanted to have an ice cream cake for a lactose-intolerant person, so…let’s just say we all know that the parties are really about what she wants, not what the person being feted wants.

    3. Narise*

      My husband was leaving a job after fighting with HR and upper management over ridiculous policy changes and someone decided a big party was in order. They didn’t consult my husband or even confirm his schedule the last week on the job. He missed the party due to having scheduled part of a day off and everyone gave him the cold shoulder his last two days because he didn’t come to his own surprise party he knew nothing about.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I ended a job on super awful terrible terms with the most insensitive, emotionally unintelligent boss ever. As in, we’d walk through a door and he’d let slam in my face.

        Anyway, after we had a terrible last conversation in which he kept demanding I forgive him, he wanted to know if I wanted a going away lunch.

        I took one look at him, hung my mouth open, and told him no.

        I mean….

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        My friend at my old job (I will call her Ariel) left after the end of her contract was mishandled and it ended up that she left quite abruptly and was meant to come back to drop off some stuff. There had been some vague conversation about her coming in on a Tuesday morning, so my coworkers “Cruella, Maleficent and Ursula” took it upon themselves to arrange a surprise breakfast party. I was closer friends with Ariel than they were and knew that was the last thing she wanted, but because I had only just come back to work that morning myself after being out of town for my cousin’s wedding, I only found out about it at the last minute myself and didn’t have time to warn her.

        I don’t know whether she had some kind of sixth sense about it, but in the end she didn’t feel up to coming in that day. Cruella, Maleficent and Ursula complained the whole morning about how it wasn’t good enough and they were starving.

        Ariel eventually dropped her stuff off by arranging with me, and they weren’t told the day, meaning there was no opportunity for a party to be forced on her after all.

    4. Lana Kane*

      “Over the years and especially since I became a manager, I learned you have to meet people where *they* are, not where *you* are or where *you* think they should be.”

      Well said. This is easier said than done, but it’s important to work at it.

  15. Sara*

    I’m so sorry LW, this sounds like a nightmare to me. I get their intentions – they wanted to show you that they’re ‘supporting’ you. But removing you from your team’s workspace, singling you out with all the handicap accessible upgrades, changing a handicap sign to an avatar of you seems so performative that I understand why it landed so poorly.
    I think you could get back to a new ‘normal’ level with these co-workers if you maybe have a meeting with your manager and HR combined. Explained why you felt singled out, and you understand they meant it in a kind way but it felt more like (as you said!) a ‘cripple party’. And ask if they can move you back to where your team’s workspace is so that you can collaborate with them!

    I do worry that you’re putting a lot into the idea/desire that things will go back to pre-pandemic levels of normal – and I think you need to adjust your expectations that things are always going to be a little off from now on. Not just because of what you’ve been through, but because of what everyone has been through and how the world has changed. Maybe temper your expectations a bit.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, that last part. We are a long way from *anybody* achieving pre-pandemic levels of normal.

  16. RabbitRabbit*

    Damn. I know they tried, but this is a prime example of asking a person what accommodations they need, rather than making assumptions. (And the cartoon mascot thing feels tacky regardless.)

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      That, for me, was just… the absolute End. I cannot imagine the humiliation of having my face (cartoon or otherwise) on the parking space, or any other public accommodation. It’s the ultimate “LOOK AT HER, WE’RE LABELING HER!!! PUBLICLY!” Well-meaning or otherwise, that is how it comes across to me. The ultimate in tone-deafness. When you want to be treated like yourself, and instead it’s a constant reminder that they are now treating you as This Other Thing I’m Trying To Not Think About For Five Whole Minutes Maybe Please.

      OP, I’m so sorry this happened. I probably would have reacted the same way. I hope you can make HR understand that this was not what accommodation looks like.

  17. londonedit*

    Crikey this all sounds awful. I can imagine reacting in a similar way! The first day back at work after such a life-changing year is always going to be nerve-wracking, and to then be faced with all of that…it’s not surprising that your emotions went into overdrive.

    The thing is, it’s all very nice of them, but if they’d really cared about welcoming you back and making you feel like you were part of the team and everyone was really happy you’d returned, what they could and should have done was just ASK you beforehand what you’d prefer and what would be helpful. They wouldn’t just have moved your desk away from your team and put a cartoon of your face on the disabled parking space and made you cut a ribbon and have a party. They’d have consulted with you about any accommodations you might need. ‘We’re refurbishing the bathroom to make it accessible for you – would it make more sense for you to move over to sit next to the bathroom, or would you like us to adapt a desk space so that you can carry on sitting with the team?’ That’s really not difficult! And it would have solved so many problems. It’s so frustrating when people do what they think others want instead of just asking them what they actually want – especially where disability is concerned.

    I agree that you should talk to your manager and HR – just lay it out, say you appreciate that they’re trying to make things easier, but actually what would be easier would be sitting with the rest of your team and people acting normally around you.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Heck, even just, “We have added a ramp out front and added an accessible restroom where X used to be, and are moving your desk next to it where Y used to be, is there anything else we can do?” would have given a chance to say “no don’t move me” and have a discussion about being with the team.

      I don’t know what on earth would have made the surprise-party aspects of it better, and I don’t think anything on earth can make me charitable about that parking space sign, though.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        There is absolfrigginlutely nothing that would induce me to feel charitable about that parking space sign. EVER. Did not one person at OP’s company run one “if then sequence” on this whole thing?? I am so appalled and feel so incredibly sorry that the OP had to endure this, on top of the absolute year from hell!

  18. Expelliarmus*

    What really bothers me is that they didn’t ask OP for her desired accommodations. Maybe my understanding on this matter is incorrect, but I always thought that accommodations are supposed to be based on what the person being accommodated wants. Sure, the family bathroom is a given, but moving OP from her team should have definitely been run by her. And the gimmicks? Just no.

    1. Emmie*

      What bothers me is a bit bigger than this. Coming back to work for the first time had to be incredibly hard for the OP. Every part of her life is different. Changes have a way of profoundly highlighting that. And maybe OP rehearsed her way through all of those steps. Maybe she prepared for other people’s reactions; how to navigate the hallway; how to enter the building and open the door in privacy; how to use her computer; how to get to work, on time, showered and dressed. I am guessing that it could have been a day that took enormous emotional preparation. I imagine they care for OP, and they meant well. But I also see why OP was upset.

      1. Properlike*

        +1 on this. And OP would have already been in a super fragile place, so really anything could have sent her over.

        I don’t mind public displays of appreciating me, but all this would’ve sent me over the edge too, even on a good day.

        Hugs, OP. Nothing to apologize for.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I had a post that got eaten. OP, I think the bottom line is that you need to go into this meeting as both a professional and as the SME on what you specifically need. You can say “I appreciate x” while also saying, “But because you didn’t consult me y and z are problematic.” I’d be very clear and specific – write things down – to discuss what you need for a successful return to the office. I think your manager could use some training, especially if they are now acting sullen that you didn’t act the way they wanted you to about something you never asked for! YOU are not responsible for THEIR feelings. So they used $$ for upgrades – that’s a choice that’s above your pay grade. Whether or not they like hearing that they handled it wrong is about them, not you.

      So what do you need now? Do you need a better working relationship with this manager? Do you need to somehow be reintegrated with your team? Honestly, if I wasn’t going to have face time with my team I wouldn’t want to hassle with the commute, either. What was the point? Maybe that’s the question that should be asked – if you are going to be sequestered away from the people you work with anyway, what was the point of this effort? Was it really about YOU…or them? Feels an awful lot like it was only peripherally about you and more a feel-good thing for someone else.

      OP, you said you liked working there. So tell them why, tell them how this missed the mark, and tell them what you need. I hope that this meeting will be productive for you and you get the support you really need.

        1. Abogado Avocado*

          +1 for Momma Bear’s proposal that you put things in writing.

          Additionally, OP, these well-intentioned, but under-educated folks may ask you if you’ll help them train the staff on how to work with people with disabilities. Therefore, know: legally, you are not required to teach your employer squat beyond what you need to work effectively (also known as reasonable accommodations). No person with a disability (or, for that matter, anyone who is not white and cis-gendered) is required to educate HR and/or their workplace — no matter how “nice” HR thinks that would be — about how people should work with those who are different or differently abled. Of course, you can do this if you want to, but you aren’t required to.

          OP, I totally understand why you “lost it” upon pulling into work. I send you hugs and wish you all the best as you go forward despite the “year of shit” and your clueless employer.

          1. Tara*

            And OP is pretty much brand new to having a disability, she isn’t an expert – they should hire some to help! This kind of thing completely infuriates me.

  19. S*

    There are so many ways the same things could have been done without putting so much pressure on the OP. Don’t have a ribbon-cutting ceremony; just have the new ramp be there, quietly. Move her whole team to the new pod, so she’s not isolated but still has the easier access and bathroom. Attach a name placard below the regular handicapped parking sign instead of putting up a cartoon.

    Quiet, clear accessibility instead of making a point of HEY LOOK WHAT WE DID might have made all the difference to the OP.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      Exactly! Like maybe a cake would have been fine too, but that’s about as far as they needed to go.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      But they didn’t even need a new ramp; there was one at the back of the building. They held off on her return to the office until the new ramp was complete so they could surprise her with the ribbon cutting ceremony.

      I agree with much of what you said.

      Bottom line: They were well intentioned but should have spoken to her about her needs. They were also over-the-top and should have understood that some people do not want to be made the center of attention especially on a very stressful day back in the office after a year away and a lifechanging injury.

      1. londonedit*

        I can definitely see they had good intentions with the ramp – oh, we can’t have OP being forced to use the back door all the time, that’s not fair, she should be able to use the main entrance like everyone else. No problem. The problem is absolutely that they then went on a ‘this is what we think OP should have, this is what we’re going to do’ spree without actually consulting OP on what would help them most.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes I think it’s not a good look for people with disabilities to have to use the back door or the service entrance. I can see why they wanted a ramp at the front (which is a good thing to have anyway).

          What they should have done is actually ask the OP what she wanted and if there were particular ways to put the ramp.

      2. Wisteria*

        They needed the ramp at the front. What they didn’t need was the ceremony bc the ramp at the front should have been in the plans anyway. “People in wheel chairs can always use the back door” is not a good mindset.

      3. Cat Lover*

        I see this on college campuses a lot- many renovated buildings are adding ramps to the front of buildings, because back ramps tend to be inaccessible. Usually they are near dumpsters, hard to navigate in snow/rain, etc. Plus it’s not a good look to make a wheelchair user (or other physically disabled people) have to use a separate entrance than everyone else.

        But yeah, the ramp and bathroom themselves aren’t the issue.

  20. Michelle Smith*

    Try to see it from their side. They were trying to surprise you with something over-the-top nice. They should have consulted you about what you need, but their heart was in the right place so please try to smooth this over.

    I am disabled and have been fighting for months with my office to provide any accommodations whatsoever. I personally would kill for an office that was this concerned about accessibility and trying to make me comfortable. I’m not saying the way they went about this was right. Quite the opposite. I’m saying you have a real opportunity here to make this work if you can set aside your embarrassment (??? Disability is nothing to be embarrassed about by the way.) and have a follow up conversation about what you actually need. Thank them for the bathroom and for trying to make your return special, explain why you were emotional and that you didn’t mean to say (whatever it is you regret saying). Then follow that up with your actual accommodations needs and requests — including being placed back with your team (think through whether that location is really safe for you in an emergency, like a fire, or if you should be asking for them to move your team members up to the new area) and removing the cartoon.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I got the understanding that OP was more embarrassed about the seeming pity than about being disabled, but I can’t relate to her like you can, so maybe my reading is off.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        This is how I read it as well: being othered can be embarrassing no matter what your general feelings are regarding the thing you’re being othered about. (At least, this is true of the things I get othered about; I can’t speak for physical disability.)

    2. Texas*

      I don’t think OP needs to thank them for “making [her] return special” when that’s something she really didn’t want, and it doesn’t seem like the focus was on making OP comfortable, or they would have asked what she needed.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        Maybe making her return special wasn’t what the real focus was for them, but I know Allison often advices that when dealing with conflict, we should assume the best intentions of the other party.

        1. Texas*

          Assuming best intentions doesn’t need to include thanking them for something that OP specifically pointed out as really hurtful to her. What an odd comment!

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          I take that “assume” to be more about your behavior than your internal feelings. I.e., don’t go into a conversation guns blazing, accusing people of stuff, because there’s a chance (sometimes a very small chance) that there’s a reasonable explanation for what the other person did. But you are perfectly free to set the confidence level for your own belief that they did [unreasonable thing] for [unreasonable reason] as high as you want.

    3. NovaGirl*

      I am also disabled and need some workplace accommodations and OP should absolutely not have to see it from their side. Treating an employee differently or singling them out because of their disability is illegal. They not only failed to speak with the employee about the accommodations she would require, but they made a big show of her return and need for accommodations and even created a cartoon likeness of her in the parking lot. They separated her from her team, literally singling her out.

      If I had to guess, HR realized this could all be a lawsuit and the meeting is them attempting to smooth things over. I’m sorry your workplace won’t accommodate you. These are both cases of workplace discrimination, however.

      1. Squirrel*

        Yes! HR is trying to cover their tracks now. This meeting is not about you, it’s about them. They SHOULD offer you an apology, and anything else that you want at this point. Let them do the talking, put on your poker face and see where this goes.

      2. Tara*

        HR? Only caring where there’s potential for the company to be in trouble? Never… /s

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      I think it’s pretty obvious that she’s embarrassed about getting so emotional at work, not being disabled. They literally turned her into a cartoon icon of disability, isolated her from her team due to her disability, and then her manager started treating her poorly because she wasn’t sufficiently grateful that they overwhelmed her with changes she wasn’t consulted about. They may have genuinely intended to be supportive, but they did it in a way that came across tokenizing, othering, and condescending. Recognizing their intentions is helpful for framing her response but they’re the ones who should be smoothing things over because they massively mishandled this situation. She doesn’t need to thank them for making a traumatic transition period even more difficult.

    5. feral fairy*

      The fact that some people have employers that refuse to accommodate at all doesn’t have any bearing on LW’s feelings. It seems like you are projecting a bit onto the LW and I understand why you’d read this and compare your situation to their’s, but the language in this comment is unnecessarily shamey. I also feel like you are missing some key things from the letter. It’s not just about the LW being “embarrassed”. They went through an extremely traumatizing experience during a pandemic where they were presumably pretty isolated. As other commenters have touched on, LW spent months preparing emotionally and physically for their first day back. I think that “embarrassed” most likely barely scratches the surface. I’m guessing the LW knows that their disability isn’t inherently embarrassing but being put on the spot like that in front of your boss and all of your peers on an already overwhelming day would make a lot of people feel embarrassed.

      1. Ermintrude*

        I’m late with this comment but Stella Young was amazing. She helped me push back against ableist toxic positivity I’ve encountered.

