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