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How to Navigate a Job Search When You Have a Disability

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I’m a disabled female born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a craniofacial congenital condition that causes deafness, breathing issues, tracheostomies, intellectual disabilities, and malformations to the face, skull, and body. With that said, it is not easy efficiently job-hunting your way through the workforce as an underserved, disadvantaged, minority-based candidate.

Stereotype-based stigmas view disabled people as a hindrance to the workplace because of the potential accommodations and unpredictable medical circumstances. However, I am here to testify that having a disability doesn’t always require accommodations, and being disabled is a perseverance of no other kind that depicts resilience at its finest.

People with disabilities are often contributing, productive members of society who can wear multiple hats when thriving in the workplace. People living with a disability comprehend what it means to be human and accepted for who we are, and not because of what we can or cannot do.

Ableism centers around the broken notion that disabled people are inferior to those without a medical condition. Ableism is a worldwide catastrophe that reduces equal access to education, increasing unemployment levels.

People with disabilities are now even more vulnerable answering elective Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) survey questions post-application during the job search that subjects us to automatic judgment whether we opt in or out for the survey questioning.

Many honest employers are searching to balance their workforce with various minority-based candidates. However, seeping within the corporate workforce remains toxic leaders searching for candidates they assume as less burdensome prospects to prioritize budgets over people.

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) unearthed the masses of employers suffering a loss of $15,000 – $45,000 per departed employee. These numbers are widely attributed to the generalized generational working classes, irrelevant to the disability category.

Therefore, people with disabilities, despite the reasonable accommodations that may come along with their tenure, are not what is costing companies to fall into the deficits. The Department of Labor established that employers who supported people with disabilities noticed a 90% increase in employee retention.

“A disability is already a disadvantage, but job-seeking in knowing that you need accommodations is a disadvantage of its own. This is a compounding problem: impossible to solve because of intrinsic, subconscious bias of employers in spite of some with disabilities able to produce higher quality, more disciplined work with an inherently better understanding of empathy. Hiring should be based on applicant quality and job capability alone, and never concerning one’s personal determinants,” said Zachary Weaver, disabled retired Army Staff Sergeant and Public Health student of Assuaged Foundation.

Since a young age, I have aspired to be an attorney. I didn’t take action to pursue a law degree until I started believing in my abilities to succeed, despite those who doubted me.

I grew very active in the workforce, never having an issue finding a job, and sharing my honesty and vulnerabilities with employers almost always landed me the job. During the interviewing process, I expressed myself with confidence promising to learn and get the job done, proving myself to be an asset vs. a liability.

Over time, working for fortune 100 and 500 corporations with my talents allowed me to thrive in constant promotional growth opportunities. However, often co-workers made the hyper-competitiveness environment too burdensome under discriminatory circumstances.

I had often found myself in workplace environments around people who didn’t take kindly to my team-playing attributes. I reached a point where I could no longer deal with disgruntled co-workers threatened by my talents. I was treated differently and outcasted because of my disability. Many co-workers accused me of being a “brown-noser” due to my non-stop passion for growth and cohesive work style with upper management.

Ten years ago, I dropped out of the workforce after witnessing my disabled USMC husband nearly die by suicide. I realized that I needed to uplevel my marriage and mental health. I had been addicted to smoking cigarettes, 15 daily prescription drugs, and an inept diet. Also, I had lived with alcoholism and debilitating insecurities that made me feel never good enough. A significant portion of my addictions stemmed from the childhood trauma of being bullied at school and the adulthood trauma of bullying in the workplace.

After dropping from the workforce, I enrolled in five different rehabilitation facilities, where I finally became clean and accomplished two Master’s Degrees in Psychology and Public Health. Today I’m finishing a Ph.D. and then headed to Law School at Purdue University Global. I also built two corporations to serve populations suffering from poor health and minority-based job insecurities post-graduation at Assuaged Foundation. Our corporations are self-sustaining with a remarkable team and no longer require my full-time attention.

My passion-based service allows me to leave a footprint as a leader to promote positive changes for others to emulate, continue and build on. Therefore, my newfound direction calls for me to continue my growth journey and pursue additional experience to serve people in a meaningful way by going back into the workforce.

After a decade of building fundamental job skills and impressive credentials, I am interviewing again for employers. However, I quickly learned that the process is not easy. I have realized that I’m now facing additional stigmas, such as being overqualified despite my salary flexibilities. During the job search, I inform employers that I am not motivated by monetary incentives.

After submitting 250 applications for roles I felt aligned to in one week, I have only landed three interviews. My first interview was conducted in a virtual recording environment where I had to answer 10 questions with unlimited retakes. I have no problems meeting with a panel of people or one interviewer; however, this was my first time experiencing such an impersonal encounter. I had no visual of who I was speaking to, and the entire experience was unsettling.

Not being used to the AI-driven interview, I took advantage of 30-50 retakes on the first few questions. I completed the interview gracefully, thinking that all my retakes would either make me look crazy or work in favor that I am ambitious. I didn’t attach myself to the outcome and have since been ghosted.

I would like to know if I was selected for the interview based on my skillsets vs. adhering to the EEOC requirements of equalized recruitment for the compliance-based looks and feels. Regardless, as someone with a disability, I have learned not to take things personally and to keep going strong until something sticks.

We live in an age where first impressions matter the most; therefore, as a disabled candidate, you may be at a continuous disadvantage. My best advice is to put your best foot forward regardless of the living stigmas that may hinder us from equal opportunity. Gain a credible educational background matched with practical work experience and valuable trade skills to better your chances of finding long-term employment. It is possible to find a job when you’re a valuable asset.

Originally published: April 20, 2023
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