I’m one of the lucky people with a disability in Australia- I have a job.
People with disabilities in Australia are 30% less likely to have a job than people without disabilities. When we are employed, we are usually under-employed. In addition, 45% of us live in or near poverty.
I spoke at a careers forum this week for university students with disabilities. I shared my story, and some of the wisdom I have gained about employment. In this blog, I will share it with you.
What are the lessons I have learned? Following the Buzzfeed model, here are my Ten Top Tips for getting a job as a person with a disability.
One, it will be harder for you to get a job than your peers without disabilities. That’s the reality, supported by the statistics. So suck it up. And as Sara Henderson famously said – don’t wait to see the light at the end of the tunnel – get down there and turn the bloody thing on yourself. Your opportunities are in your hands. Be proactive, and keep being proactive.
Two, think hard about whether or not you disclose your disability. It’s a bit hard for me not to disclose mine when I walk into a job interview with my guide dog. But some people with hidden disabilities have that option. I learned quickly that when I disclosed my disability during a phone conversation with an employer, that was usually the last interaction I had with them. So I just turned up, and surprised them at the interview.
If you have a mobility disability, and need an accessible venue for the interview, that may be more of a challenge than you are prepared to give an employer. On the other hand, it may put you in a stronger negotiating position.
Your only legal obligation to disclose is if your disability means that you cannot carry out the inherent requirements of the job. Don’t be told otherwise. And don’t accept the employer argument that you somehow misled them by not disclosing. In the same way that no employer can require you to disclose your sexual orientation, no employer can require you to disclose your disability, or punish you for not doing so.
But there may be benefits in disclosing. Some employers are now running programmes to encourage employment of people with disabilities. So disclosing may get you into jobs with those employers. Of course, if employers have a more disability-friendly workplace then you are more likely to disclose (Westpac and Woolworths) And you may feel that if you disclose your disability it may be easier to negotiate those reasonable adjustments you may need.
In essence, the answer to the disclosure question is – it depends – on you, and on your view of the employer.
Three, prepare for each job application, and send an individually written letter which indicates you have done so. You may have a standard CV, but your cover letter should always be written for each application. As a person with a disability, you have to follow the Baden Powell principle and be better prepared.
Four, research the job with a disability focus. Be in a position to point out to recruitment agencies that there is a specific stream for people with disabilities into which you would fall. Getting past the mass-production recruitment process is often the biggest hurdle you will face.
Five, if you do disclose, be up-front at the interview about your disability and any reasonable adjustments. If employers don’t ask you about your disability – and many won’t – be prepared at the end of the interview to talk about the disability, and how you will do the job for which you have applied. Give them all the material they need to make an informed – rather than an uninformed – decision.
Six, research some successful people with the same disability as you. If they are working in the same profession as you even better. Get some stories or youtube clips about them, and show them during discussions with employers. It’s all about challenging assumptions.
Seven, be prepared to do some voluntary work, internship, or “stepping into” programmes. If you can’t get the job you want, or for which you are qualified, take a lower level job and work your way up. The biggest challenge we face is that people can’t see how we can do the job. Showing them may just get you over the line.
Eight, find a good mentor. Someone with a similar disability to yours, who has been successful in employment, would be great. Peer support is always valuable. You don’t have to follow their advice, but you can always learn from sharing experiences.
Nine, make sure that you understand the Australian Employment Assistance fund process, and how that might be relevant for reasonable adjustments for you. Work with the employer to make this happen. If there is a problem, own it. That is a great approach to show to employers.
Ten, always dress up, not down. People with disabilities are generally viewed more negatively than others, and these visual judgements are often made in the first few seconds of the interview. So compensate by strutting your stuff.
Please let me know if these tips are helpful, and share the news of your success when you get a job. One of the ways we, as people with disabilities, will get more jobs is if the conversation about us getting jobs increases.
(Graeme Innes qualified as a lawyer, and then spent a year attending thirty job interviews without success. He took a job as a clerical assistant in the public service, and recently ended a nine year term as a Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.)