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In the July  2, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we get a reality check about disabled job seekers.

Question

disabledI worked in publishing, graphic design and general computer consulting when my spine was injured severely in an automobile accident. During four years of recovery, I completed a lot of education and became proficient in web development and programming. Finally, I returned to the work world as a network and computing coordinator for a local college. I was re-injured on the job and since my sixth surgery (anterior spinal fusion) I have been unable to return to work. I would have to work from home.

While I get countless headhunter calls and e-mails regarding employment, I have been afraid to accept an interview. I am confident that I would be a valuable telecommuting employee, but I am somewhat embarrassed by my disability and I fear rejection.

What is the climate like for telecommuting webmasters? Do you think it would be worthwhile for me to attempt to get a job? I have been putting all my efforts towards entrepreneurship. Your advice, comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your help.

Nick’s Reply

I have no special expertise in helping a disabled person land a job, and I don’t think there’s any special method or strategy to make it happen. (I use the word “disabled” advisedly, knowing many prefer other terms, because the federal government uses it.) There are of course resources you can turn to, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Perhaps more helpful are  the many lists of “friendly” employers, including Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion, published by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

Disabled? Try the equalizer.

Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

World Health Organization

I have taught job-hunting methods to all kinds of people, from high school students to financial executives to soldiers in transition to women and minorities. I teach them all the same thing: How to show a manager that if you’re hired you will contribute to the bottom line. That’s what matters most to any successful enterprise, and I encourage you to make it the cornerstone of your job search, even if it’s from a wheelchair or from your telecommuting station in your home.

Every kind of group and every individual encounters obstacles — some of them onerous. Discrimination and bias are among the worst obstacles because they’re founded on ignorance. But even some of the most ignorant, biased managers in the world will cock their heads and listen if someone approaches a job with a mini-business plan that suggests, if they’re hired, how they’ll improve the bottom line. (Please see You can’t CLICK to change careers.)

I believe that’s the equalizer. Seemingly biased employers suddenly turn out to be friendly and welcoming when dollar signs appear where they once saw only something they didn’t understand. You must decide whether to engage with such people, and whether to make the effort to educate them.

Of course, some bigots and idiots will never abide a person they’re biased against. Perhaps the main way to deal with that is to sue them. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time. I just don’t believe in trying to work with jerks, or being frustrated by employers who aren’t worth it. But I’ll repeat: If you feel strongly about it, sue them.

Call for insight and advice

Please do not let fears about how people will react to your disability keep you out of the job market. What matters is that you’re good at your work. With that in mind, you should not be embarrassed about anything.

There are companies that will hire you because you can produce, not because you can walk. (Some companies might hire you to fulfill their equal opportunity hiring requirements. As long as you’re productive and they value your work, accept the advantage.)

I’d like to invite other Ask The Headhunter readers to offer insights, advice and any specific suggestions they have about your challenge, especially if they’ve been in your situation or if they’re managers that have hired disabled employees. Their insights will be more valuable than mine.

Disabled or TAB?

But the main reason I decided to publish this Q&A is not to dole out my advice. It’s to address the perceptions that interfere with an employer’s ability to hire people who can do the job — disabled or not. I learned this lesson long ago, and I think my experience might be a good lesson for any employer.

Years ago I was at a conference held by Apple, concerning how personal computers could be modified to suit disabled users. There were a few disabled people in the room. One guy was in a wheelchair, dressed in biker garb, and he was clearly militant about it. After listening to us work our jaws about all our great ideas, he piped in.

“You keep referring to me and others as ‘disabled’ and ‘handicapped’. Do you know what I call all of you?”

Everyone cringed during the long silence.

“You’re all T.A.B.s. Know what that stands for? Temporarily Able-Bodied.”

It started to sink in as he went on chiding us.

“At some point, whether you get hit by a car or just get old, you won’t be able-bodied any more. So it isn’t a question of being different from me. It’s a question of when that temporary status of yours will end. Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?”

Since then, I’ve never looked at anyone with a disability the same way. It not only altered my attitude; the biker’s reminder made me realize that I had an unwarranted attitude about myself. I’m a TAB. All of the rest of us are. So get real.

There is no question about it

You asked whether I think it would be worthwhile for you to attempt getting a job. Absolutely. There is no question about it — unless, of course, you decide to start your own business and hire yourself!

  • Don’t be afraid. Focus on what what an employer can’t do that you can. (Substitute customer or client for employer, if you’re going to start a business. It’s the same challenge!)
  • Be ready to show how you’ll do the job for the employer’s benefit, whether you’ll do it sitting, standing or lying down.
  • Don’t be embarrassed that you lack an ability today that the hiring manager will lose at some point, too. If you have to explain TABs to a manager, smile and do it!
  • Don’t make it easy for employers to ignore you. Show them how you can make them more profitable.

If you can do that, some of them will let you work from home, and they won’t worry about how well or how fast you can move around – as long as you can deliver the expected work.

