by Charles E. Young
From the Editor: Charles Young has served as Director of the Oregon Commission for the Blind since 1979. He reports that one of the most satisfying parts of his job is working with consumers to enhance their abilities to find satisfying jobs. Here is a short article that summarizes some of the most important matters for job seekers to keep in mind:
Research indicates the greatest barrier to employment of people with significant and observable disabilities is the employer's doubts regarding the capabilities of such an employee. Employers usually have limited experience with job applicants who have significant disabilities. Therefore employers are often ignorant of the capabilities of this population. Take a moment to imagine from the employers' perspective the concerns or barriers they might perceive regarding hiring someone who has such a disability. If you imagine the concerns of employers, you can learn how to bring up and address these concerns in a job interview. Otherwise these concerns will become barriers to employment.
In order to identify the most common stereotypes and concerns that employers have, you may want to brainstorm with vocational rehabilitation professionals, employers, and employed friends. Consumer groups of persons with disabilities, the library, and the Internet might also offer additional information about employers' concerns. Here are examples of some common employer concerns:
* How would a disabled person get to work?
* Will insurance rates increase?
* Will a disabled person get along with co-workers?
Once you have identified possible employer concerns, you then need to develop a strategy for dealing with them in a job interview. The key is to extinguish or resolve these concerns by using positive means to bring up and answer the hidden questions that employers don't know how or are afraid to ask.
Describe to the interviewer the ways a disability has provided many opportunities to develop alternative effective ways of dealing with situations or people. Always close with a sentence that will refocus the discussion on your job qualifications.
Practice these strategies with friends or employment mentors to determine how successfully you resolved perceived concerns. The use of humor often helps. The following are two examples of how to address common (blindness and low vision) disabilities in positive ways to overcome employer concerns:
Blindness--"Growing up as a blind person has enabled me to perfect great organization and communications skills such as using the public transit system to be punctual, coordinating class schedules, and supervising readers to ensure that I could access and use materials to become a top student; but most of all I've honed my listening skills to be sensitive to the needs of others. This has enabled me to develop great friendships. Combined with my knowledge of computers, these skills make me exceptionally qualified for this job."
Low vision--"My visual condition has enabled me to problem solve ways of enlarging print using inexpensive and simple magnification devices: I've mastered our city's transit system to be prompt. Most important, I'm always aware of details which help me avoid mistakes. I'm continuously anticipating problems, devising solutions so I can get the job done. This, coupled with the work experience I received from volunteering and my love of working with people, makes me exceptionally qualified for this position."
Here are some points to keep in mind when developing a response or turning perceived weaknesses into strengths:
1. The statement must be true.
2. The statement must sound natural and be in the person's own words.
3. In our culture you need to look the employer in the eye (even if you can't see him or her) when addressing difficult issues. Looking away or down sends a message that the statement is not entirely true.
4. Demonstrate or explain disability-related accommodations in a way that uninformed employers can understand.
If you put yourself in the employer's position and understand his or her concerns, you'll understand how difficult it might be for someone to risk hiring you if these questions remain unanswered. The best way to resolve these issues and to reduce the employer's perceived risks is to take control of the situation by dealing with these hidden questions. Take the initiative to explain your disability in the most positive terms. When you anticipate employer fears, concerns, or unanswered questions by providing relevant information, you establish your credibility and increase your chances of being hired.