Originally posted at INALJ on 3/22/2013.
Job hunting is nerve-wracking, but it is even more anxiety-inducing if you have a disability. There’s so many questions involved in addition to the usual ones: When should I disclose my disability? What if the interviewer asks? What jobs canI do with my disability?
First, know your rights. Second, be honest, but provide only the necessary details. Third, put a positive spin on it. There’s so much that can be written on this subject, but for this post I distilled the basics down to nine tips.
Know your rights
1. Employers are not allowed to ask people if they have a disability, or about the nature of their disability (especially if it is an obvious one). They are not allowed to require a medical exam before offering a job to you. If interviewers ask, you do not have to answer the questions. Deflect it tactfully and turn the focus back to your abilities. Cite the EEOC if you wish. (If an employer asks that question, it should raise red flags.)
2. Employers can ask whether you are able to perform the essential functions of a job. Can you lift 50 lbs on a regular basis? Can you reach the top shelf in the bookstacks? Can you sit for an extended period of time?
3. You can ask for reasonable accommodations for the interview. This could be a sign language interpreter, or a screen reader, or other type of assistance. Reasonable accommodations is a vague term, but generally speaking, employers will do what they can to help you as long as it doesn’t cost too much money or involve extensive changes to operations.
4. Even though we prattle on about accommodation and empowerment, not all jobs are suited for your particular disability. Hard of hearing persons may be able to use the phone with or without accommodations, but a job that requires extensive phone usage might not be right for them. Individuals with physical limitations may not be able to do a job that frequently involves moving heavy boxes around. Be honest with yourself about what the job requires.
5. That said, if the job can be done with reasonable accommodations, by all means, apply!
6. Honesty is good, but there is a place and time for everything. In general, an interview is not the place or time to talk about the particulars of your disability. If you’re receiving reasonable accommodations for the interview or have an obvious disability (eg, in a wheelchair), you may talk about it if you wish, but focus on your abilities and the job itself.
Put a positive spin on it
7. Phrase things positively. Instead of, “I need to use an iPad to help me with my ADD,” say, “I use my iPad to help me take notes and record things. It helps me to stay on top of all the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day.”
8. Show setbacks as opportunities. “While I was on medical leave last year from a car accident, I used that time to learn Spanish, which will help me better serve the Spanish-speaking population in this neighborhood.”
9. Have a plan for how you will accomplish work with accommodations. While this is more suited for after you get the job, but it is good to be mentally prepared to emphasize your ability to do the work. It will help you keep confident during the interview. “I understand that in a quiet environment I have to use headphones for my screen-reading software; I stay aware of my surroundings by simply using an earbud in one ear to keep my other ear open.” “I find my CapTel very useful for providing phone reference assistance.”
10. Check in with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation office (or similar organization in your area). They provide many forms of assistance to help individuals with disabilities gain and keep employment, especially if you have limited means. I was able to get a hearing aid some years ago with the NE Voc Rehab’s help when my old one bit the dust. It was absolutely critical for me so I could keep my two part time jobs and finish out my undergraduate program. There was a lot of paperwork involved, to be sure, but it was very much worth it.
United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.) “Disability discrimination.” Retrieved from: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm