Can you Identify?

bobicookIn my role as Equal Opportunity Officer for Workforce Solutions, I frequently create and conduct trainings related to diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity. I spend hours doing research and investigating best practices. This role has offered me the opportunity to counsel staff on how to go about requesting accommodations, offer direction to employers on how to work through the interactive process when responding to accommodation requests, and follow up with individuals to determine whether provided accommodations are working for them. I have been able to partner with organizations and participate in events dedicated to enhancing the employment opportunities available to individuals with disabilities.

My personal life has also provided many opportunities to help immediate family members with doctor’s appointments, vocational rehabilitation, work place and school accommodations, and tough decisions related to disclosure.

The reason I share all of this is to establish that I can identify with a person who has a disability; I’m familiar with the challenge of navigating through various types of environments without being regarded as a “disabled person”, but instead as a person. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

In all the arenas mentioned, I have been a strong advocate for self-identification; sharing that you have a disability, whether it is visible or not. I touted the benefits an employee/student could gain: beneficial accommodations, job and training opportunities reserved for individuals with disabilities, and status as a change agent by paving the way for more inclusive work and learning environments and being more readily accepted by peers. I encouraged employers to institute self-id campaigns and employee resource groups for employees whose lives have been impacted by disability, to better engage employees, drive innovation, and demonstrate the importance of community. My Pollyanna convictions left little room for argument or doubt.

And then . . . reality came crashing in.

I have had headaches all my life, truly as long as I can remember; they have been a daily occurrence for me. Although I had a daily headache, most days weren’t too bad, and when they were, I could take something and they would usually diminish to the point that I could function without too much of an impact. Every once in a while, there would be a headache I couldn’t get rid of, and I would just have to “sleep it off”. Over time, the bad days became more frequent and more severe; symptoms included losing my vision, having a ringing in my ears so loud that I couldn’t make out other sounds around me, losing my balance and walking into things, and bouts of vomiting. In the last few years there have been an increased number of missed holidays, outings, family gatherings, and even work days because of the headaches.

Finally, it got to the point where I sought medical assistance. In the past year, I have been to several types of doctors and specialists, had all kinds of tests, been on dozens of different medications, and had multiple kinds of injections. None of these have brought any lasting relief.

Despite all of this, I did not think of myself as “having a disability;” a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. I just have bad headaches.

A couple months ago, it was determined that I would probably be undergoing surgery to see if my condition could be improved. When I received this information, I shared it with my immediate family and a couple of close friends. I still did not think of myself as “having a disability.”

Once the surgery consultation occurred and a date was set, I shared this information with my supervisor to make them aware that I would have to take some time off work. Still no thoughts of “having a disability.”

In the last few weeks, medications have not been as effective in helping me get through my days and a few co-workers have asked if I was ok. Typical responses have included, “I’m good” or if I was feeling really lousy, “Just not feeling great today.” But it still did not cross my mind that I might have a disability.

Driving to work one day this week, I was thinking about items on my to-do list and had an “aha” moment. I finally admitted to myself that I have an invisible disability. It was one of the most difficult admissions I have ever made; and I was only making it to myself! It dawned on me how hypocritical I had been, asking others to be leaders and change agents that proudly self-identified and requested accommodations.

I got a little panicky when I realized soon other people were going to know that something was wrong with me. I wouldn’t be able to hide behind my glib answers when the back of my head was shaved and the incisions were visible. I then realized how skewed my thinking was – believing there was something wrong with me.

My abilities were not diminished by admitting that I have a disability or that I might need some accommodations to help me continue to be as effective in my position as I have always been.

Earlier this week I spoke with human resources to begin navigating the process of requesting accommodations. The first step in the process with my employer is to complete a questionnaire explaining what type of accommodation I am requesting, what job function the accommodation will help with, and how it will help me to be more effective. I am a little unsure of how to answer all the questions, so I am utilizing resources available at to assist me with the process. The second step is to get my physician to complete and submit paperwork. I know that this probably won’t be the easiest process that I have ever navigated, but I believe that it will help me to be more effective in my position – in more than one way 😉

I wish I would have admitted to having a disability earlier, if for no other reason than to be an example of how someone with a disability can still be expected to maintain a high level of performance; however, I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and it’s always “better late than never.” So, today I wrote this blog to self-identify; freely and proudly sharing my status as a member of the disability community with family, friends, co-workers, and the world at large in hopes that I can encourage and inspire others who might be wrestling with a similar situation.

Can you identify with my journey? Are you willing to self-identify as a member of the disability community? I encourage you to comment and share your journey with us!

Bobi Cook is the Senior Equal Opportunity Officer for Workforce Solutions – Gulf Coast Workforce Board. She currently utilizes her MBA and over ten cumulative years’ experience as a professional educator, quality systems manager, and auditor to ensure Workforce Solutions upholds the highest standards of equal opportunity and access to service for all its customers.

6 Responses to “Can you Identify?”

  1. 1 Frieda December 8, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Bobi, your story was touching and inspiring. I am extremely proud of you; extremely proud to call you a friend and colleague. Thank you for sharing! My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family…ALWAYS!

  2. 2 Bobi Cook December 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Thank you so much to everyone who has responded (in the blog comments, via email, over the phone, and in person). I am truly blessed to be a part of the Workforce Solutions family!

  3. 3 Carolyn Kennard December 4, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I want to commend you for sharing your story. When I was told that I had cancer and while watching a webinar it was announced that cancer could be considered as an disability, I went into shock. It really bothered me for months and later noticed the body changes and I went for counseling. I just want to thanks you and I am proud to have had you as supervisor.

  4. 4 Danielle Clark November 30, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing and encouraging other’s to self-identify. The Waller Team, would like to send you our Best Wishes.

  5. 5 Omar November 30, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Truly heartfelt and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  6. 6 Trudy Ray November 30, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Thank you for being so brave. You always lead by example and I’m so very proud to call you friend.

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