  21. Dr. Rebecca*

    Accommodations should ALWAYS and ONLY be implemented with the direct involvement of the person who needs them, unless they are being done to raise the standard of the entire workplace (like a building reno that includes new ramps, better elevator access, bathroom stall widening, etc.) I’m sorry they did this, OP.

  22. Van Wilder*

    When I was a kid, I was paralyzed from GBS and then learned to walk again but wore leg braces. There was a cafeteria aid that wanted to hold my lunch tray for me everyday and help me get lunch, and it was humiliating. Another time, we were doing relay races in gym (where you sit on a little scooter and scoot across the gym – not physically taxing!) and the gym teacher set up a little area for me to do the activities by myself, like “you’re going to demonstrate for the class!” I still don’t understand how some adults can be so completely lacking in empathy.

    Anyway, none of this helps you but I’m sorry you’re going through this. I don’t think you need to worry about managing your boss’s hurt feelings. It probably would help to explain your POV so that she knows, but then if she feels bad or embarrassed, she should process those emotions on her own. Best of luck and I hope that your work life can go back to somewhat normal soon!

    1. EPLawyer*

      Unbias the News LITERALLY like TODAY just did an article on this: When Help Hurts. On disability rights and people’s desire to help does not trump consent. I saw it on Twitter because I follow one of the folks with Unbias the News (we were in law school together). I won’t link because of moderation but I will send it Alison on Twitter. You can find it by doing a google search on the title.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Desire not trumping consent is a good way to phrase it. That’s true in a lot of situations. Like if you do Bystander training, they tell you not to assume what the person wants from you. They are still people who have choices. You need to respect them.

  23. NW Mossy*

    A perfect response from Alison here, and hopefully it feels achievable for the OP to apply it. Everyone involved is a fallible human with feelings, and our feelings often aren’t strictly logical. Your return was always going to be emotionally heavy, and sometimes, we just don’t know how we’ll react until we’re in it and feeling the feels.

    Here’s another possible script: “I know my first day back was really rocky – I wasn’t prepared for it all, got really overwhelmed, and said some things that were hurtful as a result. I can’t hit rewind on the day, but I can say I appreciate that you really wanted me to feel welcome and supported coming back into the office. Now that I’m here, I’ve got a much better sense of what’ll help the most. Can I share some ideas I have for that?”

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      That script feels to me like it’s accepting 100% fault, which I for one don’t think the OP should do.

      1. NW Mossy*

        The OP notes that she said things she regrets, which says to me that she feels responsible for her behavior even though she understands the provocation involved and how it’s tangled up with her sense of self. She also says that she’s worried she’s damaged her reputation, which is a reasonable concern given how often women experience their emotions being used against them (“hysterical,” “unprofessional,” etc.). A stronger “this is your fault, not mine” stance may be morally right, but that doesn’t mean that this is the time and place she particularly wants to take that stand.

        Plus, her boss is icing her out now – if mending that fence is important to the OP (and I can see why it would be, given that this is her livelihood), it may be in her best interest to appear to be accepting a part in the outcome to set up the pivot to a conversation about what she actually wants and needs in her work environment. While a just world would not require her to take on responsibility to get the support she needs, in her current unjust world, doing so may speed the process.

        Given everything she’s been through and must continue to navigate, it would be totally fair for her to decide that she cares more about settling the dust quickly than she does about taking on the considerable effort of schooling both boss and employer on how to correct themselves in their approach to employees with disabilities.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          My worry would be that accepting fault *cements* whatever damage to her reputation occurs — so that going forward, every conflict will be chalked up to “LW being unprofessional and overemotional again, just like when we threw her the Wheelchair Ramp Party and she acted all ungrateful.”

          Sloan Kittering’s alternative in another thread seems to me like it’s more likely to work: https://www.askamanager.org/2021/07/i-had-a-meltdown-during-an-office-welcome-back-party-in-my-honor.html#comment-3476554

          1. NW Mossy*

            That’s certainly possible, and to some extent it depends on factors the OP doesn’t describe in her letter, such as her reputation prior to her return day, her own comfort level with being vulnerable, her employer’s culture, and her boss’s personality. It’s a very YMMV thing, which is part of why I offered an option that reads differently than the firm pushback offered by others.

            Broadly speaking, most people have a good sense for what type of organization they work in and their own personality. My script would work best for a person who can readily acknowledge a bad choice without attaching too much weight to it, working in an organization with a safe-to-make-mistakes culture that can move on without rancor once an issue’s aired out.

            The only approach I would not recommend here is to try to glide by it like it never happened. Better to address it (even if imperfectly) with as much honesty as feels safe than to let misunderstandings simmer in the silence.

        2. Malarkey01*

          I think this is a point that’s been missing from AAM comments lately (and something I appreciated in prior years). There are “right and wrong” and there’s also a “I need/want this job” and that you do need to balance the two. Getting angry and saying things you regret can be very understandable, unfortunately it’s usually not something you can do at work without damaging your position. Taking ownership of that, especially with the specifics here, helps repair that and push a restart where hopefully her employer can also say we’re sorry for the way we went about this, what can we do to help.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I wasn’t suggesting that LW should argue that she’s 100% blameless, either. My follow-up post was stuck in moderation because I linked to another comment, but there’s something about the wording of Sloan Kittering’s script in that comment that makes it seem like an easier prelude to having the necessary conversation. She can own that she said some things she regrets, but also bring up some serious concerns with the way her return was handled, without simply falling on her sword in the you-were-right-I-was-wrong way that the top post of this thread suggested.

    2. Lana Kane*

      “Everyone involved is a fallible human with feelings, and our feelings often aren’t strictly logical. ”

      As much as I can’t beloieve they didnt consult her regarding accomodations, I see it the same way – people are fallible. I’m seeing many comments that ignore this very simple fact of human interaction.

    3. Tara*

      Nah, I personally do not think this one is it.

      I would be going to HR and saying something like —

      “Although I appreciate that the effort put in last week was likely well intentioned, it made me feel uncomfortable and put an undue amount of pressure on me, on what was already going to be a highly emotionally charged day. I had an emotional reaction to this, as I’m sure anyone would in a similar position, as all I wanted was to get close to normality back in this aspect of my life. Ways you could support me doing this are having my team in the same area I am, and (whatever else you think would help). I want this to be collaborative and not have these things come as a shock, as happened last week. Could you please work with my manager to make sure they understand what my goal is here and how they can best be supportive?”

      1. Redd*

        I like this. A nod to the kind intentions, nobody is vilified, but the main focus is on what was wrong, why it was wrong, and what must be done to fix the issue.

  24. TimeTravlR*

    The big hoopla would have been it for me. Each other item could have been dealt with on their own (I also would prefer to be near my team) but the big deal that was made about it wouldn’t work for me at all. I just am not that person and may not have handled it well.

  25. LiberryPie*

    While it’s probably not helpful to point this out to them, it sounds like they did some things that are actually required by law and then wanted a big pat on the back for how great they are. Grr

    I expect they’ll understand if you explain you don’t want to be singled out and want to be a part of your team. My fear is that they’ll take this to mean they should never mention the fact that you use a wheelchair. It might be good to give them a guideline – they can bring it up to ask you what you need (which they really should’ve done earlier), but they shouldn’t assume you need accommodations that you haven’t asked for.

    I’m not disabled, so others can say better if this is helpful or not, but one thing I really found helpful was a guideline I read to think of what help you’d offer a mom pushing a stroller. You’d probably hold the door open but also assume she was generally competent. (I’m not sure dads pushing strollers get as much help, so I’ll just go with mom.) In a workplace, you might tell them to imagine someone carrying a bunch of IT equipment. They’d probably let that person park close to the building, hold doors open, but too much bustling about and fawning would be a hindrance. Mostly you’d assume if the person was carrying the equipment it was because they were capable of doing it.

  26. Tyche*

    I showed this to my disabled spouse and we both agree that the company is making this about themselves and not about OP at all. On top of it the manager’s behavior after the fact is gaslighting. Yes they might be confused about what happened, but if they truly did this for OP they would be more concerned with OP’s feelings than their own. I would honestly consider leaving over it because I wouldn’t want to work with people who invalidate my feelings in this way. Good luck, OP. I hope it works out for you.

    1. Anon for This*

      I agree with this. I don’t think we’re being hard enough on the employees and manager. There’s so much wrong here, I felt like I was reading a script from “The Office.” This is not a “let bygones be bygones” situation. You deserve to work somewhere that understands how to handle your needs, and other similar situations, better. Being publicly humiliated in front of your co-workers via the cartoon, etc., would be a deal-breaker for me. I wish that last part were legally actionable, but it’s probably not.

      1. Van Wilder*

        Agreed and agreed. This is a Michael Scott move.

        It doesn’t mean your boss is a bad person but she made a bad choice. How she responds to being made aware that she did something wrong will be very telling.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      That’s nailed it for me – it does feel like the company is being all “Look at us being so amazing about accommodating our disabled employee” and less focused on listening to the disabled employee.

      I’m sure everyone had good intentions, but the reaction from the manager is about much.

      1. Anon for This*

        I’m not sure where I heard this, but it works here: “If you think you have good intentions, then you’re thinking about yourself.”

    3. Summer Smile*

      I completely agree. The office did the whole hoopla for themselves and to make themselves feel great about themselves.

      Why was there never once a discussion with the OP about what was going on with the renovations? Why wasn’t the OP ever consulted? First off, some of this sounds like it’s required by law. So, they would have to do it anyhow. Second of all, I’m trying to imagine showing up at work and there being a caricature/avatar of me on a sign at my parking spot! (Why Would Anyone Think That’s Okay?!?!?!) Only my parking spot, no one else’s. Ugh! Third, I would feel so shunned and ousted if I were no longer physically with my team. And that’s supposed to be some sort of happy surprise. Just what??

      I’m so very sorry for the OP.

    4. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      I agree — and I also think the OP has more power than they may realize. Other commenters have pointed out that HR has probably realized that the company handled this situation poorly, and has set up the meeting to avoid a lawsuit in the future. I get that vibe as well! If the company is willing to start over and do things in the right way, the OP has good standing to ask for what they want and also hold them to task for singling her out.

  27. Jennifer B*

    Oh no poor you OP, this sounds absolutely mortifying!! I can see where they *think* they are doing something to show how much you are appreciated but they are focusing on this one aspect of who you are rather than your whole self. It also sounds a bit self-congratulatory (reinforced by their response to your reaction) like they want everyone to know just how much money they have put in and how much they care about their staff i.e. a gesture that might come partially from a pace of caring but also from a place of performatively wanting to look good. It’s your manager’s response that gets me (omg how could they not have given you a heads up WTF) and how they are flipping it around to be the victim, and by complaining you are the ungrateful woman who didn’t appreciate all the effort they made. Which they definitely should have made anyway, for all disabled staff, either now or in the future. It should have been a normal part of doing business? Sending you lots of love and support for your journey and I hope you don’t feel like you owe them any extreme gratitude.

  28. Malika*

    It must have been very tough for you going back to work and being met with this situation. It is obvious that they had never experienced this before. With a bit more distance, they should be able to understand that this was a misstep with underlying good intentions. You expressed how you felt, and I do think that is a good thing. If we suddenly return to work after a prolonged absence due to reasons such as yours, we should be given room to request how the change will be handled. Some people would have liked what they did, but you are you and not some people. I hope moving forward you can be given the space and accommodations you need.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, I think OP might be able to guide them to understanding her reaction with, “I was really focused on trying to get back to normal and was looking forward to being back in my routine as much as possible. I really wasn’t prepared for all these unexpected changes and feeling so singled out and put on the spot.” I think most people can imagine and empathize with this, and it doesn’t involve OP having to ‘apologize’ as others have suggested.

      1. Tuckerman*

        Yes, I really like your framing. Many people can relate to appreciating the normalcy working brings.

      2. Reba*

        This sounds like a good, neutral way to explain the impact. I completely agree that OP should not apologize. I think this script lays out what happened without being accusatory, either, which should help smooth things over if that’s needed.

        Then you can follow with, here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t, and above all “I would like to be consulted in the future.”

    2. meyer lemon*

      I think one detail that’s being lost is that the LW has worked at this company for three years and has close relationships with a lot of her coworkers. I see a lot of “they had good intentions and maybe some people would have enjoyed this” on the thread, but I’m sure that part of what’s especially hurtful is that these people who presumably know the LW pretty well totally failed to understand where she’s coming from.

  29. PrairieEffingDawn*

    Anyone doesn’t see your side in this is a jerk!! And I think most people will understand. Sending you so much love.

  30. Texas*

    The fact that they never bothered to have even a chat with you about what accommodations you need/want before they put all this into place… *facepalm*

    The manager (plus whoever above) made the decision to spend this money with zero input from you, and the fact that it wasn’t necessary is 100% on them, not you, because you never asked for these changes. It is incredibly rude of your manager to be condescending to you because they made a mistake.

    (And the cartoon of you on the parking placard? That’s so not OK for them to do at all and it’s just so weird in general).

  31. ChemistryChick*

    OP, your feelings about this are valid and perfectly reasonable. I agree with Alison that they probably meant well but are completely clueless. They should have asked you what accommodations you would need/want instead of blind-siding you with this. I hope everything works out for you.

  32. SnowWhiteClaw*

    Wow, this is performative activism at its finest. This is no better than people who give money or food to homeless people and film it to get likes on TikTok. I’m sure a bunch of your coworkers are thinking “Wow, I’m an amazing person for doing so much for a disabled individual. I deserve a pat on the back.”

    I’m disabled and this would make me feel terrible and overwhelmed too.

    1. 653-CXK*


      This patronizing, cringe act is absolutely patronizing and the OP was right to be upset and leave.

  33. Atlantis*

    Oof, this is such an awful situation for OP to be in.

    I’m giving a major side-eye to your management and HR right now who thought it’d be a good idea to manage your accommodations for you without involving you in that process.

    That “welcome back” celebration gives me such a weird vibe, as it definitely seemed more “Look at the accommodations we were willing to do! Aren’t we such a great company!” As opposed to genuinely being welcome to OP. If that was the case, the OP would have been the focus, not the changes/accommodations as it seems to be the case here. And OP would have known about them because the OP would have been involved in the discussions as they should have been.

    I would also bet that at least one of these accommodations is going to make OP’s work life harder (beyond the desk moved away from coworkers, cause that’s already problematic) because they didn’t actually consider what OP would need.

  34. Four lights*

    Sorry you’ve had to go through this. From what I’ve read about disabilities this is unfortunately common, where people will do things or try to make accommodations for the disabled person without actually asking them. When you go to hr, I would also recommend that you ask them maybe to have some sort of training for people. I’m just afraid that in this type of atmosphere someone will try to push your wheelchair for you thinking that they’re helping you, or other things like that. It sounds like they need to be educated about the right way to help somebody with disabilities. I’m sorry that this falls on you when all you want to do is just get back to normal. Maybe there is a local organization dealing with disabilities that can be brought in to help them.

