Editor’s note: Today we have another guest post from Sarah Laugtug, who is a writer, a career consultant, and the executive editor of ilivewithadisability.com.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, bringing attention to the public, the vital role people with disabilities have in the workforce. As of September 2011, just 21.1 percent of people with disabilities were employed nationally; amazingly, the unemployment rate was 16 percent–double that of people without disabilities. By being successful, hardworking employees, we can bring awareness to the public of our value to the workforce.
Being successful in your new job is important whether you have a disability or not. For people who have disabilities, however, it can be helpful to learn tools and create a plan for getting what you need on the job. Applying and interviewing for jobs for which you have the knowledge and skill set is essential, as well as being able to communicate openly with your supervisor. Achieving success also depends on knowing your accommodations, participating in educational opportunities and knowing what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against.
Knowing your abilities is a great first step in landing the perfect job. Be realistic in your abilities and goals; you know you are amazing, but if you don’t enjoy working with tools, you probably wouldn’t like being a plumber. The Department of Labor’s O*NET is an online job resource that can help you choose jobs you may be interested in based on criteria ranging from skills, interests, training, values and more. Begin your search by understanding what you want out of a job to increase your chances of success.
So, you got the job—congratulations! As with any new job, there is a big learning curve; luckily, you will be prepared. Learning how to implement skills, tools, and technology will help you succeed in your new job. According to disabled-world.com, 73 percent of employers did not need to provide an accommodation, but most who did gave employees a flexible work schedule, which is free. The key in getting what you need is to be flexible in discussing different options with your employer, including cost and practicality. By keeping an open line of communication with your employer, you appear responsible and effective. (For ideas and more detailed information on how to talk to your employer about accommodations, see the article When and How to Disclose a Disability.)
Drawing from previous work experience, envision types of job modifications you may need. Sometimes it is not so obvious until you begin your new job, but knowing where to find resources is a great first step. The Job Accommodation Network, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, is a great resource for ideas, containing information organized by both disability and accommodation type.
Educate others about disability topics
Depending on the environment and the relationship you have with your coworkers and supervisors, you may find it helpful to share information about your disability. One of the benefits of this is creating stronger relationships by educating others about disability related issues. Another benefit is to create a more comfortable environment; many times, other employees are simply curious and unfamiliar about disability issues but don’t want to appear insensitive by asking about it. You can choose to share or not, but you have the control of how much information you give.
Updating your skills keeps you current in the field, keeps the creativity alive, and increases productivity. Participating in continuing education and trainings are great ways to make personal improvements. Skill-based courses are offered through college extensions and online classrooms, including communication, problem solving, customer service, increasing personal effectiveness, and computer skills. Ask your employer if they offer any training programs, or continuing education allowances.
Know your rights and options
Unfortunately, not all employers are truly comfortable with hiring people with disabilities and therefore might discriminate without even realizing they are doing so. If you feel you have been discriminated or harassed, contact the closest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office to file a complaint or investigation. The EEOC provides mediation, as well as concrete examples of employers’ responsibilities. If you decide to pursue the claim, you need to file within 180 days of the discriminating act. The EEOC also offers an online assessment to help determine if you should file a complaint.
There may be a time where you need to take a leave of absence, whether stress-related, a recurring injury, or illness. If you feel you cannot handle your job effectively due to medical issues, you should contact HR to discuss your options. Investigate FMLA options, mental health services, and employee retraining programs. Larger companies usually offer Employee Assistance programs providing health and wellness programs, gym memberships, confidential counseling, and job retraining. Find out about the services your employer offers and take advantage of them.
Everyone has a different definition of what success means to him or her. Knowing your own definition can help guide you to your short and long-term goals. By educating yourself, communicating effectively with others, and by learning and trying new accommodation ideas, you too, can succeed with a disability on the job.