Tips on Working with a disABILITY
by Kathleen Fullerton Bernhard, Ph.D. author
of WORK WITH YOUR disABILITY
(for information about this book, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
On July 20, 1990
President Bush signed into law the American with Disabilities
Act (ADA) as a pivotal piece of legislation. This new law requires
changes in both business and public facilities. Some of these
changes are physical and cost money; others involve adopting
toward people with disabilities.
Three major factors
contribute to a tremendous opportunity for people with disabilities
to become permanently entrenched in the work force:
- First, the likely
possibility that the shrinking labor pool of employment-ready
personnel may create worker shortages during this decade. This
will cause employers to effectively recruit and retain qualified
employees. Since Americans with disabilities represent the largest
block of potential employees, wise employers will court this
- Second, a new
wave of young Americans educated under the Handicapped Children
Act of 1975 is graduating. This new generation will have improved
educations and high expectations for themselves after graduating
from high school and college. Thus, they will be more adaptable
to competitive jobs than previous generations of the disabled.
- Third, many
graduating students who do not have disabilities have attended
school with disabled classmates. Therefore, with the exposure,
much of the discrimination in the work force will naturally dissolve.
The 1990's offers
less job security for many, but expands and enriches job possibilities
for the disabled. You may be new to the work force or in the
middle of a career change. In either case this decade will afford
you a new job market as economic, political, and demographic
pressures close down old opportunities and open up new ones.
disclose your disability
decision to disclose your disability and when to do so may be
the single most important consideration in your job search. This
is a personal decision that has to be made for each job lead
you pursue and will be based on the nature of your disability
and your knowledge of the
this issue, ask yourself this question: If I disclose my disability,
will I be hired? If the answer is no, then don't do it. If, however,
you feel the employer will hire you and make a fair and reasonable
accommodation, then you may wish to consider how and when to
inform the employer of your disability.
Even though the
law states you do not have to reveal your disability to a prospective
employer unless it relates to the completion of essential job
functions, you may want to be open on this subject. If you are
initially candid, you may set the stage for enhanced regard by
your employer. This disclosure may be viewed as a sign of character,
strength, and confidence. How this delicate communication is
made can be crucial to your obtaining the job.
- At Referral
you are one of the lucky job seekers to get a foot in the employment
door through a referral, you don't have to worry about disclosing
your disability. The employer probably knows about your specific
limitation. It is likely the individual who made the referral
has bridged that gap before your interview. This is ideal because
during the interview both you and the employer will likely be
But most people with disabilities do not have this advantage.
The imposing question of when and how to tell employers can be
very distressing. In a fair and reasonable world, you would be
able to disclose your disability openly in your resume, cover
letter and during the interview. However, we all know there is
discrimination in the job market. Employers have biases and prejudices
they might not even be aware of. These may be carried into the
job screening process.
- On Your
your disability is reflected in your work history, education,
and life experience. Rather than trying to hide your disability,
phrase it with proactive words. Emphasize your adaptability,
flexibility, and talents in the light of your disability. Use
words that showcase your abilities. Keep in mind that you may
lose a few job opportunities or offers if you run into the inevitable
employers who are biased. But those employers are unlikely to
be fair after you are hired anyway.
If you decide to disclose your disability in your resume, do
not place it in the opening paragraph. Weave the information
into your resume in a subtle manner.
- In Your
it is to your advantage to discuss your disability openly in
a cover letter. For example, some employers specifically recruit
the disabled to meet affirmative action goals or because they
have a state or federal contract that requires hiring disabled.
Once again, as in the resume, do not start the cover letter with
details about your disability. Follow the standard format for
cover letters (see Cover Letters that Sell) and at the end of
the second paragraph, describe your strengths and your limitations.
Then continue describing how you will perform the essential functions
of the job.
- On the
employment applications may be required. Some organizations require
all job hunters to complete a standardized form. Most of the
forms have a section for disability disclosure but this is not
mandatory. You do not have to disclose your disability. You have
the option but are not required by law to discuss any aspect
of your limitation. The major drawback of disclosing at this
point in the process is that you may not have room on the form
to describe accommodations or how you overcome your limitations.
This could be a disadvantage.
Large corporations often have a standardized disclosure form
that can be completed with the general application. This is also
optional for you. Think through the advantages of disclosing
at this time and what you know about the particular corporation.
Some corporations or employers are very supportive of disabled
employees and this would be an appropriate time to disclose.
is a common reaction if a visibly disabled person walks into
an interview session and hasn't adequately prepared the prospective
employer. This shock factor can lead to mistrust and nervousness
on the part of the interviewer. If your disability is highly
visible (for example, being wheelchair bound, blind, walking
with a cane), you may wish to prepare the employer beforehand.
A wise time to inform the interview of a visible disability could
be the time when the interviewer personally calls to set-up an
appointment. Do not disclose to a secretary or office assistant
and hope the message is diplomatically relayed.
your disability is not overtly visible (for example, a learning
disability or wearing a hearing aid), you do not have to prepare
You've Been Offered the Job
people prefer to disclose after they have been offered the job
on their talents, skills, and educational background. This may
be temporarily distressful to the prospective employer but by
that time you are hired and ready to begin work. You have passed
the competition. If your disclosure changes the hiring decision
and the employer retracts the offer, you are eligible to take
legal action. The ADA does not allow this kind of discrimination.
The only drawback to waiting is the employer may be unhappy about
not knowing ahead of time and trust may be hampered.
Beginning the Job
strategy lets you shine on the job before having to disclose
a limitation. If your impairment or limitation does not impact
the initial work, this may be a solid choice. This option gives
you time to make friends with co-workers, staff, and supervisors
to strengthen your employment position.
you believe your disability will not impact the essential functions
of your job, you may not want to tell your supervisor or boss.
Smart job hunters know telling the employer can have tremendous
effect on the success of the job search. Keep in mind this is
not the time to educate an employer. You can do that after you
have worked on the job for a length of time; or you may with
never to do so. It is your choice.
is important. If you catch the employer off-guard and shock him/her
your chances of employment may be lessened. This possibility
could be diminished if you ask yourself several questions to
prepare yourself and your prospective employer:
- Am I comfortable
and confident that I can do the job tasks with my disability?
- Can I rehearse
my answers to the interview questions?
- If I disclose
my disability at this time and in this way, will I get hired?
Let's look at
these in more detail. Are you comfortable and confident that
you can do the job tasks with your disability? If you have the
skills, education, or background that the job requires, you may
feel confident about your ability to do the job. But, are you
comfortable explaining the details of your disability? Try role
playing the situation. Have a trusted friend or family member
pretend to be an interviewer with a list of questions. Then explain
to the interviewer your particular disability, and how the disability
will effect your work. Then list the benefits of hiring you.
If you are uncomfortable, try it again. With a number of rehearsals,
your comfort level will go up.
by Kathleen Fullerton Bernhard, Ph.D. author
of WORK WITH YOUR disABILITY