  35. Empress Matilda*

    Aw, OP. I’m so sorry – this sound like a lot. Your first day would have been emotional anyway, for lots of other reasons, and then to add surprise after surprise after surprise – I would have melted down too!

    I’m in the camp of assuming (and acknowledging) their good intentions, and ALSO acknowledging how hurtful the whole experience was for you. Definitely have the talk with HR, because my guess is they want to make sure you’re okay – I don’t imagine you’re in any trouble over this. Hopefully this will all get smoothed over very soon, and you can get back to the “normal” you’ve been looking forward to.

  36. Aepyornis*

    OP I’m terribly sorry, that’s really tough. I am disabled in different ways, and it took me a long time to weave ‘disabled person’ into my identity and feel comfortable with it, and I’ve had years of my health going downhill to prepare for it. I would have likely reacted in a similar way to you in this situation, where basically your entire identity was rewritten as ‘disabled’ and ‘special’ rather than the normalcy you want to feel again – and I would have felt awful afterwards too.
    I would follow Alison’s script here and possibly mention how turning you into ‘Jane the disabled coworker’ rather than ‘Jane our coworker’ was very confronting, but also stress that you appreciate the intentions and support behind it. And the discussion about you being involved in defining the accommodations you need or don’t need (the cartoon would be first on my list…) moving forward seems to me the crucial point too.

    1. Liv*

      I’m also in the disabled community, different subset from the OP, I have epilepsy so I’m considered part of the hidden disability community. I was diagnosed in college after a major seizure and had a really hard time coming to terms with my illness; I was very much in denial and thought I could heal myself by will power. I’m in a much better place now both mentally and physically. Sometimes, I have made choices about my life to decrease stress and prevent seizures, sometimes it has made me sad to make those choices but my self-care is important.

      Op, you need to take care of you right now. You are dealing with a lot and it sounds like you are still figuring out your new identity as a disabled person. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad. Your manager is being a jerk because you didn’t react the way the wanted you to. The rest of your workplace either had good intentions that went wildly off course or they have an able-bodied savior complex (it might be cynical but it needs to be said), it is your workplace so you will know best.

      But in the long run as you practice self-care and feel more comfortable about your situation, remember that you are your own best advocate, and that’s usually how it is in the disabled community. So brush up on the ADA (I’m 36, I’m older than the ADA, HW Bush signed it in the 90s when I was 5) and disability justice, learn about politic advocates in the community, figure out laws and HR and workplace issues. But remember to keep practicing self-care first, the rest will come with time.

      It will be ok OP. Things have sucked this year. But we have your back.

  37. I'm just here for the cats*

    OP I am so very sorry for everything that has happened. Someone should have asked you about the party. And the cartoon of you as a handicap sign??? WTF! Did no one thing that that could be in bad taste. And I understand why they may have had you move to a different area, but then your team should have moved to that area too.

    As far as the cost for the accessibility, that is not on you at all. I believe that under ADA they would have been required to do so. I think there may be a violation of ADA if they are putting you in a separate area from your team and/or isolating you. And if there was already a ramp that would have worked they wouldn’t have had to do the extra ramp. As far as the bathroom, that should have been done too. all of these “extra” remodeling things they have done is a benefit for them as a company because they are now more ADA accessible.

    Side note, did they actually have a ribbon-cutting ceremony? on top of the party for you? Could no one see how odd, and wrong that is. It’s not like this is a new building or something, they just a minor repair to the building. If the steps had needed fixing they wouldn’t have a ceremony.

    I really hope that your boss and HR apologize to you. I can understand having a welcome back party, but all of the extra stuff (ribbon cutting!! Really people!) and I really hope that your manager apologizes to you for being offended. I just cant fathom what they were thinking but I think that their heart was in the right place, just not their head!

    Good luck and please update us.

  38. staceyizme*

    The key to the code in play here is not just the mismatch between their expectations and yours, but their reaction in the aftermath. Most office cultures don’t go out of their way to draw attention to differences for precisely the reason that it can land wrong. (Wrong ranging from a little “off” to metaphorically falling off a cliff.

    It seems like they wanted to do something good. They got carried away with that. You’d probably have been fine with some building modifications that made life easier. NOT fine with ribbon cuttings, understandably. It’s understandable that this might feel like a bad gift from a particularly bossy and annoying relative- one for which you’re somehow supposed to be grateful. (And if you’re NOT grateful, then you’d be judged. UGH!) I hate that this happened to you, OP. Your manager is awful. (MADE you come back in? When you clearly needed space and time? I’m not sure that your comment about “performative” actions was off the mark. It seems to have landed accurately.)

  39. Construction Safety*

    Sounds like accommodation by committee. “Oh, that’s a good idea, and we should also do THIS…”

  40. Bluesboy*

    New ramp, accessible bathroom. Awesome. No need necessarily to consult with the person who needs them, as they are not personalised – other people with similar needs could work there in the future, you have to think in general. What if someone asks for something that works specifically for them, but won’t ever work for others?

    Move your pod away from your colleagues because you might possibly not be able to get there? But maybe you can! Parking space decorated with a cartoon? Balloons and cake? They should absolutely have consulted with OP before this. Especially as I suspect that her ‘work from home rotation’ was to let them finish getting all this ready, maybe she would have preferred to be back in the office earlier but come in through the back door?

    The one advice I would say OP, to add to Alison’s advice which I fully agree with, is that if it is possible I would want to know if the work in my first paragraph was done by the same person as the work in my second paragraph. I can imagine someone serious going to work to make the workplace more accessible for you, and then someone more frivolous and less considerate going “Hey, let’s make this all into a PAAARTAY!”

    If that’s the case, then I personally would seek the first person out quietly to thank them for their work, and make it clear that my reaction to the situation was not connected to their work, which is appreciated.

    1. cosmicgorilla*

      Good point…the extras like the party and the cartoon could definitely have been done by someone with No Clue, while the ramp was done by someone with a bit more sensitivity.

    2. Red Swedish Fish*

      Agree. I agree the cartoon was over the top however after working with a handicapped co-worker for many years, I can get behind having a dedicated handicapped space specifically for the OP. My company put in a handicapped space for our co-worker and since it is just handicapped we have people from other buildings parking in the space.

    3. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impared Peep*

      I am curious if the ribbon cutting and cake were the idea of the manager who is miffed. It seems like HR would be like “oh yeah, ramp and accessible bathroom” and the manager decided to do more.

      I do hope the OP is reading the comments and the meeting with HR is still upcoming. I would point out the cartoon outside the building as creating a bad environment. I don’t care how well intentioned that was – do it inside the building, in the pod, and not outside for everyone to see.

      1. The Wandering Scout*

        That’s what I was thinking.
        I expect HR would have realised the obvious need for the addition of an accessible bathroom and a ramp at the entrance, and asked that OP not come back to work until this was done – because in the grand scheme of things (I presume – not from the States) they have to provide those legally – and the manager decided to pull the ‘work from home rotation’ to keep it a surprise. Which is actually a real shame because if HR had reached out, or if OP had been told about the plans, OP would have had the chance to say “great, thanks for this. Would we be able to do X Y Z so I am still able to work with my current team?” and similar.

  41. NovaGirl*

    Oh wow. I’m so sorry, OP. Even if their intentions were good, it was absolutely wrong and ill-advised for them to spring all of these things on you. You just went through significant physical and mental trauma! They should have checked in with you about your needs, the accommodations you require, and GOOD LORD the wheelchair cartoon in your likeness. Like, a marked parking space? “Reserved for LW?” Sure, that’s reasonable. But the cartoon is way too far. Separating you from you team is also not a good look.

    If I had to guess, the meeting with HR is so they can do damage control. Odds are they realized that a few of the things they did (the wheelchair cartoon, the separate desk) could easily be a lawsuit. You are DEFINITELY not going to be in trouble after all of this, and they are DEFINITELY not in a position to start treating you differently professionally after all this, because there’s like an infinite loop of lawsuits they would be opening themselves up for. So I’d politely explain your grievances with them at the meeting like you did here, their intentions may have been good but they are super duper in the wrong, and probably realized it around the time you burst into tears about them making you feel othered and throwing you a “cr*pple party.” Yikes.

  42. cosmicgorilla*

    See me, I don’t want to be part of any kind of display like this, even ones related to disability.

    Kiss cams? I’d give a middle finger if a stadium pulled that shit on me.
    Surprise ceremony or birthday party? No. Just no.
    Public proposal? You’d better make damn sure your prospective fiance/e likes that kind of attention before you do the whole get the family together and put on a huge spectacle thing. I’d give a very public rejection.

    It’s one thing to have made these changes and have some discretely take LW around, but to make a whole production out of it? Just wow.

    As has been stated up-thread, these things are all about the people doing them and how they want to elicit a certain reaction, not about the receiver.

    You can state that you’re grateful just to smooth the waters a bit, but here’s the thing. You didn’t ask for these accommodations.

    You are not required to be grateful that someone has offered you something you didn’t ask for.
    You are not required to be grateful that someone has offered you something you didn’t ask for.
    You are not required to be grateful that someone has offered you something you didn’t ask for.

    Also, your boss gets to be annoyed. She was expecting one reaction and didn’t get it. That’s on her. That’s not on you. It’s not your job to manage her emotions. It’s not your job to give her a certain reaction so that SHE can feel better and pat herself on the back.

    Your reaction was valid and understandable. I do think ultimately their hearts were in the right place, but I just can’t imagine how they did all these without SOMEONE asking if they were on the right track.

    1. Van Wilder*

      Yeah, I think this is all spot on. You’re not required to feel grateful. Your manager is entitled to her feelings but that’s not your problem.

      1. Squirrel*

        Agree with everything, but I’m not sure their hearts were in the right place. It is VERY ableist to make assumptions about what a disabled person needs and wants without speaking to them first. They did all this stuff for THEM, so they could pat themselves on the back.
        I know I sound bitter, but I’ve worked with the disabled community for years and this crap happens on the daily.

        1. RVA Cat*

          This. They did this stuff AT her. It is sooo condescending for them to think they knew what she needed without asking her or even informing her!

  43. eons*

    Is it appropriate to soften the language that much in a circumstance like this? “I know you meant well, and I appreciate the thought…” – the company was wrong, and her management and co-workers were wrong, and LW was hurt by it all. Is this a situation where LW should be totally direct about how inappropriate it was, and if they feel foolish or embarrassed – it’s okay, because they should?

    I wonder if this is a question that should have been put forward on an Ask the Readers day to other disabled readers?

    1. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impared Peep*

      It should be “I know you meant well BUT”. I would not be softening feelings for a manager that is acting the way that he/she is. Also, I’m not the manager of anybody else’s feelings. They want to feel hurt? Fine. But this isn’t about their feelings. It’s about the OP getting accommodations that are welcomed without fanfare.

    2. Red Swedish Fish*

      I also wonder how much of this was put together by friends. The OP says they are all friends working there. I wonder if the ramp, handicapped space, wheelchair accessible desk, and bathroom accessibility were put in by management (since those are all ADA accessibility things) and friends added in the cartoon, and party.

  44. Fireworks*

    If they can clear out space and move OP to a new section with accommodations, it stands to reason that they can probably move OPs team to sit near them as well? Can’t hurt to ask if this would be possible.

  45. Andrea McDuck*

    The lying about the reason for her delayed return struck me the wrong way, too. So you not only didn’t ask what I needed, but then lied to me about what you were doing? F that.

    1. Squirrel*

      Yup. They had it all figured out, exactly what she would want and need, didn’t they? Ugh.

  46. BigHairNoHeart*

    OP this sounds so difficult, I can’t imagine how I would have reacted in your shoes! If what you want is to return to some sense of normalcy, I think you can still get that. I’d go into the meeting with HR, and whatever future meetings you have with your manager, as clear-headed as you possibly can.

    Really take some time to think about what aspects of these accommodations are helpful to you vs. what will not work for you, and be prepared to advocate for what you want. So maybe for example: the parking spot is great, but you feel singled out by the sign with your face on it, so they need to change that. Most importantly it sounds like what you want is to not be physically separated from your team and to be consulted on any accommodations being made on your behalf from here on out–so really focus on that. I think the vibe you want to hit is, “let’s work together to solve these problems so the company and I are both happy.”

    Really, that’s what your company should have been doing for you from the get-go. They should have consulted with you on these things earlier and made you part of the decision making process. The cake and banner are one thing (I’m not a huge fan of surprise parties, but I get it), but the rest of these things sound like accommodations, and it’s so weird to surprise someone with that! It sounds like their intentions were good, but that’s a mistake on their part, and you’re right to be upset about it.

    I think it’s in your best interest to model what you would have liked them to do, show that you want to work collaboratively with them on your accommodations going forward.

      1. Anononon*

        It’s essentially identical to the question Alison posted/answered. Google “AITA for getting angry and crying for work throwing me a party and moving my desk”.

    1. Legally a Vacuum*

      Pretty sure the poster got a few recommendations to bring it here for Alison’s take.

    2. Anthony J Crowley*

      For anyone who doesn’t know, AITA = am I the asshole. It’s on Reddit and people can vote for whether you (or someone else, or everyone involved) was an asshole in the scenario posted.

    3. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      I hope the OP gives us an update b/c judging from the Reddit post the meeting wasn’t what they expected!

  47. Snarfully Yours*

    Normally, I hope employers don’t connect their company with what a particular LW wrote, but in this case, I’m rooting for LW’s employer to read Alison’s response and all of the comments!

  48. hbc*

    Ugh. Even if they didn’t want to ask about what accommodations were necessary, they still could have done the stuff that they were pretty sure needed to change and then just had a Welcome Back party. Most people want to be told “We’re so glad to see you again, we missed you, let’s celebrate!” Very, very few want to have their face rubbed in the fact that it took a lot of effort to let you come in and be part of the group again.

    Making such a big deal about the changes seems…I dunno, self-congratulatory? Setting up an accessible bathroom or a ramp to accommodate an employee should get about the same fanfare as setting up a new state in your payroll system. It’s just an obvious thing you have to do based on your workforce, a normal cost of doing business

  49. Llellayena*

    Ugh, this is so very much not the way to approach providing accommodations. Some of the things they did are certainly useful and may have wanted to be part of accommodations if they had asked. If the front wheelchair ramp is easier to navigate than the rear one and the new HC spot is better positioned, this is certainly an improvement. Same with the new fully accessible bathroom. If the previous bathrooms were barely scraping the accessibility requirements, I wouldn’t argue with a new one as it benefits more than just you. However, their approach to presenting these things as “FOR YOU” rather than overall building improvements for ANY disabled employee/visitor is what makes this ridiculous. And moving you away from your team! Oh No! That’s the very definition of how to make it HARDER for a disabled employee.

