Accommodating Disabilities

Accommodating Disabilities

Last week, a friend and colleague of mine went into a job interview confident and excited about a new opportunity – and she came out crestfallen and upset. She called me right after the interview to share her experience: that nearly half the conversation was spent fixated on the topic of her physical disability, with her potential employers complaining about the costs of accommodating her needs, making jokes about how the additional costs should come out of her pay.

I won’t share more about her experience, as the story is hers to tell. I will say that (aside from breaking the law) the employer made a major mistake, and I don’t just believe that because I am feeling blustery and defensive for my friend. I say this because I know her professionally, and I have experienced her to be intelligent, talented, dedicated, loyal and creative. She makes an incredible addition to any team. But unfortunately, many teams miss out on her contribution, both thanks to overt discrimination like she faced last week, as well as the invisible discrimination she faces when people do not understand and fail to accommodate disabilities due to rigid thinking about what a workplace or work schedule ‘should’ look like.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States is more than twice the national average (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). Although there are cases where a specific job description precludes hiring someone with a specific disability – for example, if a job description requires that physical labor be performed, you must hire someone capable of performing the physical task – I am curious to know how many times employers fail to take advantage of the skills and gifts of a disabled person simply due to unnecessary rigidity or downright lack of care, when with some imagination jobs could easily accommodate disabilities by:

  • Rethinking job descriptions to redistribute tasks among staff
  • Breaking a single role into two part time roles
  • Allowing people to set their own schedules, and measuring success by deliverables not by hours worked
  • Allowing people to work from home part of the time, or all the time

If you are a person who has faced discrimination due to a disability, what accommodations have employers failed to make for you, that otherwise would have enabled you to accept or keep a position? What would you have brought to the team if only that employer would have invested in you? Share your experience in the comments!


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