By Jeff Kinney
Although it’s tough out there for almost anyone trying to find a job, the situation is especially dire for people with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, just 17.5 percent of disabled people were employed, compared to 65 percent of those without a disability. Worse, it’s been this way for pretty much as long as the government started keeping employment statistics. While there are a number of reasons for the low labor participation rate of people with disabilities – discrimination and serious life challenges chief among them – the good news is that there are lots of things you can do to improve your odds of finding a job. For example:
Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
Whether it’s fair or not, as a disabled person you’re probably facing some hurdles in persuading an interviewer that you can do everything the job requires. (Hint: don’t apply for a job if you can’t.) The good news is that under the American’s with Disabilities Act, employers must make reasonable accommodations if you require them to do a particular job. If you need an accommodation, phrase it in positive terms: “As long as I’m able to get my wheelchair in the door, I can attend the meeting.” That shows you’ve taken the initiative to form a plan for how you’re going to do the job, and pretty much every employer appreciates initiative. It also sets you up for success if you get the job.
Discuss only what’s necessary about your Spina Bifida.
Over sharing can only hurt you. In fact, you’re not obligated to mention your Spina Bifida at all, and if your limitations aren’t going to affect your job performance, it’s probably best not to. For example, Spina Bifida has absolutely no effect on my ability to sit at desk and edit news stories, which is what I did prior to being laid off. So I never mentioned my disability when applying for editing jobs, and no one ever asked. On the other hand, I also applied for reporting jobs that require going where the news is, and I had to politely explain more than once that I was up to the task. Even if you need to disclose information about your Spina Bifida, limit it to what reasonable accommodations you require and how you can get the job done with those accommodations; there’s no need to disclose your entire medical history, and doing so risks scaring off potential employers.
Know your rights.
Under the ADA, a potential employer can’t ask questions, such as how many sick days you asked for at your last position or what medications you take, that could reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer. However, they can ask about accommodations you might need for obvious and visible disabilities or disabilities that you voluntarily reveal. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website, “if the employer believes any applicant with an obvious disability will need a reasonable accommodation to do the job, it may ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how she would perform the job with or without reasonable accommodation.”
Show, don’t just tell.
If you’ve done anything in the past – paid or volunteer – that shows you can do the job you’re applying for, mention it early and often. This is obviously true for everyone, but it’s especially important if you’re disabled.
Another tip that applies to job seekers in general and disabled people in particular is to have a good attitude. If you’re hesitant about your ability to do a job or self-conscious about your disability, the interviewer will invariably pick up on that, and it’s not going to help you.
Look for any re-retaining programs for the disabled in your community.
Take advantage of any continuing education and retraining programs available locally, especially those available to people with disabilities. Contact organizations like the Americans with Disabilities National Network (https://adata.org) to find regional network centers that provide programs tailored to your specific needs.
Remember that your Spina Bifida can be an asset.
The federal government and many private employers actively seek disabled job applicants. For example, because the government wants to boost labor participation of disabled people, federal agencies can use what’s called “Schedule A hiring authority” to fast-track job applicants. Details can be found on the Office of Personnel Management’s website at (https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/disability-employment/hiring/). In a nutshell, all you need to do is get a letter from your doctor saying you’re disabled and eligible for Schedule A hiring, and submit the letter as part of your application for a federal job. Many state governments have similar programs. Moreover, companies that contract with the federal government are required to actively recruit minority job applicants, including the disabled. Bender Consulting Services (http://www.benderconsult.com) specializes in recruiting qualified disabled people for both public and private-sector employers around the country, so send them a resume to let them know you’re available.
Seek out other resources.
Every state and the federal government offer resources to help people with disabilities find jobs. Good starting points would be the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (https://www.dol.gov/odep/) and the DOL’s list of state disability employment resources (https://www.dol.gov/odep/contact/state.htm).
Sources: monster.com, disabilityjobexchange.com, money.usnews.com