Whether beginning your first job search or re-entering the work force with new skills and direction, you are navigating the exciting, and often challenging, employment marketplace. Finding a career that matches your skills and interests can be an intimidating task. Pursuing this goal can become more complex when disability is added to the equation. This does not have to be the case if you know what tools are available and how to leverage them to your advantage. During my time managing the College Partnership Program and virtual career fairs at Bender Consulting Services, a company specializing in recruiting and hiring people with disabilities for competitive jobs in information technology, finance, accounting, human resources, engineering, and other business fields, I have learned some best practices that have been helpful to candidates and in my own professional development as a person with a disability. I am excited to share some of those techniques with you.
Affirmative Action for People with Disabilities
This is a historic time in the community of people with disabilities. In 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 25th Anniversary. The ADA is considered landmark civil rights legislation for people with disabilities, impacting areas such as employment, state and local governments, and public accommodations. In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) broadened the definition of disability. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued its Final Rule for implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Final Rule established a 7% utilization goal across all job groups for employers, and across the entire workforce for companies with 100 or fewer employees. Each of these milestones placed renewed focus on the employment of people with disabilities.
Skilled professionals with disabilities are in demand like never before. Companies serving the federal government are tasked to fill open positions with talented professionals with disabilities to comply with the law. The government is engaged to lead by example in this effort by becoming an employer of choice for people with disabilities. Make these regulations and strategies work for you!
Self-Identification, Disclosure, and Accommodation
Section 503 now gives employees the opportunity to self-identify as a person with a disability pre-or post-offer. Self-identification of disability status may give candidates a competitive advantage with employers seeking diversity. Differentiating between self-identification and disclosure, and knowing when and how to address these processes is critical.
Disclosure involves more specific information than self-identification. For example, candidates may need to request reasonable accommodation during the interview or on the job. Some degree of disclosing a disability may be necessary during the accommodation process, depending on the nature of the accommodation. If an accommodation is needed to complete the application or interview process, advanced notice is recommended. Decisions about when and if to self-identify, or how to disclose specific disability information, is a personal one, made after considering all factors. Knowing your options and being empowered in your choices maximizes these tools.
Marketing Your Skills
Learn how to market yourself as a candidate with a disability. In addition to your educational background and professional expertise, you have experiences with innovative problem solving, advanced planning, patience, perseverance, and diversity of thought that are often inherent to candidates with disabilities. Highlight the positive attributes that you bring to the employer. Below are resources that candidates have found useful in their career searches. The Bender, motto is “Competitive Jobs Mean Freedom.”™ I wish you every success as you pursue freedom through competitive employment.
Vocational Rehabilitation Offices (State specific)