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When a Job Application Asks If I Have a Disability

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As my current job search wears on, I am faced with a never-ending array of job applications and personality tests. I hope in vain that they don’t get lost in cyberspace and will get picked up by an actual human being who will take the time to read them.

I type and type, pecking at the keyboard to enter the same information I put down the last 30-plus times on yet another form. Then come the survey questions:

What is your sex?

Are you 18 or older?

What is your race/ethnicity?

Are you a veteran?

And then I come to the next one, and suddenly it feels like I’m face to face with Wayne Brady on “Let’s Make A Deal,” my destiny determined by one answer.

The Disability Status Question. It’s worded in many ways, or sometimes it’s skipped over altogether. But that question could very well be the deal breaker between a callback for an interview, or another rejection letter.

There are many outcomes that can come out of how I answer. This particular app has a disclosure saying they won’t use it against you, but given the prevalence of disability discrimination in employment, I don’t want to take the chance.

If I answered “Yes, I have a disability,” it could very well lead to an instant throw-away of my application, as I have seen many times in the past. Disability stigma is very fresh in people’s minds. The Americans With Disabilities Act is only 26 years old. Despite a strong movement for basic civil rights and opportunities, plenty of employers are still afraid of the unknown. Many are worried about their image of the company or believe people with disabilities are a liability, a risk nobody wants to take on. Can the legally blind girl count money? What about that guy in the wheelchair, can he operate a box cutter safely? And how will customers react to a deaf barista?

These fears and more limit opportunities for disabled people to grow beyond what society deems acceptable employment. Some employers may use us as a tax write-off, where others might see hiring as a way to earn kudo points with the community. Those are the wrong reasons to hire somebody with a disability. Whatever happened to going by abilities first?

If I answer “No, I do not have a disability” – I am fortunate enough to be able to hide my disability to a point. Aside from my thick glasses, you can’t really tell. But when you factor in fluorescent lighting or extremely small print, that’s when it becomes apparent that I might need a little help. I can only hide it for so long until someone will notice. Hiding my disability would just lead to more problems, and could potentially lead to termination if my needs aren’t disclosed.

If I say “I prefer not to answer,” the same scenario above will play out the same way. To a potential interviewer or hiring manager, seeing this answer could raise red flags as to whether or not the candidate is truthful. This could cause them to throw the whole application out.

Potential employers have a fear of what they don’t know, and in some ways, I can’t say I blame them. You don’t know what a person is capable of until you see them in action — and the only way to see someone in action is to hire them. What company is going to invest in training an employee for something they think they might not be able to do?

But on the other hand, shouldn’t you be worried about the able-bodied candidates as well? If you think about it hard enough, everybody is a liability upon hiring. I can’t tell you how many trainees in my previous job were transferred or sent home because they couldn’t learn the computer systems — not because they were disabled, they weren’t — but because they simply weren’t tech-savvy.

These particular set of doors in this game called life are ones nobody should have to fear, employer or potential employee included.

You would think 26 years would have been enough to see adequate progress, but I believe more needs to be done so everyone can have an opportunity to work without fear of disclosing a disability.

Which door will you choose? How would you answer this question? And what do you believe the result might be?

There’s only one way to find out.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.


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