    I think I’d go into the meeting with HR with a list of what improvements you would have requested as accommodation, a list of which of the “improvements” that they actually did are helpful and appreciated, and which “improvements” actually make your return harder. Emphasize that not being included in the process caused some of the accommodations to be actively harmful (mentally or physically) and that your manager is now retaliating against you (and the annoyed attitude and walking on eggshells is definitely that) for your reaction to the unnecessary ADA accommodations. THAT should get their ears to perk up! If you’re feeling generous, you can offer an apology for your in the moment reaction as the “sudden attention and large changes were more than I could handle after suck a hard year,” but you really don’t need to.

  50. CeeKee*

    I agree with those who say this was likely well-intentioned, but I think it’s also worth noting that the stuff that they likely had to spend the bulk of the “bunch of facility money” for is stuff that they needed to do anyway and not things for which OP should be expected to show special gratitude. A handicapped parking space, a ramp, an accessible bathroom–this is just making their office ADA compliant. It’s not a special favor to OP. The balloons and cake and cartoon were extras, but also probably the least expensive parts of this. She shouldn’t be made to feel bad for a second because of not exploding with thankfulness over the financial layout.

  51. Terrysg*

    I’m getting a weird vibe from the whole “you have to like this, we spent so much money on it!” I could be wrong.

  52. Blisskrieg*

    OP, it sounds like they were well-intentioned, but I cannot imagine them being annoyed with your reaction. If I were the manager, or coworker, or anyone on site, I would have to think that you are going through a period of grief and transition and my immediate reaction would be concern that we added to your grief and transition–not annoyance with you. Also, some of the things they did were quite kind–cake, welcome back, ramp, etc. However, the parking place avatar and moving you far from your team were very presumptuous, and I can’t imagine how they don’t see that.

    Please update us!

  53. Pat*

    Its also totally normal to be caught off guard by a surprise (any surprise). We had a surprise baby shower for someone at work who is normally bubbly and outgoing and she was so surprised she couldn’t stop crying and was clearly embarrassed (and we were all embarrassed because she was so emotional). Being emotional at a surprise is normal. Not wanting to be emotional at work is normal. I’m sorry, but your boss and HR should realize that.

    1. June First*

      This. I know it’s not the same thing, but I had a surprise baby shower thrown for me at work. I found out about it the day before. They did not check my schedule and were annoyed that I refused to cancel my other plans, a fancy lunch that was a gift from a friend. Sorry, we had the reservations for a month. Not my fault you can’t read an Outlook calendar.
      I did attend the end of the shower, after the lunch. Coworkers were still salty.

  54. Pepper*

    I cannot believe commenters here are calling for OP to apologize. I could rant for days, but I won’t.

    OP, I send you strength. If HR tries to lecture or punish you for a “bad attitude”, etc, you will have a difficult balance to strike between appearing ‘appropriately’ grateful and standing up for yourself on how a surprise was inappropriate and overwhelming and how, while you appreciate the accomodations, not all of them work for you (such as being exiled from your team) and you really should have been consulted. You can do it! I am rooting for you!

  55. anonymouse*

    “I’m pretty nervous about the HR meeting”
    Please do not be.
    You did nothing wrong. You reacted to an emotional situation emotionally.
    They are doing damage control because they effed up.
    And your boss compounded it by punishing you. Which is something you should bring up.
    But otherwise, let them talk. Not only do you have nothing to apologize for, you have nothing to justify. You can tell them how you felt/feel. You do NOT HAVE TO explain why.
    “I felt like a spectacle.”
    “Well, that’s not what we meant. We wanted you to feel welcome.”
    “I understand that.”
    Then stop if you want. (I’m betting your boss will start her passive/aggressive “well, I guess we just shouldn’t…poor me…i’m the real victim here BS and that’s when you look at HR rep and again, wait for her to address that.)

    1. Squirrel*

      Even more: take charge of that meeting and ask what they were thinking by doing all of this (and the party!?) without speaking with you first. Then yes, let them talk, and take notes. And perhaps, if they throw the “we wanted you to feel welcome” bit at you, please ask why what they want is more important than what you want.

  56. Lora*

    The cartoon. Holy crap, that is just…they were THAT sure of themselves, were they? I feel like, you make a cartoon of anyone, you better really really know that they are going to appreciate that sort of thing, you better be close buddies with them. Even if it is a very innocent cartoon like you’d get at the beach/boardwalk or something, you better be really good friends in the event that you need to beg forgiveness.

    Okay, so the second ramp they may have had to put in, they may have asked an architect to take a look at the building and see what needed done for a wheelchair and found out they needed another ramp. But “yay let’s have a ribbon cutting ceremony!” is…wow.

    I am right there with you on the “I need this to be a little tidepool of normal in the ocean of bullsh!t my life has become” part. About 9 years ago, had cancer and barely told anyone other than a couple of extremely close friends. Told HR and boss, I will be needing time for medical accommodations. If they had done what I knew a lot of people like to do for cancer patients – have a Shave Your Head For Wigs Drive, everyone wears matching t-shirts and head scarves and does a Walk-a-thon – I would have promptly died of embarrassment and if there was a loving deity, s/he would have made the earth swallow me whole on the spot to save me from further cringy-ness. I have a lot of opinions about companies that do matching t-shirt walk-a-thons and volunteer benefit concerts, but then aren’t flexible about hours or duties when you’re falling asleep on your feet from chemo, need more than a couple days of recovery from surgery or otherwise aren’t willing to provide what you actually NEED.

  57. Jo*

    OP, I’m sorry this happened to you. It sounds like they were well intentioned but got the delivery of it all wrong. It reminds me of the letter from the manager who went to bat for an employee returning from maternity leave, and got her lots of accommodations, only to find that none of them were needed. The mistake the manager made was in assuming she knew what accommodations the employee would want or need, and she was disappointed when the employee didn’t use them. I think there are some similarities here – your workplace assumed what you’d want/need instead of discussing it with you. While I’m sure they meant well, I was cringing at reading what they did, setting everything up without knowing if it’s what you’d want. And I get it being a bit overwhelming – even if you’d been happy with the accommodations, it would still be a big thing going back to work after everything that’s happened to you. As much as they’ve made a lot of effort I think they could have handled this more sensitively and worked with you instead of arranging everything for you. I hope it all works out.

  58. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    BIG OOF. Like, even with their hearts being “in the right place,” throwing a party to emphasize their coworker’s newly-acquired disability is so jaw-droppingly tone deaf that I’m seriously nominating this manager for the Worst Boss of the Year Award. If they’d thrown parties for everyone to celebrate work restarting, that’s one thing; if they threw a party solely to praise OP, it would still be necessary to ask if she wanted that kind of attention, but at least it would be about OP, in the same way an anniversary or retirement party is supposed to be about the employee.

    But this isn’t about OP. The ramp, the new cubicle, and the cartoon on the parking space make it very clear that this isn’t appreciation, this is about her disability. And for some unfathomable reason, they don’t understand why someone who was in a serious car accident a year ago might possibly not want to have a million reminders of their trauma the day they came back to work.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That’s pretty much how I’d see it (spinal injury following serious accident here) if it happened to me – like they were celebrating me being seriously harmed.

  59. not neurotypical*

    Welcome to the disability rights movement! Our motto is: Nothing about us without us.

  60. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Disabled person following a serious spinal injury here (was rear ended by a lorry at motorway speeds) and….yeah I’d have reacted exactly the same way you did.

    I asked the firm I worked at to not ask me to relive the accident – preferably I still don’t ever wanna talk about it to people in detail because I still wake up screaming.

    What your firm *should* have done is ask what accommodations you needed and supply them/dialogue about what would be best.

    I literally cannot imagine the trauma of having a disability made out to be a ‘party for the brave disabled person’ or whatever. I’m still me, I didn’t break who I am along with a few thoracic vertebrae and I certainly don’t need to be somehow applauded and thrown childish parties for it – definitely without being asked! It’s too much like toxic positivity and my word I’ve had enough of that crap.

    For you, going forward, you’re not to blame mate. I’m trying to think how I’d word it to HR and the best I’ve got is ‘I prefer being asked what accommodations I need and entering into a dialogue about it. Making a massive deal with a party and whatnot was offensive and nobody had even asked if that’s what I was ok with’

    I’m so sorry mate, what they did to you was…just wrong. The shunting you off to one side bit was…I’m lost for words. I hope it all works out and you at least get an apology.

  61. Forrest*

    OP, I just want to say– there are a lot of comments saying this was “well-intentioned”, and I think that’s true, but you get to decide how important you think that is. If you want to recognise that it was well-intentioned and meant as a sign of how they value you, just clumsily handled, you can recognise that personally and acknowledge it when you speak to them.

    But what I’ve learned from good friends who are disabled is that “well-intentioned” can be anywhere from clumsily to actively dangerous to disabled people — and other marginalised people, of course, but I think there’s a level of non-consensual physical contact that can be involved in “well-intentioned” but ignorant support for disabled people that puts them at immediate physical risk. “Well-intentioned” is “I grabbed the blind lady’s arm and pushed her across the road without checking that’s where she wanted to go”, or “I pulled the guy with impaired mobility who was carefully negotiating the steps and he fell over because his balance isn’t great”, or “We purchased this special chair for you, oh it actually aggravates your injury, but we spent so much money!”

    Don’t let HR focus on good intentions at the cost of the message, “You have to consult me, every time, in detail, before you arrange accommodations for me”. Because some of them will just be clumsy, but others can be actually dangerous, and nobody should get a “good intentions” pass when good intentions can harm people.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Good intentions don’t matter if the result is bad. The lady at one firm who decided that I absolutely MUST have her escort me to the bathroom (‘but what if you fall over?’) was I dare say kind hearted but I really didn’t like being followed to the toilet!

      1. Boof*

        Well, I think the thing that is important about intentions is they can help you know what to do next about a situation; someone with good intentions will likely be helpful once they’re educated. Someone with bad intentions or just purely selfish intentions would need to be managed totally differently.
        LW’s reaction was totally understandable; but I think there’s hope for the future at this place and that all that energy can be channeled into something… actually helpful.

        1. Forrest*

          Sometimes people’s fixations on their own good intentions can stop them hearing about the ways they failed. So it’s important to get past that and make sure that the impact on the recipient is the focus of the conversation.

    2. Avi*

      This reminds me of a story from Not Always Right a few years back. It involved a business that was co-owned by a guy who was in a wheelchair with a physical disability who found himself accosted in the lobby by a woman who had come in to interview for a job and took it upon herself to ‘help’ this poor unfortunate by treating him as if he was mentally disabled and trying to wheel him off to parts unknown despite his protests and those of everyone around her. She was so lost in her performative virtue that she was completely blind to her own wrongdoing.

      What happened here wasn’t quite as dire as that story, but it’s in the same ballpark.

  62. Macaroni Penguin*

    This reminds me of the Deep Space Nine episode Melora. In which, the DS9 crew renovate the station for accessibility. (Melora is a visiting expert who uses a space wheel chair.) Unfortunately, Dr. Bashir adds all sorts of modifications and upgrades that Melora didn’t ask for. Basically, good intentions at work gone horribly, horribly wrong.
    So yeah OP, your employer REALLY should have consulted you in the process. The good news is that these future meetings with HR and your supervisor can be used to course correct their misguided enthusiasm.

  63. Delta Delta*

    Question about the parking space: are there sufficient disabled parking spaces so that OP could have one, but also that other visitors to the building could have one? I wonder if the company thought they were doing her a favor by designating a spot just for her so she wouldn’t have to fight for a spot, and that it landed very very wrong with the cartoon sign? (Whereas “reserved for Lucinda Warblesworth” would have been just fine). Also, if the company was looking seriously at physical plant modifications (new ramp, renovated restroom) they may have also needed to add disabled parking spots.

    I think this was all well-intentioned and really landed wrong in a lot of ways.

  64. Squirrel*

    Oh my! I am so sorry for your terrible year. I personally don’t think you overreacted. Apparently they thought they were such “good people” by doing all this stuff FOR you, rather than having an adult conversation with you on what you need.
    I personally think their actions were over the top and very ableist. Write down the things that you need and want to be able to continue working there. And fvck your manager for thinking their “efforts” should be appreciated by you when they clearly couldn’t be bothered to talk to you about it, or even ask what you wanted. I’m sorry you are going through this.

  65. WellRed*

    Op this is awful on so many levels and I would have hated it too. As a person who’s circumstances have changed you are also going to need to advocate for yourself. I’m appalled they went so over the top with all the hoopla and moving your desk! No one wants to be otherEd. But use this experience and the HR meeting to explain what YOU need and why you need to be included in these conversations. If you don’t yet know what you need, say that too.

  66. Polecat*

    I know there is a school of thought that intentions don’t matter, but I think they do. I’m not in your position and I don’t know what it would feel like. But three years ago I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that is incurable. So I know what it’s like to go through a devastating change in your life, I know what it’s like to feel other and different, when all you wanna feel is normal. I know what it’s like to have people acting out of good intentions and making me feel like shit.
    Your company meant well. They clearly value you tremendously and wanted to do everything they could to make the workplace warm and welcoming for you. My opinion is that that counts for a lot. I understand the reasons it didn’t feel that way to you. If you can find it in your heart to look at their intentions, and understand that this is all new to them too and they are going to make mistakes, then I think you need to talk to your manager and try and gets past this. People who clearly care about you and went to great effort and expense to show you that are not people you should dismiss so quickly.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I would agree, if anyone had apologized to LW for hurting their feelings. So far the only reaction has been getting offended that they weren’t grateful enough – which implies to me that the company’s intentions were less about making LW feel good and more about making themselves feel good. (That’s what’s implied *so far* – hopefully people will refocus on LW’s happiness and apologize to them.)

    2. Former Young Lady*

      Middle ground: intentions matter, but they are not magic. An unintended harm is still a harm. This is a learning opportunity for a company whose leadership sounds a bit green and unsophisticated.

      Their intention wasn’t to alienate and mortify an employee on her first day back after a devastating accident; from everything I read, their intention was for her to congratulate them for their thoughtfulness (which they overestimated). This kind of failure of empathy is, by definition, usually unintentional. That doesn’t make it the responsibility of the wounded party to cover the empathy-deficit.

      Look, I’ve been there — I’ve received corrective feedback about how I made other people feel, when I thought I was going above and beyond. It’s a rude awakening: it knocks a person off-balance; it stings.

      Still, it would be a shame if the leadership missed their chance to learn what went wrong, and how to prevent repeating the mistake, because they were focused instead on their bruised self-image.

  67. A Person*

    This is why I don’t disclose disability to *anybody* (mine is invisible) until there’s something specific I need for it… I’ve definitely been given accommodations I didn’t need (which, in fact, made things worse for me) in front of hundreds of people. Always bad.

