It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. We’re in a unique situation where we can both benefit each other. You are offering something I need – a job that will, hopefully enable me to serve your company/school/agency well while financially providing for myself and my family – and I have the qualifications that you are seeking. I also happen to be disabled (or have a disability, depending on my choice in language).
Why am I writing to you today?
Last week I discovered an anonymous rant from one of your contemporaries, bemoaning the lack of quality applicants to a job posting. Resumes that had been slapped together, unprofessional interview attire, or (my personal favourite) an applicant’s Mommy walking into the interview with them would leave anyone frustrated and lamenting the quality of prospective employees. Support was fast and furious from other frustrated people – those looking for work in an overcrowded job market, and those charged with making hiring decisions. I understand that you want qualified, professional, competent people working for your company/school/nonprofit, and you receive dozens – if not hundreds – of resumes. But I have one question before I continue: will you read this letter all the way to the end, or will you dismiss me (as many employers have before you and will again) because I don’t fit the perception of your dream candidate?
October is national Disability Employment Awareness Month. Did you know that almost 90% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed? How about more than 60% of those who are blind or visually impaired? Those are simply two groups of people with disabilities, and there are many more (even those who would never disclose them to you). It’s not because we’re not able or willing to work… it’s because perception (not disability itself) stands in our way.
Did you know that people with disabilities have markedly higher job retention rates, better attendance, and stronger safety practices than their non-disabled coworkers? Did you know that workplace accommodations are generally affordable (if not at minimal cost), and state and provincial governments may cover the costs of those that are more costly? Large corporations (Apple, Tim Hortons) have already started to include people with disabilities as part of their hiring process, both because we are qualified applicants and because we represent the communities in which they do business.
Back to the professionalism bit. I send in my nicely written and formatted resume with the education and/or work experience and/or skills that you are looking for. I pass the phone/email screening stage and get invited for an interview. I’m dressed up neatly and professionally, arrive on time, shake your hand firmly, answer all of your questions. Maybe I walk in with a cane, or roll in using a wheelchair. Maybe a service dog sits by my side, maybe I hear best with a hearing aid. Perhaps I stim, or struggle with multiple sensory input. Maybe none of these things mark me as being disabled. But that’s all you notice and fixate on. It’s like my resume – with all of that education or experience – doesn’t exist. All you can see is the eyes or legs or ears or brain that don’t work “normally.” Little matter that my resume includes years of relevant qualifications, I get asked how (if I’m lucky) or am told I can’t (if I’m not) use a computer, serve customers, carry things, sort items, dial a telephone, navigate the workplace independently. Someone I know even had a prospective employer ask her how she got dressed for the interview.
And you have a professionalism problem?
But it’s never too late to implement changes to hiring practices, to change the conversation regarding disability in the workplace. We can all benefit each other – you get a qualified employee who represents the community you serve, I have the opportunity to use my education and/or professional skills to economically benefit both your company and myself. You deserve the best, the most qualified applicants. Sometimes, that person is me. You want a professional job applicant? I’m right here! Maybe with a wheelchair, cane, or service dog, maybe without. I’d like to meet a professional interviewer and employer, who will see my documented skills and my hard-won experience for the positive traits that they are. Such employers are out there; you can be one of them. Some disabilities are obvious, others are hidden, but we all want the same things: professionalism, respect, and a fair shot. Are you up to that challenge?
Disabled Job Applicants Everywhere