A blogging lifetime ago (read: two years) I shared about the struggle of maintaining employment while still receiving the benefits I need. But let’s say you get past the income limits and the technical barriers of finding transportation and – let’s face it – the energy to maintain a full-time job. I’ve seen a pretty large number of my friends with disabilities share their concerns they have with finding and maintaining employment and earning the same respect as their able-bodied colleagues.
These fears are founded in a very scary reality. In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment rate for people with disabilities at 10.5%, over double that of people without at only 4.6%. Many factors play into this: lack of access to education and careers is a huge one. However, there are several smaller, more manageable things that people with disabilities can do to make their job search more fruitful. I consider myself extremely lucky to work at a job I love, and truthfully wish everyone was as fortunate!
While I can’t create your dream job, I can share some of the things I did during the hiring process that I like to think helped me land the job. Some of these are disability specific, but overall I think they’re pretty good advice in general.
- Be upfront about your weaknesses
I chose to disclose my disability in my cover letter. There’s some debate in the disability community about whether this is the “right” way to do it but I (sit) by my choice. By disclosing my disability, I opened a dialogue and also demonstrated that it was not something I am ashamed of or try to minimize. Spinal Muscular Atrophy is very much a part of who I am – it has given me a skill set that I never would have otherwise developed. Addressing the elephant in the room also meant that I wasn’t going to catch the interviewers off guard when I got there. The interviewers would (ideally) have had time to process and adjust to the idea, so the interview itself could focus on more of the job-related issues.
2. Be confident
Don’t let your preconceived ideas of how the job market looks as a person with a disability affect the way you go into your interview. My mom will tell you that, as a general rule, self-confidence has never been something I lacked. A lot of this comes from the whole “fake it till you make it” technique – tried and tested. I have never let the fact that I’m in a wheelchair detract from my other skills. I may use self-deprecating humor to address it (“what’s your greatest weakness?” “I’d have to say stairs”) but my family has never let me forget that I have a lot of skills not at all impacted by my SMA.
3. Don’t volunteer more than is needed
Having been at my job for a little over a year now, things have come up that require accommodations that I hadn’t considered – because I hadn’t tried to. If you’re capable of performing the basic job functions with only reasonable accommodations then those can be addressed after you’re hired. The ADA is there to protect you…don’t bring up too many “what ifs” during your interview or in follow-up conversations. My current job may not have hired me if I had mentioned all the things I needed help with (electronic textbooks, elevator door renovations, additional handicapped door buttons, etc), but I like to think that the quality of work I do makes it worth their time.
I’m not a hiring manager, or someone who has been to hundreds of successful interviews. My word isn’t gospel, or even backed up by all that many life experiences, but I do hope that at least one of these points gives you some confidence going into your next interview. If you have any other tips, feel free to drop it in the comments!