    1. CreepyPaper*

      Oooh same, I have an invisible disability and a former workplace of mine assigned me a ‘fire buddy’ which is someone who accompanies you out of the building if the fire alarm goes off. I didn’t KNOW about this until the building actually caught fire and we had to evacuate, and one of the younger employees in my department walked up to me and declared in front of everyone ‘I have to escort you out’. Policy was that anyone with a disability had to have a buddy. I was mortified because I hide my issue until it becomes relevant, and now EVERYONE knew I had a problem.

      Which then led to people asking ‘ooo so what’s wrong with you then???’ and was a massive contributing factor to why I left that hell mouth.

      By contrast my current employer asked me simply ‘what do you need?’ And that was that. Freakin’ ASK, people.

  68. Essess*

    They already patronized/infantilized you by deciding that they know better than you what you would need. They made all the arrangements and accomodations without bothering to check with you about what actually works for you. They did not treat you like a capable professional adult.

  69. BurnOutCandidate*

    I had a similar experience two years ago.

    The situation — I had a health crisis that rendered me mostly blind, sent me to the hospital for a week, and put me on a medical leave for a month. (I’m mostly better now, though I do use a sight cane in some situations.)

    When I returned to work, my department had decorated my office with balloons and ribbons and signs. It was lovely.

    They had also swapped out the nameplate on my door with a blurry version of it, which they had the graphics department make up for them.

    I could see the thought process — since I was now visually impaired, my department thought it would be cute and, since my sense of humor (and that of most of my colleagues) is pretty dark I’d find it funny.

    I didn’t find it funny. I was quite irritated. Losing my sight was — and still is — deeply traumatic, and there are times I really struggle emotionally. And when asked about the blurry sign and if I liked it, I was quite deflated.

    When HR checked with me about a week after I came back to the office about how I was doing, I was honest with my feelings. I knew my team’s heart was in the right place, I knew my team had missed me and I had missed them, but I was also really, really hurt by that one thing, the blurry nameplate. HR and I had a productive conversation about feeling and being supported.

    1. ecnaseener*

      WTF. The blurry nameplate is just mean. At least this LW’s company stuck to things they thought were helpful.

    2. Pikachu*

      The handicap parking sign with a cartoon of OP is so spectacularly tasteless I don’t even know what to say.

      1. Pikachu*

        Whoops, meant this as a top line comment, but I suppose it is in the same vein. The blurry nameplate is just as tasteless.

  70. PuzzleObsession*

    I’m really sorry this happened, OP. It sounds like an episode of Arrested Development. Try not to be hard on yourself for getting upset— I think that was an appropriate reaction.

  71. Jen*

    I feel this so much. I have congenital spinal issues, and after major surgery for it, everyone treated me like I was a fragile snowflake, when I just wanted things to be “normal’ again.

    I’m not sure I have answers, although I wish the able-bodied community would stop treating the disabled differently. While it is true we need some accommodations, those need to be made in consultation with us. And we’re still people; people with emotions, traumas, and values just like every other person. Acceptance of the person for who they are and not their disability is the most important thing.

    1. A Person*

      Scoliosis/spinal fusion? I had a very similar experience with a spinal fusion. Particularly since there…aren’t really any big accommodations to be made, because that’s not how having a fused spine works, so everything people try is just awkward to deal with.

      (Apologies if I guessed wrong)

  72. Jennifer Strange*

    When I was in grad school I took a marketing class and I remember our professor talking about a time she had been asked to serve on a committee for making transportation in New Orleans more accessible to blind people. She met with the committee (none of them blind or hard of sight) and they all defaulted to what most of us probably do when talking about accessibility for the blind: braille! They’d have braille on the maps, braille on the magazines in the streetcars, braille everywhere!

    The committee had the sense to put their ideas before a focus group made up of the people who they would be helping. Once they presented their ideas, the focus group just started laughing. They then explained that they didn’t know that the maps, and the magazine, and all of that was even there, so putting it in braille would do nothing for them.

    It’s always good to remember that the most important voice in any discussion has to be the person/people who will be “benefited” from these changes. They know where the struggles are far better than anyone else.

    1. Talia*

      A public building I worked for put Braille on all the signs outside each room and on the directions signs. They were all a minimum of 7 feet in the air and the room signs were near the rooms, not on the doors or right by them. As in the case above, no one said how the blind person was supposed to know they existed. I guess they were supposed to run their hands above their heads along random walls in case there might be something useful there.

  73. middlemgmt*

    chiming in to say that I support you. Your feelings are totally valid. I hope that they are able to come to a point of understanding with you, but I do not think you have done anything “wrong”. It seems like your co-workers and manager made your return to work about themselves and their own yay-me feelings instead of centering your needs, and that was wrong. Even if you wish that your feelings hadn’t come out as “meltdown,” this was all still not what you wanted or needed. You are doing an incredible job, and I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts.

  74. Talia*

    I’m wondering if the manager’s reactions are because HR thought the LW was being consulted every step of the way and now the manager had to admit that he/she assumed he knew best and wanted it to be a ‘nice surprise’, only it all went horribly wrong.

  75. Everdene*

    Hi OP, this brought back a lot of feelings for me. In the early 2000s I was hit by a motorbike and broke both my legs. I used a wheelchair full time for a year, part time for a couple more years and still use mobility aids now. It’s not the same, but I do have some first hand experience of what you are going through.

    Lots of memories have surfaced, like the first time I went out for a ‘date’ with my then boyfriend. It took so much planning, and bravery, to get out to the restaurant. And to see the wait staff remove my chair so I could roll into place in the middle of the restaurant brought me so close to tears – I’d been practicing my transfers for a fortnight! I just wanted it to be ‘normal’! On your first day back in the office you had so much riding on being back, your personal trauma plus the global trauma of covid, I’d be amazed if anyone would handle it without emotions overflowing in some way. I’m so sorry it went so wrong for you.

    There is lots of good advice already written about what to do next. You should have been consulted and you not have to perform gratitude. It might help to either send a version of your letter to HR/your manager so you don’t have to explain it out loud at your meeting or at least take bullet points of what you want to say with you. Clearly they came at this all wrong and a bit of an explanation from you would allow time for them to reflect before you meet.

    Good luck with the meeting and your future. Things will be different, and not how you imagined life, but different doesn’t necessarily mean bad.

  76. ecnaseener*

    I’m so pissed at your boss for her reaction! I’m sure she genuinely meant well — but when you accidentally hurt someone’s feelings, you don’t get to get offended about it! Ugh.

    Hopefully it was just an immediate defensive reaction and she will pull her head out of her ass. If her goal was truly to make you feel appreciated, she needs to stay focused on that goal and not on demanding your gratitude.

  77. Rav*

    LW: don’t be sorry for your first reaction to their welcome back party. It’s at best weird. And for someone eagerly expecting the normalcy before all the events, I agree it was too much. Allison is on point, as always.

    The hardest part will be reconciling their good intentions and your expectations. You can start recognizing the good they intended to do, but your expectations were elsewhere.

  78. Hi there*

    I’m a neurodivergent, disabled person married to a disabled person, and what your company did is so wrong on so many levels. (The cartoon in your parking space made me feel sick.) This was performative activism at its finest — and then they had the gall to tone-police your lack of enthusiasm for it! I can’t believe so many people here are calling on you to apologize, and I am surprised at how tepid Alison’s response was. I think that this is evidence of how far society has to go in understanding disability.

  79. Boof*

    Oh no LW! I think I would be overwhelmed and upset too! Hopefully your manager and HR can understand why it’s bad to surprise folks who have been through a lot, and that they need to ask you about what’s helpful before getting carried away!

  80. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impared Peep*

    First off, OP, you have NOTHING to apologize for. You are more than allowed your feelings and your manager needs to grow up. Not everything will be welcomed with open arms, especially when you don’t ask the person you’re planning for if they’d like it! I know it’ll be hard to not be emotional in the HR interview, especially as your disability and sticking up for yourself as disabled is so new, but try. If only so they don’t dismiss you as being too emotional.

    Second, if you still have the cartoon or have a picture of it, save it. Bring it to the meeting. Ask HR if they would have liked that done to you when you’re only a year into dealing with your new normal. Or if they would have made fun of someone now needing oxygen thanks to the pandemic. Nope, probably wouldn’t have. I am also saying to save it because, if HR brushes you off, you need to consult with a disability / employment lawyer. They publicly made you other by sticking it, outside, for the entire world to see. That’s not cool and crosses some sort of line. If they wanted to make it your spot, that’s what a nameplate is for. Not a cartoon.

    I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. As someone who instantly went from abled to disabled through an eye exam when in high school, I hope you’re talking to someone. Even if it’s just a counselor. It’s rough and I wish you all the best.

  81. Not A Manager*

    People are talking about the “intentions” here, but I question whether the company was fully motivated by good intentions toward the LW. It sounds to me like these people were frightened and traumatized by this event, and they took steps to alleviate *their own* fear and discomfort. If they can turn a life-changing accident into a candy-and-unicorns party, then they can believe that everything is now okay and no one (including them) will ever suffer.

    The manager is angry because LW isn’t completing the narrative of “nothing is worse, it’s just a little bit different.”

    1. CoveredInBees*

      And/or isn’t sufficiently grateful. It reminds me of the song from Crazy Ex-GF, “After everything I’ve done for you…that you didn’t ask for.”

    2. Amber Rose*

      That’s it 100%. They want her to make them feel better about her disability. And when she didn’t, they lashed out.

      It’s so friggin common, I see it all the time with my dad and his friends. It’s not good intentions. It’s crappy trauma response and selfishness.

  82. CurrentlyBill*

    The manager sounds like the kind of person who will see a person in a wheelchair on the street and just start pushing the chair “to help” and then be annoyed when the user objects.

  83. Phony Genius*

    Like the old cartoons where a boy scout helps a “little old lady” cross the street, who never wanted to cross in the first place.

  84. Maltypass*

    Mother of God – a cartoon of you. A year after it happened. OP you handled this WELL. A meltdown was the minimum reaction.
    Sending ‘back to normal’ vibes

  85. Ali*

    I want to highlight the fact that OP said “my current close friends are people I work with.” How could her close friends not tell her ANYTHING about these changes and this welcome-back event? I would feel so betrayed.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I have to hope they didn’t know about them in detail (banner, sign, party) or assumed LW was in the loop (ramp, bathroom, delayed return).

  86. introverted af*

    In my mind there are 2 pieces to this – a welcome back, and the accommodations for the LW. The welcome back could have been a small surprise with people still excited to have her back in the office WITHOUT having it be directly tied to the discussion of new accommodations and changes, and vice versa – they absolutely could have put in a bathroom and a ramp and a handicapped sign out front, WITHOUT that being tied to the LW’s return to the office. And of course further discussion on other accommodations the LW needs.

  87. Amber Rose*

    OP, if your relationship with them is damaged, that’s on them. I know how desperately you must want things to be normal, and that those feeling are going to tempt you to make allowances for poor behavior in order to try and get that normal back. Please don’t.

    Honestly, you’re all going to have to dig out some kind of new normal here, and in order to do that, they’re going to have to recognize you as yourself and not an object labeled “disabled person.” That can be super hard for people who aren’t around or in a position to deal with disability on a regular basis. Still, it’s not your job to make them feel better about your disability, and if you try you are the one who will end up hurt.

  88. agnes*

    You have been through A LOT. I’m sure your team meant well, but I can totally understand your reaction. Just tell HR the truth. You deserve some grace and compassion.

  89. Lizy*

    Reading some of the comments, and I’m definitely the outlayer. If my work had done this for me, after that crappy of a year, I would have lost it too, but in an entirely different manner. It sounds like all of this was done with careful planning and absolutely with OP’s comfort and mobility in mind, and at least from my perspective, none of it sounds like it’s trying to “other” her. They added a front-door ramp, so she could go in the same door as everyone else and not be shuffled in the back. They made sure she had a handicap spot, and more than that – they specified her own spot and jazzed it up so it wasn’t so blatantly “this is a cripple’s spot”. They moved her desk so she didn’t have to maneuver the maze of cubies in the back, and put a new bathroom that was right next to her. They knew she had a tough year, and went out of their way to try and make her feel special and welcomed at work. The way I read the letter, it actually sounds like they may have deliberately asked OP to work remotely for a while so they could get everything settled and prepped for her return. They threw a “welcome back” party and made sure her desk and facilities were completely accessible.

    If I was OP, I would have been absolutely floored and amazed that they put so much time and effort into this. Like, this is borderline “go get your dog” amazing.

    But… I’m not OP.

    OP, I’m so sorry this wasn’t what you wanted, and I’m sorry that what sounds like an effort on your employer’s part to make you feel included instead made you feel very excluded. It does not sound like that was at all their intention. I agree with Alison – talk to your boss (and HR). Apologize for saying the things you regretted, and explain why you reacted the way you did. I’d go one step further, and explain what you DO want – that you appreciate the thought of moving your desk, but you desperately want to be back to normal and for you, that means being around your team, and so on… Please update us – I hope the ending is a better understanding from everyone as to what your wants and needs are, and that your employer continues to be as awesome as you’ve found them previously, and that you all are able to work together to remedy this.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      The difference between this and “go get your dog” was that the possibility of getting the dog was an ongoing discussion between that LW and their employer. There wasn’t a surprise party where they were like “guess what, we’ve decided to cover the cost of a service dog for you!” in front of everyone.

      This LW had a lot of stuff sprung on her suddenly, and on top of it, she found out that something she’d been looking forward to — getting to be back with her team — wasn’t happening after all, at least not in the way she thought.

    2. Resident Cripple*

      Sounds like you’re not disabled – and definitely not physically disabled. There is nothing amazing about not being consulted on accommodations and then being expected to perform gratitude (that isn’t deserved). Maybe read the comments of people who are actually disabled instead of reinforcing an ableist narrative? Honestly, abled people are extremely tiresome.

    3. Observer*

      I’m sure that this is what they were thinking. But, it’s also true that it’s always good to talk to people before you do things for them. Because YOU are not the OP and the OP is not their manager. That’s really important to keep in mind.

      Also, the manager’s handling of things in the moment is totally not surprising, but it was also an obviously bad move. When someone is melting down, that is NOT the time to call them to account. Even when you are objectively right, which was not the case here.

    4. nothing rhymes with purple*

      “They made sure she had a handicap spot, and more than that – they specified her own spot and jazzed it up so it wasn’t so blatantly “this is a cripple’s spot”. ”

      Isn’t a giant caricature saying exactly that?

  90. Red Wheelbarrow*

    Oh, OP, I’m sorry. That sounds really upsetting. Your co-workers may have meant well, but good intentions don’t equal good actions. In your place, I can hardly imagine how angry I’d be.

    I’d love to read an update after the HR meeting! Fingers crossed that it goes well.