Get past rejection

Bear in mind that many companies won’t let you – or anyone else – work from home. Telecommuting still isn’t as popular as we’d like. But, don’t take that personally. Keep looking for companies that want your production rather than your presence. (Learn all about Getting in the door.) But just like I accept the fact that I’m a TAB, you must accept that you will be rejected most of the time, just like every job-seeking TAB — even when it has nothing to do with your disability.

Whether you want a job as a webmaster or want to run your own business, go for it. The key is to take responsibility for showing how your work will profit someone else.

How would you advise a disabled job seeker about getting a job? Like I said, I’m not the expert. If you or someone you know has faced this challenge successfully, please share your experience and advice! Advice from TABs is welcome, too — we’re not biased against anyone around here, especially if their comments are profitable to us!

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18 Comments
  1. I would suggest the federal government as a good place to look for a job. They have jobs that are open ONLY to people with disabilities. If the writer hasn’t already, check out this section of USA Jobs:

    https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/working-in-government/unique-hiring-paths/individuals-with-disabilities/

  2. If the job seeker decides to go the entrepreneurial route, I can recommend a specific market to target.

    I’m an independent science fiction and fantasy author. I work with independent editors, cover designers, and others to produce my books. The one thing we all have in common is we all need websites to operate our businesses. I have online friends and colleagues who desperately need the expertise of someone with webmaster skills and a design background to help them figure out how to sell their books, artwork, and/or services online. None of us would even think to ask if the job seeker is disabled, because (A) we don’t care, as long as the work gets done on time for the agreed price, and (B) quite a few of us are disabled, too—that’s how we ended up working for ourselves.

    • @Carol: That’s a nice, specific suggestion with a ready market! Thanks!

    • @Carol Van Nutta

      I’d love to hear more about that market. Is there a forum or slack group or whatsapp where I could reach them?

      If the other gentlemen is going the job route, I could possibly help,thia seems like a good side gig at least.

      • @Craigstet

        My knowledge is limited to the authors/editors/designers who hang out on Facebook, and more specifically, mostly related to the genres in which I write (space opera and paranormal romance). There may well be forms, slack, or whatsapp groups, but I’m not familiar with those platforms and don’t know where to start with them. Most of my indie author colleagues are on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where we connect with our readers.

        Indie authors range from the newbies with 1 book out to people with 50+ books in their backlist, and at varying levels of comfort with business aspects, including websites, marketing, etc. If you were wanting to provide website services, the best approach would be to look at a bunch of author websites to see what works and what doesn’t, so you can provide better recommendations to your customers. Same with editor websites and with cover designer websites. You could especially look at the people who started out with Wix or other CMS-style services and are now wanting to transition to their own self-hosted WordPress site; I see that question come up regularly.

        If you want to discuss other aspects of this market, feel free to click on my website link for this comment and hit the Contact Us page to start the conversation.

        • @Carol Van Nutta

          Your approach assumes that you can see what works and what doesn’t.

          There is a significant body of work on what type of sites support the best sale. These are rarley the most popular style.

          Most website designers sell pretty websites rather than revenue generating ones.

          For instance a reduction of latency by 10ms means a 1% increase in revenue,which is why Amazon spends so much on servers.

          Plenty of sites are costing companies 100 to 1000 times that.

          >are now wanting to transition to their own self-hosted WordPress site; I see that question come up regularly.

          Huh that’s interesting,thanks.

          I will drop you an email later on.

          • @Craigster

            It’s rare for author sites to have high volume in selling books. In most cases, selling on the website is an additional alternative to selling on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, etc. Therefore, authors won’t need high performance servers and throughput. Readers who visit author sites aren’t expecting an Amazon-like performance; they are there because they like and want to support the author.

            • @Carol Van Natta

              Ironcally it can cost more to have low performance servers, due to how cheap the cloud is,so it’s a case of poor design that causes it. If that’s irrelevant in the market, then it is harder for me to compete.

              None the less I’m interested in learning more, and have dropped you a message via your contact form, using the alias on here

  3. In Michigan, we have a state organization called “Michigan Rehabilitation Service” (MRS). It is their goal to help out individuals in your situation. We also have less formal institutions that focus on helping people with disabilities whether it be coping with life, employment, or “the system.”

    I recommend looking into what your region has and tap into whatever resources you are eligible for.

  4. This person obviously has doubts and concerns that are justified but should not let these fears cloud how they approach their desire to be a productive individual. Whether this person seeks employment or opts to go the small business owner route, he/she should first do a personal SWOT analysis. Identify their Strengths, Weaknesses, determine the Opportunities available and the Trials/Tests of their profession. There are countless web designers in the marketplace so this person can reveal their unique capabilities via the personal SWOT analysis and format them to either employee status or private business owner. Not everyone has the mindset for private business ownership and this person should carefully evaluate their ability to maneuver through the marketplace requirements for small business ownership. In either case don’t dwell on the disability, this draws undue attention, which in turn creates doubt in the mind of either the prospective employer or a prospect. Build your self-confidence then attack.
    I was a TAB until hit with Sudden Cardiac Arrest that changed everything in a single heartbeat. It took me 3 years before I was able to physically and emotionally return to the marketplace. There have been issues that could not be anticipated and you simply have to adjust to them as they arise. It’s the inner struggles that are hardest to deal with.

