Tips for Job Seekers with Disabilities
My mother excelled at her job as a registered nurse until she developed a disability that rendered her unable to manage the long shifts on her feet. She was devastated and unsure of how to continue professionally. She tried a medical billing position that enabled her to sit during her shift, but working with paper instead of patients left her feeling dissatisfied.
When she noticed a job posting for a nighttime on-call hospice nurse, my mom decided to give it a try. She joked that because of her disability she never slept well anyways, so she she might as well do something productive at night. Because she visited patients in their homes, she didn’t have to spend long hours on her feet, as she would in a hospital setting. Hospice was a new concept at the time, and she became a trailblazer in the field. She helped hundreds of patients and their families find comfort and peace during difficult times. She recently retired after nearly 20 successful years.
If you are living with a disability and looking for a job that suits you, you can find your right job fit, too. You may have to try a couple things out before you identify what suits you, but the job force wants your skills and talents. I learned from watching my mom that accommodating a disability can hone skills like creativity, ingenuity, fortitude, optimism and resilience. These are qualities that every employer wants.
The ADA and the EEOC
I’m sure you’ve noticed that at the bottom of every job post every company explains that it won’t discriminate against candidates who have disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act became a law in 1990, “making it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified job applicants and employees based on their physical or mental disabilities. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees who need them because of their disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship.”
The ADA works with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which since 1965 has been enforcing regulations that aim to create a more just and fair professional climate in the U.S. The EEOC provides excellent resources that clarify your rights as an employee or an applicant as well as those of your employer or prospective employer. If you are not familiar with these materials, get acquainted in preparation for your search.
The Basics of your Search
It is not necessary to mention your disability in your cover letter or on your resume. When you are called for an interview, that is a good time to ask any accessibility questions you need to pose. Whether you need wheelchair accessibility, sign language interpretation during your job interview or other other assistance, you are protected in requesting any of these accommodations.
You are not asking for a favor when you request an accommodation. You are asking for support you deserve, so don’t feel that you have to apologize for an accommodation you need. You don’t.
The EEOC also has specific guidelines for what prospective employers are and are not allowed to ask job candidates during job interviews. So familiarize yourself with those in preparation for your interviews.
There are many helpful groups available on Facebook where you can do your research and pose your questions to experts and to other job seekers. Check out: Disability.gov and the National Council on Disability.
You might also consider looking into the Ticket to Work program, a free employment service that helps those who receive Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income Benefits. The program provides job training and placement and career counseling.
Good luck and happy searching!