  91. Blarg*

    This feels like the other side of the ADA’s “interactive process.” Usually we think of it as the employer not wanting to provide accommodations. But in this case, the employer created the same issue by not talking to their employee and choosing for OP.

    It’s gross and weird and creates all kind of extra challenges — if OP needs different accommodations than what was created without input, how are they going to respond? “But we already spent so much money!” Even though OP didn’t ask them to.

    I’m mad on your behalf OP and I don’t think “well intentioned” and “meant well” are appropriate. They thought about themselves. About how they could look good, get credit, center themselves. That sucks. And I’m sorry. And I’m sorry that your social support system is so tied up in this, adding another layer of awful.

  92. Carol*

    Mmm, seems like the company decided to be like, “WE WELCOME YOU AND CELEBRATE YOUR NEW DISABILITY” which…sigh. My guess is they wanted very much to demonstrate to you that you will not receive negative treatment due to your disability. And, of course, they went and did the absolute opposite.

    They should have shown more sensitivity toward what is a very recent life-altering trauma, but, more importantly, it’s incredibly odd that they didn’t ASK YOU ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED. The starting point for accommodations is always a conversation with the person who needs the accommodations. That’s how the whole process works.

    Your HR failed here, and that’s likely why they’re meeting with you. Again, part of their job is to ensure you are consulted on and have input into any accommodations being made for you. The ramp & bathroom may have seemed like common sense, but the rest of it should not have been decided without you, much less saved for a surprise.

    I don’t think you should apologize for reacting the way you did, unless some of the regrettable things you said really crossed a line. I think you can say something like “I appreciate that everyone here wanted to give me a great welcome back, but here is why x, y and z didn’t work out that way.”

    It should be remembered that you suffered a significant loss recently–would they treat any other loss the same way? I really think a lot of this is about them working through anxiety about disability in general, which in the US, at least, we are not very good at.

  93. Alfie*

    I am deeply troubled that this workplace stalled in bringing her back in person so they could become ADA-compliant! She wanted to come back in person and while they let others, they didn’t let her. They should have already been accessible from the start, but they really screwed this up for equity, access to resources, and perhaps even opportunities for advancement if those who are more visible in the org are getting more opportunities. I’m so sorry, LW.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Did they though?

      They seemed to have delayed her return until after the front handicap ramp was completed (although there was a handicap ramp in the rear) and after the new family bathroom was completed (although presumably the other restrooms had handicapped stall and accommodations).

      I agree they delayed her return, but I think the office was handicap accessible before although maybe not as obviously so.

  94. MissInTheNo*

    Call me a cynic but I get the feeling some of their intentions were more about their own gratification (look what we did for someone) and the fun in planning it rather than about actually helping the OP.

    1. ecnaseener*

      That’s my thought as well, mostly going off of the boss’s reaction. That was the reaction of someone focused on her own feelings, not on OP’s.

  95. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I too am very sorry OP for what happened and I can absolutely understand the reaction you had. I simply cannot get past the avatar/cartoon of you on the parking spot. That leaves a revolting taste in my mouth. I’m going to go as far as to say I think they thought they were doing a nice thing. They could have let you know “we’d like to do something for you on your first day,” or a nice vase of flowers and an all-signed welcome back card on your desk would have probably been ok with a clear, “We missed you,” or something toned down. They got it wrong, but I don’t think they know how or why. I hope you can clear the air with rational heads in the room with HR in your meeting.

    1. Observer*

      They got it wrong, but I don’t think they know how or why. I hope you can clear the air with rational heads in the room with HR in your meeting.

      I think that this is right. I REALLY hope that HR is competent and that someone took the time to do some research before the meeting.

  96. Brooke*

    OP, I don’t know if you’re going to see this because there are so many comments already but I wanted to make sure you heard from someone else who became disabled later in life:

    I completely understand why you had the response you did. Pretty sure I would have too, especially in my first year or two after becoming disabled. For me, at least, it was a roller coaster of emotions and identity questions and navigating all the social stigma and adjusting to how absolutely everything in my life had to change. If you are still grieving, it makes perfect sense why someone celebrating the accommodations they’ve given you would not land right. It doesn’t feel good to be expected to celebrate a change that is still hurting and raw.

    And the absolute best thing anyone can do for their disabled employee/friend/family member is ASK ASK ASK what the disabled person needs. That’s how you make us feel empowered and valued. Involve us in the decisions that are going to impact us directly, on a daily basis. And your company let you down by not offering you that.

    Tbh, I’m really freaking pissed by everyone claiming that your company went above and beyond for you by updating their building so that it was no longer breaking basic accessibility laws. I don’t know if this would’ve been better for you or not but I wish they had just thrown you a normal welcome back party instead of a, “we know you’re disabled now, look at all the work we put into giving you basic access to your workplace” party. I really hope your manager can come around and let go of his expectation that you should perform gratitude for being given the bare minimum. It’s a learning curve for them too. It would just be nice if their learning didn’t come at our expense all the time.

    When you’re ready, I hope you’ll read this article about disability identity. It really helped me settle into myself and figure out a productive way to reject all the stigma that’s coming at us all the time. The blog has lots of good articles about disability in general but I think this one is particularly important.


    1. Antisocialite*

      fellow person disabled later in life (early 40s) and yes to everything you said. I’m seething at all the flippant ableist YATA type responses of how much the company did, how she should be grateful, blah blah blah.

      1. PuzzleObsession*

        Same here. While it’s taken awhile for me to get used to being disabled and what that means, nowadays I read something like this and I’m like….why is everyone expected to be so grateful for things they didn’t ask for/that don’t help them?

  97. Chickaletta*

    I see both sides here.

    Yes, I agree with everyone who said that OP should have been included in conversations about accommodation and not thrown a surprise “cripple party” (her words). It was inappropriate for her company to do and I would hate every second of it too if I was in OP’s shoes. It sucks that they did that to her, they were in the wrong.

    On the flip side, OP said in her letter that she said things she regrets, caused her manager to feel offended, and he’s now walking on eggshells around her. Which reminds me of previous comments here and elsewhere that 1) a person does not get to chose when they cause offense to another person or not. She caused offense per her manager, so therefore that’s what happened 2) a disability is not a license for treating other people like shit. She has to own her reaction, *that’s on her*. Was it justified? Probably. But she had an option how to react, and she chose the one that caused offense and regret.

    OP has to work with these people going forward, and working in an uncomfortable, awkward environment would suck. Everyone in this story contributed towards that awkwardness, and everyone should play a role in fixing it.

    1. Tía Teapot*

      I think some of that depends on exactly what OP said to which the manager took offense. Is it about being ‘unacceptably’ direct, like exploding about the “cripple party”? It might be politic for OP to walk back something like that, but that’s not using disability as a license to treat people like shit. Being honest with your feelings about the way other people treat you & your disability is often culturally unacceptable. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or abusive, to have your feelings in public.

      Maybe OP did say something inappropriate (or said something appropriate in a too-aggressive manner), in which case they should apologize. But disabled people being anything but cheery and grateful is often considered inappropriate and hurtful to the well-intentioned able people who are just trying, gosh darn it!

    2. Observer*

      I have mixed feelings about that. As Tai Teapot says, it depends on what the OP actually said. You can’t tell someone that they are not offended and you may not even be able to tell them that they “should not” be offended. But it IS possible to say, in many cases, that the action that caused offense was reasonable and that therefore the person who said / did those things is not in the wrong.

      For example, Jow Shmoe asks you our on a date. You say no. Shmoe is offended. Do you need to apologize? Is his being offended your “fault”? No, and no. It doesn’t matter WHY you said no. As long as you didn’t lead with “Why you unspeakable creep, I would NEVER even CONSIDER going out with someone like YOU!” or something equally offensive, it’s not on you to deal with Shmoe’s being offended.

      Same here. Yes, the OP should assume good intent (at least to start with.) Yes, they should smooth things over as much as they can. And, yes, if they did say things that are genuinely offensive, they should apologize. But given that they were put into a genuinely difficult situation by their employer, and their manager handled it poorly in the moment, they are NOT responsible for the boss being upset merely because he’s upset.

    3. Forrest*

      >>a person does not get to chose when they cause offense to another person or not

      You very much get to choose whether you care about causing offence to that person! If someone says or does something that harms me and feels entitled to my gratitude or deference, and is then offended when I’m not grateful or deferent, I am quite happy with that situation. I consider that a good and just consequence of their entitlement.

    4. ecnaseener*

      You’ve got the offense thing backwards. The company acted offensively and hurt OP. OP got upset, which they had every right to be. In their volatile state, they probably weren’t very polite or level-headed, because they were provoked.
      It’s the boss who needs this advice: she took offense at the fact that OP was offended.

      1. Chickaletta*

        I did say that OP had every right to feel the way she did and that the company was in the wrong. I was not defending her manager.

        There is another letter today posted on this blog about someone who has misbehaved at work, but the LW noted they had a difficult upbringing and life circumstances as to partially explain. Nowhere in those comments did I see someone defend her behavior because of her circumstances, but I do see it in this story. I’m not trying to start an argument here, but more of a thought exercise: when does someone get a pass for misbehavior and when do they not? It’s not because of their circumstances because today’s two letters show different reactions from commenters.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Except in that situation the person being described was difficult to work with (venomous by the OP’s words), territorial of her work, and refused to share helpful information. The OP here was (rightfully!) upset by her employers making decisions about what accommodation they needed without consulting her, created a little caricature of her that basically advertised her disability, and altogether made her feel like an “other”. This OP did not show any “misbehavior”; they were offended by actions that WERE offensive. Those are two COMPLETELY different situations, and the fact that you can’t see that is troubling.

        2. Observer*

          That’s like comparing apples to clay bricks. There is simply no basis for comparison.

          OP’s behavior towards their manager was a DIRECT RESPONSE to the behavior of the company and the manager in the moment. The person you are referring to is basically being difficult and even “venomous” to people who have done nothing wrong to her, and who had absolutely nothing to do with the suffering in her past.

        3. Kella*

          In what way did the OP misbehave? We know she said some things she wishes she hadn’t, but that doesn’t mean she was mistreating anyone. If someone hurts or mistreats you, even unintentionally, it is not misbehavior to get upset about being mistreated and tell them that. The fact that the manager had a defensive reaction does not mean that OP did something wrong.

      2. Despachito*

        I completely understand why OP lashed out, and I’d absolutely give her a pass for that (she is going through a very difficult personal time, and the celebration was not what she needed).

        BUT I’d also absolutely not call the company’s actions offensive. OP says that they had been sweet and accommodating before, and although the celebration was a misstep, it is clear that it was not intentional, they meant well and they were puzzled with OP’s reactions.

        I think OP’s reasons and the contributions of people in similar situation as hers are perfectly understandable, and if they manage to communicate this between themselves, I am convinced they will work it out OK.

        The worst thing would be let the hurt feelings on both sides fester – I think both of them have their reasons, and it would be a shame to let an otherwise very good relationship spoil because of a misunderstanding.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          People can be sweet and accommodating and still then do something offensive, and something does not need to be intentional to be offensive. They made changes without consulting her and asking what would make her comfortable. They assumed they knew better than she did what she needed. Their heart may have been in the right place; that doesn’t mean it wasn’t offensive.

        2. ecnaseener*

          The whole point of this subthread was the statement “you don’t get to decide whether you offended someone.” Good intentions don’t mean the actions weren’t offensive. Offensive does not = malicious or evil.

  98. Heffalump*

    The late Portland, Oregon, cartoonist John Callahan became quadriplegic in a car crash at age 22. His autobiography Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot was made into a movie with Joaquin Phoenix cast as Callahan. I read the book, and it has a cycle of “how to relate to the handicapped” cartoons. The cartoons actually have good information, but they also have an element of very dark humor. I don’t imagine the LW would find humor in them.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      are you really trying to compare an artist making autobiographical art to a person having their company make a caricature out of them for their parking spot? and then implying that lw is humorless for not liking it? sheesh.

      1. Heffalump*

        You’ve totally misunderstood my post. My point is precisely that the two situations are NOT analogous, and I’d totally understand if the OP didn’t like Callahan’s cartoons. Kella’s post is saying more or less the same thing.

    2. Kella*

      Your relationship to your disability is a highly personal thing. Callahan’s work was reflective of his relationship with his disability. It’s possible OP would connect to it and it’s possible she wouldn’t, or wouldn’t this early on in her grieving process. She’s going through a difficult transition. Some people cope with that stuff with humor, other people do not. Neither option is better or worse.

  99. Phil*

    So sorry. I was a crip myself. I was paralyzed from the neck down as the result of an infection that ate a couple of my cervical vertebrae away-really. My neurosurgeon said he’s never seen anything like it. It left me lying paralyzed on my kitchen floor. By some miracle I can walk again but it’s very hard.
    All I want-and I’m pretty sure the OP does too-is to be treated like anybody else. You have no idea the toll this sort of thing takes and how much we yearn for normalcy. No muss, no fuss. NO PARTY. And to top it off, she was removed from her team.
    The OP seems to be handling the whole thing well. Sadly, these sort of outbursts are very common with those of us who suffer life altering medical issues. I did it a couple of times. Don’t beat yourself up.
    I’m sure a quiet explanation to your boss will smooth things over. The abled have no idea what goes through the heads of the disabled.

  100. scmill*

    Is the cartoon a permanent fixture, or was it just a celebratory cover for the actual sign underneath?

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think it matters. It should not have been there even for one day.

      That’s the thing that most blows me away. That’s just… I don’t understand why HR ok’d that.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Plus the fact that I’m imagining a caricature sitting in a mobility device waiving with a twinkling smile–it’s just in terrible taste.

      2. ecnaseener*

        I guess it matters a little, whether this was someone’s 10-minute drawing on printer paper taped to the sign vs. an actual permanent sign the company approved and paid for.

  101. Snarkastic*

    Also, I don’t like that it seems the manager is holding the expenses of the accommodations against her. Ick.

  102. Not a Blossom*

    Oh, man. I’m so sorry, OP. In a perfect world, they would have made the accommodations and not said anything (or if they needed to point it out, say it quietly). If they wanted to throw you a party, the message should have been “We’re so glad you are back!” not “Let’s focus on something to which you are likely still adjusting!”

  103. Mimmy*

    I think they had the very best of intentions but the execution was over the top. (A cartoon of you in place of the accessible parking sign???). In particular, they handled the accommodations inappropriately. The ramp was the correct thing to do (it’s not just “nice”, it’s required under the ADA in most cases) but a ribbon-cutting ceremony was unnecessary.

    Also, it is inappropriate for them to just put you in a pod away from your team without discussing it with you first. Under the ADA, an employer does not have to make accommodations that are truly not feasible, but you should’ve had an opportunity to discuss these arrangements before it was your turn to go into the office. They’re assuming without asking first was wrong.

