Working at CH2M HILL, Where “It’s O.K. to Be You”

By , January 7, 2015

Rachel Schneider is an intelligent young professional at the top of her game. She also happens to have a neurological condition called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which makes her highly sensitive to sounds, smells, touch and other senses.

Rachel has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, and has worked in the technical writing field for more than five years. She is a copywriter for CH2M HILL’s Colorado-based Talent Acquisition team, and telecommutes from New York City.

At work, Rachel uses her writing and therapy skills to engage with CH2M HILL job candidates through communications, recruitment advertising and social media. She talked with me about her disability, how CH2M HILL supports her in her role, and ways that job seekers can approach their disability in the workplace.

Can you tell me a little more about your disability?

Rachel Schneider

Sensory Processing Disorder is often described as a sensory traffic jam in which the senses compete to be taken in and processed by the brain. I tend to avoid most sensory stimuli, like sight, sound and movement, but I crave some sensory input, like touch and proprioception—input that signals where my body is in space.

Because of my disability, I tire easier than most. At the office, fluorescent lights would make me feel agitated and anxious. Working from a cubicle also is hard, as people would show up behind me and startle me, and when people with SPD are surprised, we’re often very quick to cry and feel agitated.

What has been your overall experience at CH2M HILL?

I was searching for a role where I could engage deeply with people without compromising my health. My work here fits my unique needs, and allows me to work with some of the finest human beings I’ve ever known and use my therapy-influenced writing skills to convey very specific messages. I am comfortable and happy while producing my best work and helping bring new people into our company. 

What is the best part of your current job?

Teleworking is at the top of my list. Being a teleworker has been the best way for me to work and still feel well in spite of my SPD. At home I can choose my sensory experiences. I sit by the window so I use only natural light, and I keep the laptop on my lap with a pillow to provide me with proprioceptive input, which helps me feel connected to my body. I can control the temperature and sound levels. I never feel drained at the start of the day, and I’m able to produce some of my best work because I am not fighting my SPD symptoms simultaneously.

Do your supervisor and coworkers know about your condition? If so, what has been their response?

Yes, they do. I think it’s very important to educate people around me about SPD. I’m very open about my SPD and even advocate passionately for adults with SPD in my free time on my blog, Coming To My Senses, and my website, http://www.rachel-schneider.com. I believe that when we hide our disabilities—when we are afraid and ashamed to tell others—it is a disservice to our loved ones, our coworkers and ourselves. We aren’t giving others the chance to learn about our unique challenges and expand their own sphere of understanding and base of knowledge. We’re not giving them the chance to be supportive.

Has your SPD given you any unique abilities in the workplace?

Having SPD, along with my mental health background, has allowed me to become the disabilities and mental health expert in my group. People come to me to ask questions about SPD, and about having a neurological condition, and I have been able to support numerous projects to recruit others with disabilities. Having SPD gives me insight into this topic, and disclosing it has put me in a related position of authority. It’s an incredible feeling to be turned to as an expert on the one thing that always made me feel different, weird and “other.”

How has CH2M HILL helped you accommodate for your unique needs?

Working remotely is ultimately my accommodation. In the two times I was asked if I could visit the New York City office, all parties were able to accommodate my inability to easily get around by scheduling remote meetings and sending me necessary materials. I also have the ability to choose my hours: I work earlier hours because my ability to process sensory information and think clearly is strongest earlier in the day.

What advice would you give someone who is differently abled and concerned about employers knowing he/she has a disability?

It’s O.K. to be you, especially at CH2M HILL. Fighting who you are and what you have doesn’t help you in any way, so be open and honest with your coworkers and supervisors. Having SPD doesn’t make me bad or unworthy of a wonderful job and an excellent company; it just means that my brain is wired a bit differently in the areas that impact the senses. It seems counterintuitive, but by disclosing and expressing your needs, you’re subtly saying, “I am so capable that I know this is how I can work best for you and the company.” It’s a powerful statement to make.

Do you have a disability? Are you interested in working with CH2M HILL? To learn more about careers at CH2M HILL, click HERE.

Author: Nancy McKinney

Nancy McKinney is a Global Diversity Recruitment Strategist at CH2M HILL. She specializes in recruitment marketing, social media and outreach initiatives as part of CH2M HILL’s long-time commitment to hiring a diverse workforce.