In this commentary, Adrianna Michell, a PhD student, calls attention to the time costs associated with seeking disability accommodations in a world that prioritizes productivity above people.
This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.
Ten minutes in the waiting room.
A thirty-minute commute.
$3.20 for the subway—each way.
An hour under fluorescent office lights.
“Why didn’t you fill this out two months ago?”
One more “brief” intake appointment.
“Yes, I take that.”
“No, it was more like this.”
I’ve had my fair share of encounters with bureacratic health care and employment systems. I’m used to the tedious tasks and jumping through hoops that come with having a disability and articulating it to administrators to—hopefully, maybe, please?—get necessary accommodations. What I didn’t realize until I did the math, added up the appointments and phone calls and explanations over the years, is the amount of time I’ve spent and the attendant costs.
I have ADHD, a disorder that, among other things, makes time management exceedingly difficult. Sometimes this is (problematically) called “time blindness,” a term meant to describe difficulties with tracking or perceiving time’s passage. According to one study, based on “the symptoms and lifestyle that they generally display, individuals with ADHD seem to be stuck in the present.” For this reason, I have come to understand my disability as, in part, a non-normative relationship to time. I miss deadlines. I lose track of time. It seems as though I’m always too far ahead or too far behind.
Recently I missed a big deadline. This led to months of emails, Zoom calls, intake forms, and meetings with the accessibility office at the university where I teach and learn. This is something scholar Margaret Price calls the “accommodation loop” or the slow, looping, or excess time it takes for disabled people to navigate and access accommodations. As Price’s article title claims, “Time Harms,” and the accommodation loop is often invisible, “arduous to traverse, must be traversed over and over again, and exacts costs not only of time and money but also of emotion.”
Maybe it was submitting an entire medical history, an entire life, to the organizing system of the checklist, but in my most recent accommodations meeting I realized I am stuck in this loop. I found myself asking: why do I need permission anyway? Isn’t this something everyone would want? The answer is yes.
The accommodation loop isn’t the only way that time can be costly. Think of the costs of missing work for an appointment, the professional repercussions of a supposed lack in “productivity,” lost wages due to a chronic illness flare-up, late fees, and more. Though my time costs are associated with neurodivergence, the costs of time affect those with a range of disability experiences, making the case for not only universal accommodations—regardless of disability status—but also for a widespread renegotiation of our relationships to work and time.
On the surface the ubiquitous idea of “productivity” may seem harmless; however, underneath the push toward meeting work goals, improving output, quick turnarounds, and generally doing more with less is deep-seated ableism that associates value with ability to perform labor. The break-neck speed implied in the call for ever-increasing efficiency leaves disabled people—or those who cannot keep up, keep their bodies in line with the clock, or who conceive of time differently—behind. The economic effects of such are less legible than other forms of economic marginalization, but are present nonetheless. For some, the clock is not a neutral device.
What if we worked against the clock? Reimagining our relationships to time would also require renegotiating how we work, communicate, and organize the social and economic systems around us, but how else can we exit the accommodation loop? Time isn’t a straight arrow, it’s an ideological system.
I tell myself I’ll make the deadline this time. I’ll arrive when I say I will. I’ll keep track of time, all the time, so I don’t have hour-long holes in my day. (What was I doing then?) Or maybe you tell yourself you’ll walk faster, talk slower, push yourself to work just a bit longer. But then what? Time loops again. We’ll try again tomorrow.