  104. Coworkers?*

    What advice would you have for OP’s coworkers in this situation? I assume some were there and saw what happened, while some might have been working from home or otherwise missed what happened, and been told about it afterwards. How would you recommend that coworkers reach out to OP, if they should?
    (I’m not a coworker but wonder what would be the most helpful thing from OP’s perspective for a coworker to do now that this has happened.)

    1. ecnaseener*

      Hmmm…assuming all of the coworkers were in on the party, that’s tough. I doubt OP wants them all reaching out with apologies right now.

    2. Kella*

      “Hey, I heard your party didn’t go well. I’m really sorry that this went sideways. You’re probably dealing with a lot right now but if you’re up for talking about it, I’m available and I want to figure out how to make this better for you.”

      I think this is the kind of response I’d want, especially from coworkers I had a close relationship with, if I were in this situation. Thankfully, when I returned to work with a disability, I was able to blend into the background for the most part with only the occasional questions or commentary.

  105. cassielfsw*

    “I lost it. I started crying and left. My boss made me come aside, and I told her how embarrassed and hurt I felt. I did say things I regret, such as them making a performance and me being singled out and away from where the actual work is.”

    OP, everything you said and did sounds completely understandable to me. If HR tries to characterize this as unprofessional/inappropriate, I would push back on that. You started crying, and reacted by removing yourself from the situation. The boss made you come back. And the things you regret saying are that you felt they were putting on a performance and singling you out? That’s exactly what they *were* doing.

  106. Unkempt Flatware*

    This reminds me of some drama in my small hometown. A woman submitted her long-suffering friend to the show “What Not to Wear” when that show first started. Long-suffering friend was dealing with a chronic illness on top of terminal illness and the tragic death of one of her children. When she was ambushed in the prep for the show, she was so offended and hurt, and so blown away that friend though clothing would help or mattered at all, that the friendship ended right then and there. I don’t know how that show really works but I bet they made some changes to their recruitment process. I don’t blame long-sufferer at all and like this OP, I don’t think she owed anyone an apology or even an explanation.

    1. J.B.*

      Yeah, I found that process in general pretty icky. I hope they talked to participants before the party and showing clips because how incredibly embarrassing! I’m so sorry for that long-suffering friend.

  107. Bookslinger In My Free Time*

    Oh. My. Word.

    LW, you have my virtual support in all of this, all the way.

    This is such a horrible things to come back to- a performance of how wonderful they all are, and how “different” you are. My husband is a permanent wheelchair user. Has been for most of our marriage, and used a wheelchair occasionally prior to our relationship. His family used to perform helping him. It was infantilizing, patronizing, demoralizing, and “othered” him as someone who needed special treatment, who was high maintenance. That was hard enough when we knew the disability was coming, but you are only a year into this, you are still adjusting to the changes in your life and the emotional chaos that level of change involves. Then they spring this on you, act surprised and hurt, and you are supposed to think of their good intentions and roll with it? No. Be firm. What they did was hurtful, whether they intended it to be or not. The cartoon? Needs to go. You are a human being, not a caricature. Your team needs to be situated with you or you with them, no exceptions. And they need to get some sensitivity and diversity training because GOOD LORD that was possibly one of the most insensitive ways to welcome you back to work.

    Hear this- you do not owe them an apology for reacting to the surprise they dropped on your head like a baby grand piano. You do not owe them immense gratitude for doing *exactly what they should have* by making sure both entrances to their building are accessible and by making sure the bathroom is accessible for you. That is the baseline. They do owe you an apology for not consulting you in any of this, for not giving you a heads up on the party, and for acting like they were wronged afterward when you had a very normal reaction to a massive shock on an emotionally charged day.

    Now take a breath, get comfy, and get yourself some self care and support from those close to you. Huge virtual hugs from someone who has watched a loved one be treated like a child simply because his body works differently (and I have had to restrain myself from breathing fire and burning bridges on his behalf- he gets to fight his own battles, because as other people forget, he is a grown person, as are you, and all persons deserve the same basic treatment of respect for their physical, emotional, and psychological needs, not this ridiculous circus you came back to)

  108. HereKittyKitty*

    I have an invisible disability and I find what happened to be horrifying. That would send me into a panic attack! Thinking of it in the context of my disability (PTSD) I can’t imagine returning to work after an episode and my workplace… reminding me that I just had an episode??? And announcing to everyone I had a disability! And cartooning my face onto their brand new meditation room or some nonsense. I hear the people saying “they mean well” but… did they mean well for you, or for themselves? This reads to me as a company trying to gas themselves up. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had a camera at the ready to post your expected “happy” reaction to LinkedIn with a clickbait title.

  109. LMT*

    I think that the majority of commenters on the AAM blog are experienced people managers, HR folks, or people who have Been There Done That. And to people who “get” it, it is OBVIOUS that the LW’s manager should have involved LW in the RTW process. Like, duh. It’s so clear it’s painful.

    But not everyone has the benefit of having navigated these waters or read about them on blogs like this. An average everyday manager might think, “Gee, my employee was seriously hurt in an accident and I know that I’m supposed to help. I did a lot of asking around, and here is what I hear is helpful to others. I’ll make sure everything is set up just so, and she’ll be so happy to come back to us. And we’ll throw her a party to show her just how much we’ve missed her.” The Interactive Process isn’t something that is well-known outside of disability or HR circles, or companies with great manager training (which is not most companies). Chances are, LW’s manager wouldn’t have a clue. Should the manager have responded better to the criticism? Abso-bleeping-lutely. But it doesn’t mean they didn’t come at the situation with the best of intentions.

    1. Forrest*

      I think it’s problematic when your sympathies here are primarily with the manager who didn’t know what they
      were doing and did their job *badly* rather than the disabled person.

      There are certain things that people to expect a manager to know and to be able to do effectively *as a basic and core part of their job*, and if they can’t do that, you see them as culpable and bad at their job. And there are other things that people regard as “a nice to have” –maybe a manager who has educated themselves in this area might know it, but you can’t ~expect~ it, and they feel sympathy for anyone who doesn’t know it. The fact that “How to put in place effective accommodations for a disabled employee” is considered the latter is because of ableism, and it’s circular — the fact that managers aren’t expected to know it keeps disabled people out of the workplace, and because disabled people are kept out of the workplace, managers don’t get forced to know it.

      When you side with, “well, you can’t just expect a manager to just ~know~ this stuff”, you’re not making a neutral comment– you’re contributing to a culture where it’s seen as esoteric knowledge that you don’t *have* to know, and you’re not derelict in your duty if you just ignore it right up until the moment when you’ve got someone crying in front of you. I think we should do better than that! We should hold people to the standard where this is important, critical information that all employers and managers should have or know how to access. That’s the only way you create a truly inclusive workplaces.

      1. LMT*

        To clarify – my sympathies don’t lie with the manager. I’m in the process of helping my autistic daughter navigate college (during a pandemic) – I’m on OP’s side. It’s beyond obvious that the company IS in the wrong here, and I’m sorry that I didn’t come right out and say that.

        I’m just saying that we have to be aware that just because someone doesn’t “get it” at the moment doesn’t mean that they won’t someday. Future allies.

        1. Autistic AF*

          Frankly, it’s not relevant to me that someone *might* get it in the future in OP’s circumstances. Them maybe getting it in the future doesn’t do anything now, and it’s not our responsibility as disabled folks to sacrifice our wellbeing for someone else’s comfort.

          That doesn’t apply to all circumstances – I have spent many years understanding how to be subtle but effective with these things – but while we’re talking about all this in the context that OP was given no opportunity to participate in all these decisions she was central in, she does not owe her manager and “future ally” goodwill.

      2. Kella*

        ^^^^All of that. If a manager starts making sexist remarks, you can’t just be like “Well, he didn’t get very good training, so he probably doesn’t know that it’s a problem, but I’m sure he means well.” This isn’t a social skills thing, this is a performance issue. And if he’s at all a good manager, he’ll take this situation as information that he needs a lot more training around disabilities stuff to do a good job supporting his employees (not just the OP).

        And oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how sick we disabled people are of getting good intentions instead of the help that we actually need.

  110. Sara M*

    I have no advice, OP, but my heart goes out to you. What a difficult situation to be put in. Hugs.

  111. Evonon*

    For once I must respectfully disagree with Alison’s advice. As a disable person, I could not even begin to imagine how it must have felt to return to the office, knowing full this is probably the first time coworkers have seen LW in person since their accident, only to be welcomed by a spectacle screaming “YOU’RE DIFFERENT! FORGET HOW WE TREATED YOU BEFORE BECAUSE YOU’RE A WHOLE NEW PERSON TO US NOW” LW has become a caricature, just like the goddamn cartoon on her reserved parking.
    I shudder at the thought when another physically disabled person visits the office and see that the few handicapped spaces is branded with probably the only disabled person in the office. How special. How fun. How human.
    LW, don’t apologize, don’t feel guilty. Your office transformed their sympathy for your situation into a masturbatory EXTREMELY public display and they only would have “gotten away with it” if you were enthralled with the fanfare of how they did the legal bare minimum without your input.

    1. Some internet rando*

      I had the same thought – DO NOT APOLOGIZE. YOU DID NOTHING WRONG.

      1) They should have talked with you and asked what you needed. Is it really hard to imagine asking “how can we help with this transition? and then listening? It almost seems like they didn’t ask because they wanted to surprise you. Some of these accommodations you didn’t even want. Terrible plan.
      2) They should not have singled you out. Did every other employee get a party, cake, and balloons when they returned to work onsite? NO.
      3) The cartoon is offensive. At the very least, it needs to come down for the obvious reasons noted above by other writers.
      4) The ramp and bathroom sound like a good gesture. BUT they should have asked you, or at least told you, this was happening. AND NO BALLOONS like they deserve a parade for making the office accessible. Terrible. They could have said in advance “We have been thinking about improving our accessibility and we are updating our bathroom and ramp. Any concerns about this?”

      If you manager is now butt-hurt because you didn’t appreciate enough, DO NOT APOLOGIZE. That’s their problem. Your concerns were totally valid. This was handled terribly. If you apologize you will be implying that you did something wrong. Be polite and prepared for these meetings. Have clearly articulated points and examples. And let them know this was handled badly.

      I see a lot of commenters who are saying “they didn’t know better.” First of all, HR should have done some research and should know better. Thats the job. If they have this kind of money this is not a tiny small business. They could have consulted. Also, some of this stuff is obvious. THE CARTOON? REALLY? It didn’t occur to anyone that it would be offensive? Come on. I am surprised at how many writers are defending the company. Think again and think it through. Would you like a “we heard you got divorced, here is a cartoon parking spot” party?

    2. ecnaseener*

      Wait, where does Alison say to apologize (or feel guilty)? The closest I see is the suggestion to say that they appreciate the effort and explain why it was harmful.

      1. Evonon*

        The main point I disagree with in Alison’s advice is to give them any credit at all. I think LW should stand her ground and be clear now offensive it was rather than try to do any placating.

        1. Despachito*

          I think that the apology would not be for not wanting the changes but for lashing out (albeit understandably so, in this moment).

          OP’s colleagues have been great and sweet and they many times proved they truly care about LW. They did things in the past which were perfectly convenient for OP, as per her own words, and it did not seem from her original letter that they always asked her beforehand. They screwed up this one time, which was a new situation for them all. They heavily misjudged the situation and OP was hurt.

          But given their previous thoughtfulness, it is likely that once they know what OP really needs/wants, they will bend over backwards to truly accommodate her. And this is an atmosphere not everyone has, and I reckon OP will need it.

          If there is unresolved bitterness among them (as many readers hint that almost whatever the company did with OP in mind was either their duty and therefore almost not worth mentioning or plain stupid, offensive and whatnot), what is this going to do with the atmosphere on the workplace and how it will affect OP?

          1. nothing rhymes with purple*

            So OP should metaphorically crawl and beg forgiveness so that she doesn’t deserve being maltreated by her coworkers henceforth? Oh please.

            You know, reading this discussion, I’ve seen you ablesplaining and saying how good intentions matter more than results, quite a few times. Have you paid any attention to why disabled people are disagreeing with you in these threads?

            1. Despachito*

              “So OP should metaphorically crawl and beg forgiveness so that she doesn’t deserve being maltreated by her coworkers henceforth? Oh please.”

              I by no means said this, and I find it strange you are inferring this. OP herself said she said things she now regrets, and I do not see any crawling and begging forgiveness if she acknowledges so.

              ” I’ve seen you ablesplaining and saying how good intentions matter more than results, quite a few times. Have you paid any attention to why disabled people are disagreeing with you in these threads?”

              Again – I never said say that “good intentions matter MORE than results”, I did say that it is possible both acknowledge good intentions as such AND say that the results were not OK.

              (If my husband makes me a dinner without asking me but I am on a diet and do not feel like having dinner, I can at the same time appreciate his effort AND tell him that I am not going to eat it. He has no right to be angry at me for refusing something I did not ask him to make. But if I snap at him for that, he’d be understandably a bit miffed, not because I do not want his food but because I snapped at him. )

              – I find it very understandable that OP lost it, given the circumstances
              – if OP fell hurt, apparently the coworkers did not achieve the result they wanted

              BUT I do not think that either of them wanted to hurt the other one, and I think this is a good base to build on.

          2. Evonon*

            This has to do with LW being othered by her coworkers and her manager being offended by her taking offence. This is a workplace issue if LW feels like her company no longer treats her the same because of her disability. Intent does not cancel out impact. If my employer gave me my headphones (sound sensitivity) with a giant bow on it, that’s not them giving me my requested, ada compliant accommodation that’s them treating it like it’s a favor to me. An accomodation in a world not built for us (disabled people) is a right NOT a gift

            1. Despachito*

              Do you really think the coworkers and the manager “othered” her, given that they had been sweet and helpful all the time before?

              (I had to look up what “othering” means, and if my understanding of it as “thinking of people who I do not perceive as belonging to “my group” as worse than those what do belong in it” is correct, do you really think this was what the coworkers did to OP? I do not).

              1. nothing rhymes with purple*

                “I do not”

                Quite a few disabled people have spoken up in this discussion to say, not least based on their own similar experiences, that the LW was indeed Othered by her coworkers. I would agree with them just because they know this kind of situation best, but I have also been Othered by people who were trying to be nice to me, because they only took my race and/or apparent gender into consideration and not who I am as a multifaceted person. Based on those experiences I definitely agree that the LW was Othered by her coworkers.

                Why do you think you know better than all of our lived experiences?

                1. Despachito*

                  “Why do you think you know better than all of our lived experiences?”

                  I certainly do not, and I am sorry if the experiences are bad.

                  It is possible that I misunderstood the concept of “othering”, though; from the definition I found I had the impression that it meant “to consider a person not “one of us” and therefore worse/dangerous”, and the OP’s colleagues actions do not seem to meet this definition. But I recognize I am not familiar with this term and it possibly can have other nuances.