  5. There is a site called remote.co that has many different types of remote jobs. From companies all over the world. Perhaps looking outside the US would help. We Americans are so uptight about things that other countries are not.tt

  6. My first job out of college was one where a coworker who was maybe in his 30s at the time was a software engineer and rode around in a wheelchair. I think he could not move his fingers very well, so he used a pencil to press keys on the computer keyboard.

    My undergraduate institution was Wright State University (Wright.edu) in Dayton, Ohio – birthplace of aviation. The campus was built so that disabled students could traverse the entire campus without going outside in bad weather. Consequently, we had many disabled students, staff, and faculty. This was in the 1980’s.

    Dr. Jerrold S. Petrofsky was an engineering professor at Wright State at the time. He worked with electrical stimulation of muscles in paralyzed patients. He is now at Loma Linda University in California. A made for TV movie about his work called “First Steps” was about a paralyzed student named Nan Davis who walked up to get her diploma at Wright State – she had been paralyzed in an auto accident just after she graduated from high school.

    • It looks like Dr. Petrofsky May be retired by now.

  7. Nick, great response and story to remind all “abled” people that all it takes is one fall, one drunk driver, one slipped disc, one psycho advisor, or you name it to limit our physical and/or mental abilities. For me, it’s been both physical and mental, due to several unfortunate events. I still managed to complete my PhD, gain a high-level job using my skills, and prove many people who dismissed my abilities wrong. I highly encourage this letter writer to follow the advice to look into ALL resources for differently-abled job seekers, and to never, ever feel shame or self doubt because our culture holds moronic, outdated, unacceptable prejudices regarding difference. Seek out friends with differences, get militant, fight back, use the skills you have developed to help others. Sending strength, hope, and confidence their way.

    • @Itinerant Researcher: Thanks for the first-hand advice! It took that militant biker in the Q&A to wake me up.

  8. http://www.virtualvocations.com is a curated website that only shows remote virtual positions. Many of the positions are part time. However, there are full time positions for people with programming skills.

  9. It’s good that you’ve chosen a field in which telecommuting is widespread and generally accepted. Even better, developers have led the way in that evolution. Still better, many work on long term projects in which progress milestones routinely validate an individual’s productivity and success.

    I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know if there is a disclosure requirement, but if it were up to me I wouldn’t tell a potential employer about my physical capabilities unless they were directly relevant to the position. I’ve hired many people who work from home, and have to admit I have no idea if any of them are wheelchair-bound.

    The idea that an employer may find out you’re not able-bodied only after you’ve established yourself as a valuable contributor strikes me as a pretty cool way to expand people’s thinking. Kind of like a person of color who aces their phone interviews, only to meet with shocked expressions when they show up for a face-to-face.

    They didn’t “sound black.” You don’t “sound disabled” or “work disabled” (whatever that is). And so what? From my vantage point, which is admittedly that of an outsider, that’s a good way to open people’s eyes.

  10. Nick

    Thanks for your advice to your disabled client.

    This gentleman should consider his disability like being bald or having a big nose. His disability must not be left up to an employer to determine if it will hinder work. In fact it maybe an advantage for the employer to hire him from his home (no cost for physical accommodations, per ADA). He may want to ask for lesser pay to continue qualifying for public benefits. He should also be ready to reject working for jerks who would hire him to take advantages of his hiring. He should be aware that there are many disabled who do not have his drive to struggle to find a productive means to live. And there are disabilities that cannot do any work altogether.

    While his daily challenges are great, he is still blessed more then many. If I were an employer, I would consider hiring a physically disabled person before anyone else with the same qualifications, just for the role models they are. Foremost, he must not exclude refusing the job if he is not satisfied with the environment in it or with that hiring jerk who never returned your calls. He should move on searching for other possibilities elsewhere, creatively. He also should consider his own priorities to attend to that keep him productive and enabled.

    Just show up with a smile, a nice greeting or teach a colleague some tricks you know. Being social and friendly goes a long way, too.

    I have two disabled adult sons who are totally disabled on wheelchairs. They cannot do much physical work, but they certainly can still operate a computer, volunteer in civil society or for their school or even for any employer. Their spirit & their drive can motivate an employer to hire them as role models to others or hire them for other jobs they maybe qualified to do, if that employer were really an entrepreneur. In today’s political environment, he may have to work part time then use the rest of the day advocating for himself or others with health insurance Medicaid or Medicare (one way or other) whose rules are difficult to navigate.

    It’s such a beautiful world around us when we are humble, positive and bear those who can never think in our shoes. I maybe disabled with an allergy or with diabetes. Same thing. These will not stand in the way of any work I am capable of performing. How I think of myself is the way others perceive me. So, study the employer before you approach. We can also never work or live alone. We need others like others need us. Bringing people together using social skills enhances the workplace and the community as a whole.

    Thanks for taking up the subject and for calling for the input of others.

    Have a Happy 4th.

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