What I've Learned About Finding Employment With a Disability
They say nothing in life comes easy. It’s a statement that can apply to most anyone. Everyone’s situation is different than the person next to him. However, certain parts of life are necessary to just about every individual — no matter your walk of life. We all need to make a living, regardless of circumstances. With every passing day, the competition for jobs dramatically increases. It’s a simple supply and demand equation. Go to college, go to trade school, don’t go to school at all — there are many different ways to pursue a job. The career you desire will in some way dictate the path you must take to achieve your goals and aspirations.
At 32 years of age, I’ve learned that in order to land a job of any sort, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd — but it’s detrimental to be too noticeable in some ways. This is hard enough for “normal” able-bodied individuals, let alone someone with a disability. So how is the disability community supposed to compete in such a competitive world? I’ve interviewed for a few jobs, and I know in some cases I sold myself short. There were even some jobs I didn’t bother applying for because I was afraid of how I would be perceived by the interviewer, or the company in general.
I often come across as someone who oozes confidence — and that’s mostly true. That being said, we’re all human, and sometimes all the confidence in the world goes missing when we need it most. After all, I have limitations a lot of the other candidates probably do not have. The interviewer doesn’t know me, and they don’t get paid to be sympathetic. They are there to hire the individual they deem to be the best candidate for the position. It’s all about protecting the business and building the bottom line. As a businessman, I understand that well. So how do I, as a disabled individual, stand out in such a way that I can even hope to be considered amidst the able-bodied competition?
I think it comes down to two things, one more important than the other. Firstly, I believe you need to know what you’re getting into, and at the very least, meet the minimum job requirements before you enter that room. You most likely won’t get the position based on sympathy, so do your homework. Do your interview prep and be knowledgeable.
I believe the second part of the equation is the most critical: be comfortable in your own shoes. Your energy will introduce you before you even speak. Give the interviewer a reason to see past the physical and dive into the intellectual side of things with you. Answer the questions truthfully, but at the same time think outside the box! If you’re like me, your entire life has been predicated or decided by your ability to adapt to different situations. Use this skill to your advantage! Make sure they know that yes, you have limitations, but you also have the ability to adapt and overcome them every day. You are more than your limitations.
I went five whole years without missing a single scheduled day of work. That is not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone with cerebral palsy. Truthfully, that’s how I stood out. Not only could I adapt and out-work the majority of the people I work with, but I also did my best not to make excuses. I showed up in rain, sleet, snow, sun, in pain or not, and did my best to not only do my job, but also support my coworkers. They say the best ability is availability. I am not the biggest, strongest or fastest, and my numbers aren’t always perfect — but more often than not, I’m in the trenches on the good days and the bad with my team.
The reward: promotions? More money? Sure, I got some of that, and that’s all well and good. But I think the biggest reward I get is the respect of my coworkers and guests that visit my place of employment every day. In some ways, that is a check I get to cash every single day.
In closing, your biggest asset is your mind! Do your best to overcome the fear of not being as good as the person next to you. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths and your experience to stand out mentally. That is probably your biggest weapon in overcoming what the rest of the world sees as a weakness. It may not always land you the job or the promotion you desire, but somewhere down the line, I believe you will get your chance, and with your chance you will get your reward. Someone will see your worth, take it and run with it. In the end your professionalism, drive, commitment and passion will more than likely not only increase your company’s value monetarily, but I’m willing to bet you will play a vital role in building workplace morale.
Stay true to yourself on the good days and the bad. Build your professional portfolio on your strengths rather than your perceived weaknesses. Money is great, but success is not always measured in dollar signs.
Getty image by DME Photography.