                  I do not want to digress anymore, I just wanted to make this clear.

                2. Autistic AF*

                  And people say that autistic folks think in black and white…

                  Othering doesn’t necessitate an intentional feeling that someone is worse/dangerous due to being different. In fact, it’s not intentional or conscious from my experience. Someone telling me “you don’t look autistic!” is othering, for instance – the speaker had positive intentions when they said that, but it implies that being autistic is a bad thing.

                  In this case, OP was othered by literally being segregated from their colleagues (desk in a different location). The banner, the cake, and the cartoony sign also drew unwelcome attention to the disability. Even the fact that she was not consulted on her accommodations is othering – it implies that her manager/employer sees her as less of an individual with individual preferences now.

                  I hear you when you say you’re not familiar with the term, but there are deeper-seeded problems in your comments across this thread that imply the same bias against the OP that was present in her manager’s actions. You may not think you know better than all of our lived experiences, but your posts carry that implication, and that impact matters of your intent. Even “I’m sorry if the experiences are bad” carries the implication that our experiences might not actually be bad, that we don’t know what we’re talking about… Which is another form of othering. That doesn’t make you a bad person, but if you care as much about this issue as all of your comments would indicate, then it’s your responsibility to understand the impact of your actions and address that.

              2. Evonon*

                “Do you really think the coworkers and the manager “othered” her, given that they had been sweet and helpful all the time before?”

                Sweet and helpful can only be defined by the target of those affections not by the people performing it. Being an autistic adult I’ve encountered countless examples of people going above and beyond to be nice to me like helping me through security at an airport, being too enthusiastic when they learn I’m married to a “normal” person, or even saying I don’t look autistic because of how sociable I am. Why is it special that I’m married? A lot of people get married. This is where Othering comes in because neueorupical people’s expectations for me are on the floor so if I live a standard life, they feel compelled to say how special that is.

                Othering goes hand in hand with micro aggression. It seems so small, a drop in the bucket. But a mosaic is composed of thousands of tiles to create an image.

  112. ThatAspie*

    Honestly, I have to agree about the sign, in particular. Like, that is something you might do for a little kid who lost the ability to walk. Even then it might be questionable. For an adult, turning the handicap sign into a cartoon is just…not right.

  113. Pennycress*

    OP, I so so feel for you! What an incredibly difficult situation. I also experienced a spinal cord injury during the past year and have been super nervous about returning to the office because the body I have now isn’t functioning like the one I had when we went into lock down. Alison, as per usual is on point. I hope very much that your HR department understands that good intent doesn’t always translate and it caught you off guard.

    1. wfh-4eva*

      I am so sorry to hear that, Pennycress! Words are insufficient, I know, but I hope you continue to get better, and swiftly!

    2. nothing rhymes with purple*

      That sounds so utterly difficult. I’m sending you all the best wishes.

  114. Goldenrod*

    Seriously, I hope you don’t worry too much about having offended anyone here, OP. I think they meant well – but, come on, they screwed up! They should have the grace to admit it instead of weirdly holding it against you.

    You have been through some incredibly hard stuff – the least your employer can do is extend you a little bit of grace and understanding here.

  115. Sparkles McFadden*

    The world would be a much better place if everyone realized that nobody actually likes surprises (except for the people who hint like mad for specific surprises and thus they are not surprises) and if people would just learn to say “How can I help?” instead of assuming someone would want this sort of dehumanizing, over-the-top display. (A caricature of the LW on the handicapped parking sign? Dear Lord.)

  116. Mr. Dobalina*

    Oh my no. OP’s co-workers must have the emotional intelligence and empathy of a cucumber. They screwed up, and frankly, OP’s negative reaction was predictable and, in my opinion, justified. I am mystified how OP’s co-workers could be so clueless. I do not cut them any slack on this for their intentions or well meaning blah blah. Really, cucumbers all around. So sorry, OP.

  117. PlainJane*

    This is appalling, but not as surprising as I feel like it should be.

    People have taken to thinking every occasion needs Instagram worthy images and everything should be “celebrated,” preferably with a “big surprise” element wherein the honoree breaks down weeping at how lovely everything is. That’s the script. We show people “You’re the best” by creating a big show of it and making sure that they feel like a star.

    And I think it is genuinely *meant* to make the person feel good and valued–I don’t see any bad intentions here, per se; if anything, it’s *supposed* to mean, “You are so awesome and we want to make you feel that we’ve missed you and are glad to have you back”–but two seconds’ thought should have been more than enough to say that someone who has been recently injured and had her life changed without any desire for it on her part might not be in a “celebrate my wheelchair” mood. And maybe also not in a mood for any more surprises.

    It would be one thing if everyone had a cartoon caricature on their parking spaces, and LW’s included her wheelchair (though I’d still wonder about it on her first day back without getting some kind of consent–like, “Hey, what do you want your toon to look like?”). But singling out like that? Yipes.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This makes me see this over the top fiasco as a “disability reveal” like one of those godawful gender reveals (people were just charged with manslaughter for the one that started wildfires).

  118. phlask*

    I just wanted to thank OP for sending this letter in. We would all like to believe that we would do the right thing – be respectful, be smart, be professional – but a letter like this just shows how wrong someone with ‘good intentions’ can be. In the past few years “nothing about us without us” has become a constant refrain in my head (and hopefully in the heads of many others). This situation just shows that nothing means NOTHING. Not a fun surprise, not a cute parking stall illustration (face-spraining eye roll), not a ‘better’ workspace…

  119. wfh-4eva*

    OP, I am so sorry that you went through all this. Your manager is being a complete jerk, too. This is awful, and the last thing you need!

    Personally, if I had been involved in throwing this party for you (which I would only have been involved in because I thought it would be well-received! Even someone who likes surprise parties may not react well to such fanfare after such stressful and traumatic events), and you didn’t take it well, I would be mortified, and trying very hard to make it up to you, not busy being all offended! Good Lord, what is wrong with some people?!

    I think Alison gives excellent advice as to what to say to both your manager and HR.

    (Depending on which country or state you live in, an employer getting all shirty with you over this, and bringing in HR to do something daft, is also walking into an absolute minefield in a legal sense. I have hope that HR is just wanting to welcome you back to the office, and to smooth this all over, which is what they’d be doing if they were smart. If not, definitely speak to a lawyer.)

  120. JM60*

    OP, I’m so sorry you went through this. I know getting all that attention would’ve been the last thing I would’ve wanted if I were in your situation.

    This is an excellent example of how “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” can lead to terrible results. I’m sure some people would’ve wanted these changes in your situation, but many wouldn’t. They should’ve instead followed the maxim, “Do unto others as THEY would want you to do.” Ultimately, they should’ve ASKED you about changes you want or don’t want.

  121. M / P*

    What bothers me about the welcome back party is not that the party was over the top.
    It’s that they made the LW’s disability and their accommodations the main or only focus.
    Instead of realizing, LW is still LW. Their disability is not their sole identity. The organizers did not celebrate the LW’s love for animals or Excel tricks. Instead they pushed LW into the role of Other.

  122. Antisocialite*

    The Facebook comments are an ableist 180 from all the thoughtful discussion here. It reminds me that as a disabled person, so many others don’t understand and have no desire to educate themselves.

    Becoming newly disabled is an incredibly emotional, stressful situation that is in many ways all stages of grief jumbled together while dealing with the loss of a lot of your abilities and autonomy– especially for anyone who becomes a paraplegic wheelchair user. The OP just wanted her life back and to navigate a new normal but got a big show where she was the unsuspecting “star”.

    I am so sorry you had to deal with this, and I hope you can move on in a way that’s best for you.

  123. MamaSarah*

    Honestly, I think a range of reactions could have been fair. It sounds quite awful (on top of the reality of adapting to life with a different mobility).

  124. Tree*

    I’m sorry that happened to you. My disabilities are different, but I would have been upset too if a similar thing happened to me. I’m sure they meant well but this is why they should have communicated with you, asked you questions and then listened to you about what you need and want here, that would have made the difference between meaning well and doing well.

  125. Been There*

    As someone who suddenly developed a disability and knows these reactions well, I really hope that you are seeing a therapist OP. Not because you’ve done anything wrong here – you absolutely haven’t – but because this is a massive life change that will take a lot of time and work to fully process. Feeling emotionally fragile/crying a lot is something it took me about 18 months to start recovering from, and that only came after a return to stability and a year of therapy. I hope your work colleagues, and everyone else in your life, will understand that.

  126. NotMyRealName*

    OP, please update us on this one. They did not do a good job here. It is easy to imagine that a party celebrating your return to work in a new wheelchair would not have a good impact.

    There is a reason “nothing about us without us” is a thing in the disability world. They absolutely should have consulted with you throughout their preparations for your return to work, including how you wanted to be acknowledged on your first day back.

  127. Kixco*

    Ugh. I am semi-ambulatory due to health issues and I would appreciate it greatly if people wouldn’t act like we are zoo animals on exhibit. If you want to help but aren’t sure where to start, just ask. It’s exhausting having to smile and make everyone else feel better due to their clumsy (but usually well-meant) intentions.

  128. NotJane*

    I was reading this and thinking “Is your boss Michael Scott?” because this sounds like an Office episode. Good lord.

  129. Nightengale*

    So I’m a disabled person who works in a disability field and has a lot of disabled friends. Here’s how this probably should have looked.

    T-3 months: So let’s talk about what your return is going to look like. We are making the bathroom over by the kitchen accessible to ADA specs, that’s long overdue. I know there is a back ramp but we are also talking about putting in a ramp at the front entrance. Of course we have accessible parking but only a few spots, I’d hate for you to find all the spots taken by customers, should we reserve one for you? Is there anything else you can think of that would be helpful?

    T-1 month: OK construction on the front ramp is almost complete. We’re a little concerned about how crowded the cubicle area is where your team sits. Do you have thoughts about that? We can move you pretty easily but might not be able to move the whole team, so we’d have to weigh the pros and cons of being further from them and in a more accessible spot. Do you want to come in one day to check out the layout? Or I can send you some photos of the space we’re thinking about.

    T-2 weeks: Comes in for half a day, has a meeting or two, checks out accessibility features, decides together with manager/HR about if further adjustments are needed. Or does same via zoom/e-mail.

    T-0: Comes in to actually work. No accessibility surprises related to entrances, parking, workspaces or bathrooms. Maybe cake at lunch as a welcome back/we missed you/glad the team’s all here thing. Maybe.

    1. nothing rhymes with purple*

      This is such excellent advice I have emailed it to myself for the future, and I really hope people find it down here and read and remember it.

  130. Evonon*

    This has to do with LW being othered by her coworkers and her manager being offended by her taking offence. This is a workplace issue if LW feels like her company no longer treats her the same because of her disability. Intent does not cancel out impact. If my employer gave me my headphones (sound sensitivity) with a giant bow on it, that’s not them giving me my requested, ada compliant accommodation that’s them treating it like it’s a favor to me. An accomodation in a world not built for us (disabled people) is a right NOT a gift.

    1. PlainJane*

      It’s true that this is a them problem, not an LW problem. Unfortunately, the intentions do matter when you’re trying to deal with the situation. People who were being intentionally cruel don’t deserve much more than a tongue-lashing and possibly worse, and won’t be surprised by it. In this case, because they didn’t intend it to land this way, they will be baffled and hurt that their “surprise” wasn’t warmly received. It has to be handled somewhat differently. While still being made clear that this was a horrible, awful thing that must never be repeated in any way, and ought to be apologized for.

      1. Despachito*

        Why “unfortunately”?

        There IS an enormous difference between someone who hurts you intentionally, and someone who ends up hurting you but his intentions were the best.

        If this happened to me as the manager/coworkers, I think I’d be absolutely mortified, and more so I was preparing something with a genuine wish to please OP but she was horrorized and hurt instead. It would be helpful (yet not necessarily pleasant) for me to hear that
        – she did not like it
        – how she felt (as opposed to how I thought she would be feeling).

        All these things would help me understand what she really wants/needs, and what to do/avoid in the future. And I’d definitely feel the need to say that I am sorry that it hurt her and had absolutely no intention to do this.

        So technically most of what you are saying in your last sentence.

        However, if it was worded like you did, that ” this was a horrible, awful thing that must never be repeated in any way, and ought to be apologized for.”, it would rub me a tad the wrong way. Yes, I did mess up, but absolutely did not mean to, and I think this deserves some pass as to the harshness I am treated with, similarly as OP absolutely deserves a pass for whatever she said and is now regretting.

        I mean, lot of people describe their despair that they are repeatedly not treated with due respect, but this appears to be the first time the coworkers screwed up, and they have quite a long history of decent behaviour before.

        I loved Observer’s comment about doing what is going to work best for OP in the future. There is absolutely no need of humiliating herself, but is there really a need to humiliate the manager and the coworkers (like some comments suggest that what they did was awful, stupid, horrible, selfish, how could they…, they should apologize immediately) ? And how will the atmosphere at the workplace look like if OP’s basic attitude is “the accommodations are no big deal because it was your obligation anyway, and the
        “welcome party” was horrible and thoughtless”?

        Why not treat it rather as a honest mistake, explain that “I know your intentions were the best but when you did X and Y, I felt A and B, and I’d very much prefer Z”? A lot of suggestions worded here (do not do anything for me without asking me before, I’d prefer sitting with my team and don’t mind worse accessibility,) sound very reasonable and decent people should probably grasp it. If they ignore it (as it seems to be unfortunately the experience of quite a lot of people here), it would be a different story, but so far they screwed just once.

        I think they absolutely deserve to be told what was wrong for OP, but they do not deserve to be humiliated.

        1. PlainJane*

          Oh, just “unfortunately” in the sense that there’s not a simple and blanket answer for “What do I do if someone on staff has been hurt by someone else’s behavior?” Simple is always nice, but it doesn’t apply here.

  131. Starbuck*

    Wow, I gasped when I read what all they did to surprise you with at a party. So not the way to go. And they thought they’d be doing all that with the expected reward of your fawning gratitude, without even having a conversation about it! As a socially reserved person, I can’t imagine trying to throw a party for someone without their input. How would you presume to know what someone else would like done for them? They super mishandled this and I don’t think OP should feel bad about that reaction, but unfortunately will probably have to do some work to smooth things over anyway. Ugh.

  132. Anonymous Today*

    It appears that no one asked the OP what accommodations (if any) she would need and the OP didn’t reach out to the company to tell them anything, either.

    While it sounds kind of cold, the best thing might have been for the company to do nothing other than have a “Welcome Back” party for the OP. While, on the one hand, that would be singling her out, on the other hand, she is probably the only returning employee who went through that level of trauma last year.

    If it turned out that she couldn’t navigate something, they would have had to fix it after the fact.

  133. Pam*

    It’s l ikely that TWO ramps are required by the ADA. In case of fire near the back ramp, the front ramp provides an alternate escape route.

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