Career Corner: Get hired regardless of physical disability

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 just 17.1 percent of people with a disability were employed. Among them, one third worked part time rather than full time.

Career counselor April McHugh: Find your strengths and be exceptional in those areas.
Career counselor April McHugh: Find your strengths and be exceptional in those areas.

Those figures may seem daunting, but experts offer many strategies for job seekers who have physical disabilities. To start, figure out your strengths, and be exceptional in those areas.

Jim Hasse is an accredited business communicator, global career development facilitator, and a leader in disability employment issues. He also has cerebral palsy.

“I talk and walk with difficulty—but I am an outstanding people manager,” says Hasse. “So, during a 24-year span, I attracted some of the most accomplished individuals in corporate communications by offering them the opportunity to gain recognition for tasks that I could not do as well, while I stayed in the background. We all succeeded.”

Many physical disabilities are not immediately visible, so job-seekers wonder when they should acknowledge their disability.

Jim Hasse
Jim Hasse is a disability-at-work expert who helps people navigate their job search.

Success from the start

Hasse encourages setting yourself up for success from the start. When your disability is evident, it’s important to get clear, upfront agreement on the accommodations you may need for completing the application and engaging with people during the selection process.

He also urges job seekers to disclose a physical disability at the onset. In fact, he advises highlighting it as a competitive advantage.

In your cover letter or follow-conversations, help the employer understand how your experiences match their needs. What problems have you solved that are relevant to the employer’s goals? Did you learn complicated terminology, use new technology, create communities, or work on a project in support of a cause (perhaps related to your disability)? How does your experience with your disability make you a great employee?

Hasse notes the value of professional career management tools, such as LinkedIn. These tools can help applicants gain an understanding of an employer’s true commitment to inclusion. LinkedIn and other social networks can also provide direct connections to individuals who are employed by highly inclusive employers, as well as to people affiliated with disability rights organizations and other communities of interest.

sign-language-webAs you search for potential employers, here are a few key things to look for:

  • Are the company’s mission and management philosophy clear and meaningful?
  • Do their daily business practices align with what they say?
  • How does the company promote inclusivity in their hiring practices and to their employees?
  • Does the company’s social media presence reflect their commitment to inclusivity? Do individual employees appear to echo that commitment?
  • Are their diversity values reflected in meaningful and useful information for customers or clients?

If you target your application to businesses that meet these criteria, you will be assured that hiring managers are focused on what’s really important: discovering why you’re the perfect fit for their workplace and their culture.

April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McHugh helps adults with career transitions and continuing education through individual sessions and workshops. Contact her at april.mchugh@wisc.edu.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.