Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What to do? What to do?

My barefoot experiment this year has been fun and very rewarding.  I have discovered that when my feet are free to move, they feel better.  Without shoes I am often wiggling my toes throughout the day rather than keeping them confined in a shoe all day without any movement.  On rare occasions lately that I have worn socks and shoes I noticed that my toes are stiff when I take them off, as if they forgot in one short day how to move.  I spend some time retraining them but then experience shooting pain throughout the night.

My barefoot experiment has shown me that I need to be able to allow my feet to have as much movement as possible.  Since I can't go barefoot at work and doubt my VFF will be approved for work, I decided several months ago that the next best thing would be to wear my sandals as often as possible, perhaps even changing into them at work on really cold days.  That way I can keep my toes moving the 9-10 hours I spend on my feet teaching some days. 

Well, my brilliant idea was challenged late last week when we received an email from our new manager (I work at schools and this is the newer school I teach at which I don't like so well) that open toed shoes are not permitted because they are not "professional".  Unlike many women, I have a limited number of shoes.  I buy well made shoes that are expensive but buy very few of them.  I have a pair of Dansko sandals that are open toed, two pairs of Ecco sandals that are open toed, Dansko clogs, Merrell snow boots that look like tennis shoes, and my Vibram Five Fingers.  My choices are pretty limited.  Throughout the winter I wear my Dansko clogs everyday but found that last winter the socks and shoe mixture wasn't working and I often sat down so that I could slip my feet out of my shoes and try to wiggle my toes a little bit. 

I have only taken one day off work due to rheumatoid arthritis in the last eight years and that was when I tried sulfasalzine and realized I have an allergy to sulfa.  I was covered in a rash from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet along with a fever and headache.  Otherwise, I have always made it into work despite how awful I may have felt.  I never wanted RA to be an excuse I used.........until yesterday. 

Yesterday I called my rheumatologist and asked for a note stating that I can wear open toe sandals.  The nurse said she would check on it and within ten minutes called back and said they were mailing the note right away.  All the sudden I felt guilty.  I felt like I was taking advantage of the situation with my illness.  I wondered if I was making the right choice.  My other employer has been very accepting of my diagnosis, but I have never shared my diagnosis with this employer because I haven't needed to since I have felt pretty good since working there but also because I don't trust this employer.  The overall feeling there is negative from the way they treat their employees to the way they treat the students.  So, I now have a dilemma.  Do I give my doctor's note to my employer and open myself up to them knowing about my rheumatoid arthritis or do I suck up my new idea and wear socks and shoes despite how they make my toes feel?         


  1. For me the question comes down to if they are legally responsible to adhere to the ADA or not. I believe that if they employee less then 50 employees, they may be excluded but I am not 100% sure about this anymore. State laws might also impact this as well. I would do some research to see if they are legally responsible to accommodate you and if so, then go for it. I can understand your problem with all of this. As we all know, employers can and do find ways to dismiss employees whether they have a disability or not. Good luck with whatever decision you decide to pursue.

  2. Hmm tough one! is there anyone else at your work who's had any experience with this boss and disabilities? they could maybe offer you more informed advice. sorry you're having this problem, as if we need all this extra stuff on top to worry about!

  3. The ADA is your friend. If you feel better and have less pain, this is a good option for you. And then there's that thing where it might make your boss aware of the consequences of getting super professional. Who knows... maybe one of your colleagues will need this awareness some day...

    That said, sometimes that niggling feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you not to do something is a sign you should give it some time and think about it. You have a right to be accommodated, but it's also good to feel comfortable/right about asking for it.

  4. Have you considered getting another pair of very light shoes, like the "barefoot" shoes that Merrill makes? They look like more traditional shoes--Mary Janes, etc.--but are very light, with roomy toe-boxes and good soles with arch supports. Thanks to you I recently bought a couple of pairs of Merrills, and I'm a lifetime fan, now.

    Of course, just buying another pair of shoes would be complying with the directive from your employer. There's an argument for that--it might certainly cause you less trouble in the long run, should this employer be less than understanding. On the other hand, the ADA does mean that your employer needs to make a reasonable effort to accommodate your needs.

    There's no easy answer to this one, Kathy. Like Lene, I think it comes down to your intuition regarding this employer. Sometimes it's best to protect ourselves. I wish you the best, as always, and hope that the resolution you find is the best one for you.

  5. I'm lucky; I work for a large health insurance company, so they have to adhere to the ADA. Yet it was still difficult to come clean with my new boss. None of us like to feel different, it makes us vulnerable.

    I wear my VFF with my business suits, and get lots of folks asking about them. And now there are some others who have ventured to work in their VFFs. That makes me a trail blazer!

    I hope that you can work this out with your employer, and I also echo the comments that you have to trust your gut, some employers are less than wonderful.

    Good luck!

  6. There is a difference between needing an accommodation for health and taking advantage. If you had a handicapped sticker for your car because you couldn't walk as well as everyone else, you wouldn't hesitate to use it. Listen to your body, not school politics. Otherwise, you'll need to find new shoes with a roomy toe box (which you might want to do in any case). (Just when you think you've managed all the possible obstacles, something new comes along, huh?)