There's no better opportunity to advocate for yourself and promote your abilities than through competitive employment. However, to land that great job, one has to interview successfully.
As a late-twenty something with Cerebral Palsy, I’d like to think that more often than not, my day-to-day life experiences are not nearly as different from those of my able-bodied peers as some might think. However, one area in which that is definitely not the case has been in the search for meaningful employment.
For persons with disabilities, societal misconceptions that all too often wrongly equate disability with inability mean that finding an employer with a willing and open mind can be a monumental challenge.
It is far from an impossibility, however, and disability or not, when a potential employer does come calling with an interview, it is important to be prepared and to put your best self forward. In my experience (which is admittedly far from exhaustive), there are a few basic measures which those of us with disabilities can take that go far and above the average “interview tips” in order to both improve our chances at securing a job and better protect ourselves from the discriminatory practices which are (sadly!) often deployed against disabled workers.
Know the Protections Afforded to You by the ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act is quite the exhaustive document. However, in my opinion, at least a basic knowledge of the law is essential for anyone living life with a disability, especially self-advocates. If you have not at least skimmed the entire document, I’d highly recommend it. And luckily, living in the 21st Century means that there are a number of resources available to help individuals with disabilities better understand the rights granted to them within the ADA. If by chance you do need assistance in understanding your rights, Disability Rights Florida is a great starting point.
Disability Disclosure: Per the ADA, persons with disabilities are not required to disclose those challenges to potential employers. However, especially for those of us with more visible disabilities, the question of whether or not to do so is always a tough one. Opinions on the subject are bound to vary. But, in my experience, it is best not to initially disclose, unless it is obvious from the outset that your experiences as a person with a disability are pertinent. Read my FSACentral colleague Megan Atkinson's article for more on disclosure.
Emphasize the Positive Aspects of Disability to a Potential Employer: Unfortunately, for many employers, the prospect of hiring a person with a disability can be seen as a negative. However, as anyone who faces the daily challenges of life with a disability knows, if there is anything it forces you to become, it is adaptable. And adaptability is certainly a positive strength in the workplace. Take some time to inventory all of the ways in which disability gives you a unique set of assets, and how you might best communicate that in an interview situation. Where employers may be somewhat reluctant to see the ability in disability, if you can concretely frame your life experiences as such, there is an increased chance that they just might come around to your way of thinking.
Practice for Your Interview Beforehand: Interviews can be stressful! A fact that can be even more true for interviewees with disabilities. Enlisting the help of a trusted friend or family member in conducting a mock interview can allow you to gain a level of confidence and comfort that will (hopefully!) help to ease some of the natural jitters that are present in a true interview situation.
Do Your Research: Disability or not, it is important to know something about the job that you are applying for. The internet provides us with unprecedented opportunities to research companies and read reviews of employees who work or have worked there.
Know Your Worth: Above all, know your worth as a person and employee. Don’t settle for less than you should due to the fact that you are a worker with a disability.
Those are a few of my best interview tips. Feel free to share some of your own!