Five Tips for Job Hunting with a Disability
By Margaret Steen
Finding a job isn't easy for anyone in this market, but for job hunters with disabilities, the search can seem especially daunting.
"There is a tendency among people to make assumptions," said Dan Ryan of the University of Buffalo, author of the Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities. Interviewers may be uncomfortable or worry that a disability in one area will carry over into others.
Ryan and other experts offer these tips for making sure a disability doesn't stand in the way of getting a job.
Keep the Focus on What You Can Do -- Not What You Can't
All job seekers must convince an interviewer that they're up to the job requirements. If you need to ask for 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."
Interviewers are always more convinced by someone who offers a detailed plan than by someone who just says, "Sure, I can do that." So explain not just that you can do the job, but how.
"Say you're required to go from Building A to Building C three or four times a day and you're sitting in a wheelchair. Explain how you will do it: 'I'll just roll my wheelchair up the ramp and do the job,'" said Gwen Ford, director of business management and program services for Project HIRED, a nonprofit in San Jose that helps people with disabilities find jobs.
Discuss Only What's Necessary About Your Disability
If you're asked to an interview on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator and you can't get up the stairs, you'll need to explain that ahead of time. But "in most circumstances, the longer you put off disclosing your disability, the better off you are," Ryan said.
If your disability is visible, it might be better to briefly acknowledge it, Ryan said -- then move quickly to how you would do the work. "What you want to do is confront it and point out the fact that it doesn't affect your ability to do the job," he says.
Show, Don't Just Tell
Point to previous jobs or -- if you don't have any -- internships or volunteer work. "Demonstrate that you can do the job," Ryan says. "It's true for everybody, but it's just that much more important" if you have a disability.
"The attitude of the job seeker has a huge impact on whether or not they get the job," Ryan says.
If you are self-conscious about your disability or feel like you don't have many job skills, try to boost your self-confidence before you interview. If you haven't held a job before, think of skills you have learned from hobbies. You'll find out that you have more skills than you ever realized, Ford said.
Many groups and Web sites offer help for workers with disabilities.
The US Department of Labor offers resources for job hunters with disabilities, including information on the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Job Accommodation Network offers advice on workplace accommodations for a wide range of disabilities.