Acquiring employment stands a tall task. Add a disability to the mix and the challenges increase. Fear not, though! Hidden behind the frustration you may feel, exists hope. An optimism you possess control over. Get ready to learn about the role you, the candidate seeking work, play in disability employment!
First, before you and I delve into the important role you play in disability employment, let me thank thanksben.com. A United Kingdom (UK) based company, Thanks Ben describe themselves on their website as an, “all-in one platform for any company to personalise benefits and reward.” In 2022 the Thanks Ben staff researched credible resources like the UK government’s recent Family Resources Survey, respected charity Scope, and more to develop “The definitive guide to disability inclusion in the workplace.”
Naturally this definitive guide covers disability employment in the UK. However, upon review I thought the information would prove relevant to Americans with disabilities too. Obviously, statistics mentioned will not apply to the United States (U.S.). Plus, the governing document referenced, the Equality Act 2010, differs from what we have in the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although, in my amateur legal opinion, the two seem similar.
Again, to emphasize, I am no legal professional! Rather my professional experience comes from working at public libraries. Making up the Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent side to my Cerebral Palsy (CP) Vigilante persona. Through my years working at public libraries certain insights shared in Thanks Ben’s disability inclusion in the workplace guide resonated with me. Altogether setting the stage for this blog post exploring the important role you play in disability employment.
Thanks Ben’s disability inclusion in the workplace guide reinforced a personal belief of mine. Be transparent! Said reinforcement comes under the “Supporting disabled employees” section. The guide highlights, “47% of respondents to Disability Rights UK’s survey noted that it would be helpful if candidates were more open about their disability.” Also adding, “However, as we’ve noted, it is illegal to make decisions about someone based on a protected characteristic (which includes disability).”
To repeat the previous disclaimer, statistics do not apply to the United States and the laws governing disability employment differ between the U.S. and UK. At least with the latter, discriminating against a candidate because of a disability remains illegal. Now with those facts acknowledged, let us focus on the key concept, transparency.
Transparency matters because you enable your prospective employer to make an informed decision. For example, I recall in my original interview for an entry level job in my employer’s public library system, feeling unsure about a few tasks listed in the position’s job description. The description mentioned lifting 50 pounds, moving furniture, and shoveling snow.
During the interview, the interviewers asked me if I had any questions. In the moment I launched into my inquiries. “How is the 50 pounds situated?” “What kind of furniture would I be moving?” “How much shoveling are we talking about?” I explained how my concerns stemmed from my less than stellar balance.
By being transparent, I gave my soon-to-be-employer the information they needed to go to human resources and say, “How do we make this work with him?” Upon my hire I obtained a Letter of Accommodation from my doctor and off we went.
Another element mentioned in Thanks Ben’s disability inclusion in the workplace guide which caught my attention can be found under the “Interviews” section. Speaking to employers, the guide advises, “Give every applicant and new hire the opportunity to inform them of their needs.”
In a way that happened in my already mentioned interview when the interviewers asked if I had any questions. Sometimes though, the interviewer does not present that direct opportunity. Here enters your place to take control and become opportunistic.
Heading into my interview for the position I currently hold in my public library system, I had one worry. Amongst the requirements for the job was listed, “A valid driver’s license, reliable personal transportation and in-force automobile insurance in order to travel between branches.”
Throughout the interview, I looked for the opportunity to be transparent and bring this issue up. Yet I failed to find one. Therefore, I needed to get opportunistic. At the end of the interview, I had the chance to offer final comments. I used this time to pinpoint the requirement listed in the job posting and disclose that I do not drive. I have reliable transportation, but once I am at the branch, I would not be able to go to another one.
Whatever concerns you, find the opportunity to address it. Such action shows you are proactive. A quality I am guessing most employers would like. So, become opportunistic!
Now to this point our discussion has focused on the job interview. However, being hired only starts the inclusion process. Next comes creating a welcoming workplace atmosphere. A place where you feel comfortable, respected, and valued.
The Thanks Ben team addresses one aspect to this under the header, “Change the language you use.” There the definitive guide advises, “There’s never going to be a universal agreement on what’s right and what’s not. The disabled community may have differing views on some terms. Always ask a disabled employee what they prefer…”
While sound advice, I caution against getting too wrapped up in language. Otherwise, you could end up like this Michael Giangreco comic illustrated by Kevin Ruelle.
The above comic. from Absurdities and Realities of Special Education, depicts two individuals talking, one seated in a wheelchair. The one not in the wheelchair asks, “So what do you prefer to be called? Handicapped? Disabled? Or physically challenged?” The individual in the wheelchair replies, “‘Joe’ would be fine.” Michael Giangreco then summarizes the illustration perfectly with his caption, “The most appropriate label is usually the one people’s parents have given them.” Rather than losing yourself in language, I recommend focusing on attitude.
With regards to disability employment, this means showing patience and understanding with co-workers and management. Before reacting, ask yourself, “What intention did my co-worker have with that comment?”
To give a real-life example, I had a curious colleague once ask me about my CP by using the words, “your disease.” Quick background, I would describe my relationship with this coworker as “friendly.” Making the comment conversational and not abrupt. Back to the main point, I dislike the term “disease” to describe cerebral palsy because disease makes me think contagious. Thus describing CP as a disease invertedly feeds the misconception that you could catch the condition. As opposed to flaring up into a rage, I let the comment go. After all, getting mad at someone for what they do not know feels impractical. Now had I felt the comment might become a re-occurring issue, I would have spoken up and kindly explained my preference to my colleague.
Time to Embrace Your Role in Disability Employment
Between what I spotlighted from Thanks Ben’s definitive guide to disability inclusion in the workplace and my personal insights, I hope you feel ready to embrace your role in disability employment. Be transparent, so your prospective employer can determine how to accommodate you. This might involve you needing to become opportunistic in your interview to address your concerns with the job description.
Then once hired, do your part to create a welcoming atmosphere by keeping attitude in mind. If a coworker makes a jarring comment, before reacting, ask yourself “What intention did my co-worker have with that comment?” Respond accordingly.
Or, at least that remains my advice. Please share your experiences related to disability employment in the “Comments” below.
Until next time, remember. Don’t blend in. Blend out!