I've been working for the Census Bureau for the past couple of weeks. I worked on the 1990 and 2000 Census taking, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into and didn't expect to have any major problems with the work. My biggest concern was with the three full days of training. Something about sitting in an enclosed space with twenty-some-odd other people for eight hours a day was enough to make me question the wisdom of it all. As it turned out, it really wasn't too bad.
Census workers (enumerators) are divided up into crews with a crew leader who helps with the training and to whom we have to report every day or two. When the crew leader called me a couple of weeks ago to remind me of the training days, I told him about my MCS. I suggested that I would sit at the back of the room near a door and I would need to not be too close to other people. He said he had three people in the last training session who were also sensitive so he would do what he could to make the environment safe for me.
When I got to the first day of training, the room was pretty packed with twenty-four of us and no windows. However, the room did have an outside door, which the crew leader was willing to have slightly ajar for most of the session. I initially sat at the back, but there was a man nearby with some aftershave on that was causing a problem so I moved closer to the door. The crew leader had everyone introduce themselves, so when it was my turn I briefly explained the problem of my chemical sensitivity and what they could all do to help. The crew leader expressed his support and told me to move anywhere in the room that would feel safe for me or tell him what else could be done to accommodate my needs.
During the breaks that first day I had several people ask me about chemical sensitivity. Almost everyone knew someone else with MCS, and everyone who spoke to me was sympathetic and supportive. On the second day, I could detect no fragrance on anyone. So all in all, it turned out to be a good experience and I think I was able to educate some people. What was most surprising to me was that no one questioned the validity of my illness or complained about coming fragrance free. The Census crew leader and office staff who came asked me several times if I was alright and if there was anything else they could do to help. I have since learned that the U.S. Census Bureau has a fragrance-free policy in place for their permanent offices, so perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. That kind of good surprise I'll take any day.