by Teri Fritsma
Are you working with a disability? Check out these 8 tips to make your job search and work life easier.
Know the laws that protect your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (and here in Minnesota, the Minnesota Human Rights Act) are the major pieces of legislation that protect individuals with disabilities. What do these laws say? In terms of employment, the laws prohibit discrimination in recruitment, hiring, firing, pay, training, job assignments, promotions, benefits, and leave, and “all other employment related activities.”
Know your limitations AND your assets. If an employer is hiring, it means they have a need to fill. Any applicant (with or without a disability) should ask herself: Can I fill the need? Can I do the main parts of a job with or without reasonable accommodations? If the answer to these questions is yes, the next question to ask yourself is: what skills do I possess that fit the employer’s needs and give me an edge on the competition?
Know when to disclose your disability. It’s fine to be strategic about when you disclose your disability. For example, you need not disclose that you have a disability in a cover letter or even a follow-up call. And if your disability is not visible and doesn’t require special accommodations, it’s up to you whether you disclose it at all.
Know what employers can and can’t ask you about your disability. By law, employers aren’t allowed to ask you about the nature of your disability, but they can ask you whether and how you’ll be able to perform the job duties. The employer is also allowed to ask you to describe or even demonstrate how you’ll perform the required job duties.
Know what accommodations you need (if any) and how they work for you (and thus, how they benefit the employer). The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has a great list of reasonable accommodations that employers may be required to make for disabled workers. Examples include: making sure aisles are wide enough for wheelchair access, making sure break rooms and work stations are accessible, allowing a service animal on the premises, offering flexible work schedules to accommodate a disability, and offering additional unpaid leave in cases where the worker needs extra time off because of a disability. Note that the employer—not the employee—must cover the cost of these accommodations. This also means they can’t they deduct whatever cost they incur from your salary.
Understand that in general, if you need accommodations, you must ask for them. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation, but they aren’t required to anticipate what you’ll need. It’s your responsibility to let the employer know if you need them to provide an accommodation. Also, you might consider asking to see the workspace ahead of time so that you can determine what your needs will be. This also shows initiative on your part.
Understand that the law does not require an employer to hire you over an equally qualified candidate. If you and another candidate have comparable qualifications, the ADA does not require the employer to hire you over them. This simply underscores the point that people with disabilities must be prepared to use all the usual job-hunting strategies: a solid resume and cover letter, excellent interviewing skills, a good network, and a “personal brand” or simply, an awareness and good communication of your strengths.
Know where to find more resources. You can start with ISEEK’s list of resources for people with disabilities, which includes links to Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the Extended Employment program, and more. You should also be aware of resources such as the WorkForce Center system where you’ll find access to computers to do research, counselors and a lot of great classes. Finally, if you feel you are a victim of discrimination, you may want to consider talking to someone at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights or complete this online form to request information and make initial contact with someone who can help you.