Profiles in IT: Andrew Staley—DEI Warrior

08/12/2019
Andrew Staley

Andrew Staley was recently interviewed about his work on the Platform Services team with Health Information Technology and Services (HITS). He also opened up about what it’s like working at Michigan Medicine while dealing with ADHD, ASD, OCD, and a wheelchair.

What is your role at HITS?

I’m a web server administrator on the HITS Platform Services team. We maintain the HITS SharePoint collaborative platform and Microsoft Office Online Server. The Microsoft Office Online Server is the platform that allows users to load Microsoft Office Docs in the browser while using the Outlook Web Client (email.med.umich.edu) and SharePoint. My other duties include, but aren’t limited to, middleware server configuration and maintenance, and processing access requests for the “MedInfo” web space that is where the clinical webpages “live.” Our work is largely invisible when it’s done correctly.

How does each of your conditions affect your work?

Some of my disabilities are more visible than others. Here’s what they mean and how they impact me. 

There are different types of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I have the type which makes it difficult for me to pay attention and focus on single tasks. Because of this, distractions are a challenge for me. It also takes a long time for me to refocus after a disruption, and constant interruptions make things much less efficient. I have found that tall cubicle walls with a curtain and dimmer overhead lights are helpful in blocking out distractions.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which some people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). It’s more than wanting things “clean” and “orderly,” and OCD manifests itself differently depending on the individual. For me, contamination is a big issue. I store my devices (e.g., phones, remotes, etc.) in bags. This keeps them clean and makes cleaning them easier. I have a hard time using devices that others use, as well as allowing others to use my devices (e.g., keyboards, mice, desk phones, etc.).

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurological developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Even though I am on the higher-functioning side of the Autism Spectrum, one thing that I have a hard time with is jumping into conversations during meetings. It takes time for me to compose my comment or suggestion, and by then, sometimes the conversation has passed me by. Email ambiguity can also be tough. It’s challenging sometimes for me to interpret an email message that aligns with the sender’s intentions. An example of this might be a response message that simply states “fine.” Does the author mean “fine” in the sense that “everything is okay,” or do they mean “it’s acceptable, but not really preferred”?). Because 60 to 70 percent of what people communicate is nonverbal, it can sometimes be hard for me to pick up on visual cues. This can make job interviews and employment reviews extra difficult for me. 

What are your physical constraints?

I use a wheelchair because I have hip dysplasia. And because I use a wheelchair, some people assume that I can’t walk. But I am able to walk short distances without assistance; however, I will endure pain for days after. I can also walk longer distances with the assistance of a cane, but the wheelchair prevents pain the best. 

What challenges do you have at Michigan Medicine?

I have issues with dealing with the lighting, distractions, and noise in the office. Information and resources on Campus are very fragmented, so I recommend staff to talk with their manager about accommodations. There was a lack of resources to assist me with finding a new position when I was RIF’ed in 2018 due to the Marginal Improvement Plan. Fortunately, I was recalled the following October to my previous position.

Some things that can be improved on Campus relating to property management include snow removal, vehicles blocking the ramps, and parking. I have found that sometimes handicap parking spaces are located behind Blue Pass access rendering them inaccessible unless I have a Blue Pass (which I don’t). An option similar to the Student Blue Permit would greatly help. Currently, faculty and staff with disabilities need to purchase a permit (Blue/Gold) to park in the closest handicap parking spaces. Whereas faculty and staff without disabilities can choose the lower cost orange permit and/or use free Park & Go, these options are not feasible with faculty and staff with disabilities. In this situation, it’s a matter of accessibility and not just convenience. This situation affects everyone on campus.

What helps you be successful?

As often as possible, I look for step-by-step, clear criteria. When I can, I talk with my teammates about how they can help me be successful. Telecommuting (working from home), flexible work schedules (flex-time), and  an approachable leadership team also greatly allow for a more inclusive working environment. 

Rodney Nelson (my manager) and Stephen Kinzler (my team lead) are great examples of an approachable leadership team! They are very willing to work with me (which hasn’t always been the case at jobs I’ve held outside of U-M) to help me as best they can. They’re also easy to work with and they support an inclusive work environment and a culture of respect.  

What are some of the positive interactions you’ve had?

The HITS DEI team and MHealthy have served as helpful resources for me. The HITS DEI team has helped me navigate some of the long-term disability requirements. They also give me a safe space where I can be myself. I even felt comfortable enough to do a presentation about my life at Michigan Medicine. MHealthy has assisted setting up various accommodations to make my work environment more comfortable. I now have a curtain for my cubicle to block out any distractions and all fluorescent lights were disabled above my cube to accommodate my health needs. Having the option to telecommute has also been beneficial to me. 

What are some key takeaways that you want others to know?

People should be sensitive to the way that they use the term “OCD”—it is not an adjective, and shouldn’t be used loosely. Additionally, don’t assume that someone is using a wheelchair because they are paralyzed. Many wheelchair users can walk; however, the wheelchair makes things easier. 

In order to be considerate of those with disabilities, please don’t park on the striped area of the blue lines parking space. And please don’t just start pushing someone in a wheelchair—ask if they need help first. 

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