how much should I hand-hold a disorganized employee? — Ask a Manager

Actual user of crutches/walking stick here. They’re not the most easy tool to use, it sucks to not be able to use one or both hands while out and about, and long-term use puts your back out, meaning you have to take other action to counteract those problem. After the accident that left me with a permanent limp, I went through rounds of physio to regain as much mobility as I could. I ditched the crutch fairly quickly after I was more confident with weight-bearing on my own feet outside the moonboot, and it was less cumbersome to use a walking stick. I tried to ditch that as well, but I think I’ve hit a wall in that respect.

While, yeah, realistically speaking I’m not likely to get my ankle back into the shape it was before, it’s not ableist to use that kind of reference. Few people I know who use walking sticks actually like having to use them (one lady I know called hers ‘Mr Stick’ because she didn’t want to get onto first name terms with ‘him’). The goal of many treatments is for crutches to be temporary, like scaffolding around a building, in order to help a patient get back on their feet if at all possible. The difference between a crutch and a stick is that a crutch props the body up so the person can regain the ability walk upright, and with a stick you use it for balance and to correct a limp. So for many people, a crutch is a halfway house while you’re still getting used to bearing weight on an injured leg, and many people will progress beyond them.

If there was a magic wand I could wave to fully repair my ankle and not have to use a stick or whatever, you bet I’d do that in a heartbeat. There’s nothing magical about being disabled that you see your tools as being awesome lifesavers. We are allowed to have an ambivalent attitude towards them and funnily enough because we are not the sum total of our mobility aids, we don’t much care how they’re used in common parlance to describe something equally ambivalent. We are allowed to work hard to maybe not need them any more if we possibly can. (Just like the adjective ‘lame’ — yeah, it pretty much IS lame to BE lame. I’m in constant low-level pain, so yeah, anything analogous to that pain is ‘lame’. Be my guest in using one frustrating and sucky situation as a metaphor for another. I am not my busted ankle.)

Meanwhile, in colloquial discussion it’s actually useful to have a word that describes a workaround or other situation where a person is using some tool or other as a way of avoiding actually dealing with an issue. I’ve been anxious to the point of being triggered by newspapers lying in open view, and one volunteer placement I had triggered me to such a point where people had to put any newspapers away for me to do my job there. Effectively, they were performing the emotional labour having to manage my condition, and I needed therapy and medication to fully overcome the anxiety. But eventually I had to accept that I couldn’t just exploit other people’s willingness to work around me as a ‘crutch’ — I had to progress on to the ability to manage my own anxiety and build more robust ways of co-existing in the workplace with things that triggered me. When a building is finished, you take the scaffolding away. Likewise, I got cured of my inability to read a newspaper without my brain looking like those Matrix style data dumps by getting a Masters in International Law and World Order Research and stepping back from the partisan fluff that had been the trigger in the past to see a more global perspective.

So basically the difference here and what we refer to as a ‘crutch’ is something that outsources the emotional labour of work onto someone else. So like the difference between a colleague always having to remind you about something you need to do (for want of a better word, ‘crutch’) vs you setting Outlook reminders to be able to remember yourself when you need to check a certain inbox or that everything in your purchase order log has been sent to the supplier (the tool). In the context of the workplace, that’s what it amounts to — you can’t say ‘hey, Farquad, I’m ADHD, please remind me to lock up when you leave half an hour before me’. You need to be responsible for your own condition by setting a ‘LOCK UP’ reminder that comes on screen in big red letters five minutes before you leave.

Besides which, it’s in the rules not to nitpick language, so /maybe/ the indignation here is a bit derailing to the actual discussion.

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