Careers & Education

Job hunting with a disability

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man in wheelchair working at computer
You don't have to let a disability get in the way of the job you want
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Tips for job hunting with a disability and understanding your rights

With unemployment rates reaching into the double digits in some parts of the country, it can be difficult for anyone to find a job. 

But job hunters with a disability face even more challenges. Despite federal and state rules barring discrimination against applicants and employees with disabilities, bias against physically and mentally challenged people still occurs.

So what can you do to improve your odds if you're job hunting with a disability?  Here are a few tips to make the process easier, and increase your odds of getting the job you want.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Many people with disabilities believe that they are required to tell prospective employers about their condition, even if it's not visible or is unlikely to interfere with their job. 

But the fact is, there's no law mandating that you tell employers anything about your illnesses or challenges while interviewing or once hired.  Nor are employers allowed to ask or require that information unless it's required as a part of the job.  (For instance, health care workers may be required to disclose AIDS and other illnesses that could be transmitted to patients, while airline pilots must submit to a physical and reveal any disqualifying disabilities such as epilepsy.)

If You Share, Offer Options

If you decide to share information about disabilities, or if they are visible to a prospective employer, make sure you're prepared with a plan to address any limitations that might seem to interfere with job performance. 

Not only will you be ready to deal with any objections, your preparation will show employers that you're proactive in addressing potential problems -- a strength for any job.

The ADA Protects You -- Sort Of

Another common misunderstanding is that the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) prevents employers from choosing a non-disabled employee over a disabled one.  Or that it protects disabled employees from being fired, even if they cannot do their jobs. But neither is true.

What the ADA does do is to protect you as a job seeker from discrimination in hiring IF you are otherwise qualified, and your disability does not interfere with your ability to perform the job with reasonable accommodations.

A prospective employer can not, for instance, refuse to hire an otherwise qualified computer programmer simply because their wheelchair necessitates a lower desk.  But they can eliminate an assembly line candidate if vision problems make it impossible for them to accurately see the products for assembly, use the machinery safely or identify items that need to be repaired.

Employers are prevented under the ADA from adding additional requirements or rules just for disabled employees. They cannot, for example, mandate different leave requirements or require medical exams not mandated of other employees (unless the job and the nature of the disability make it necessary.)

The ADA also offers remedies for job applicants who feel that they have been the victim of unfair job discrimination because of their disability.

Be Realistic

As a nation, we hate limitations.  Nothing spurs us on more than being told we cannot do something.  But when it comes to jobs, disabled applicants, just like non-disabled applicants need to be realistic about the positions they pursue.

Before you head our for that interview, make sure you have the skills, experience and training needed for the job.  If not, take the time to improve your skills in your chosen field before you apply. It might mean waiting a bit longer, but that "You're hired" will be worth every minute of your preparation.

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