Applying to Jobs with a Disability

ADAFax from the Future: So, looking back at this post is a little disheartening.

I did not get the volunteer opportunity that the post centers around. But what is really shitty is I mentioned in passing later in this post a job that I really wanted, and I also did not get that job, which was almost definitely due to my disability and the company was really shitty about it, and it was a job I was super, super perfectly qualified for. Even the person at the Career Center who was helping me with my resume/cover letter for that job, was sure it was a sure thing. It was awhile ago, but it honestly still really bugs me, a lot, because it was so blatant and unfair, probably one of the times I felt most openly discriminated against. And maybe I’m a little mad at myself for not somehow confronting the situation (though I’m not sure how I could have in a productive way), I just feel a little shitty that I “let them” get away with it. It’s exactly this repetitive experience that makes me feel so weary and unmotivated to keep trying sometimes. This one was a pretty bad one. There’s a separate post about it somewhere in here, maybe I’ll post that next.

Now, for the original post:

It’s a challenge, which is probably fairly obvious.

I go through this cycle sometimes, and it happened again today. I hear about a job, or in this case it was actually a volunteer position, and it really sparks my interest and I start thinking of all the reasons it’s perfect for me and how much I would love to do it. And I start feeling this hopefulness and excitement and like my passion has been ignited in a way, and I feel it in my heart, my gut.

And then, along with that at a very slight delay, is the maelstrom of crappy feelings, all the worry that even if I get an interview, I’ll never be picked, because of my disability, because even if I know I can do the job I won’t be able to convince the person doing the hiring that I can. They’ll have too many questions. And then there’s the fact that deep down, I have my own worries that maybe they’re right. So it starts to feel like this impossible wanting, like I really want the job or opportunity but I’ll never be chosen. It sucks.

I’ve had some weird job interviews. I usually try to at least somewhat address my visual impairment because I know they are wondering about it. My eyes move. I don’t really make eye contact. It’s not like I can hide it. It’s obvious. And if I bring it up, it usually makes the other person uncomfortable or they get quiet or a seemingly good interview seems to take a turn in the wrong direction. And sometimes I can tell that the moment the person realizes I’m visually-impaired, the door is closed. Living with something like this all your life, it gets so you can tell when a person is reacting to that, when they’re uncomfortable, when they start talking to you like you might be mentally retarded, or fifteen years younger than you are. You can tell when they don’t really believe you can do it.

It’s grueling. I hate applying for jobs (doesn’t everyone?) partly because I just don’t want to deal with people’s shitty attitudes and the uncomfortable situations and all the rejection.

The thing is, I’ve had a lot of jobs. In my life, I’ve worked in a kitchen, as an environmental education instructor, as a camp counselor at two very different camps, at a bookstore, a department store, a movie theater and for a short while, at a library. And I’ve worked as a self-employed editor/writing coach/transcriber and taught a writing class. It’s not like I don’t have a good track record. But none of that seems to matter, most of the time.

And the hardest part is knowing what to say and when. When I was younger, I basically just didn’t address it. I didn’t really even want to admit it to myself so I didn’t talk about that with employers, but as I said, it is obvious, so, they knew. And as far as how that worked out – hard to say. I got some jobs, didn’t get others, and some of my job experience was with the visually-impaired community, so maybe that made it easier. Plus, these were mostly low-level, unskilled jobs.

As I got older I wanted to be more direct, as I’ve often found that not doing that is a disadvantage, leaves people with questions they feel they can’t ask, etc. And that worked out…okayish. I mean, I got jobs, but it was often after months of looking.

And then I moved to Portland. Now, I was admittedly, out of practice. I’d had the same job for six years. I hadn’t applied for a job in a long time. I decided to be even more open and usually mentioned my visual-impairment in my cover letter, in passing, assuring them that it would not affect my ability to do the job.

Well, I have not even gotten an interview. And yeah, it’s hard to find jobs in Portland. Unemployment is at a real high, and you hear all kinds of stories about people with advanced degrees working at coffee shops with no benefits, that sort of thing. So, it’s hard for everyone, and there is the factor that I am entering a different field (science) but I can’t help wondering if my openness about my disability plays a part in the fact that I’m not getting asked to interviews.

70-75% of blind and visually-impaired people are unemployed. That number is STAGGERING, especially because there are so many gifted, brilliant and talented blind people who could do any number of jobs. A lot of the people who are employed are under-employed, or work in the visual-impairment field, which is great for those that are really into it, but it’s not my personal calling.

I went to my school’s career center a few months ago and this woman there looked over my resume and cover letter. She had almost no corrections. A little changing of this and that around, really like three comments in total. She didn’t think that was the problem, at all. But she did tell me to take out everything that referenced my disability. Her advice was to leave no trace of that fact in my resume or cover letter (which feels a little…dishonest), and to wait until I get called for an interview and then mention it, somehow, after they ask but before I arrive. Because if I just show up all visually-impaired without giving them any indication they’ll feel like I’ve tried to pull one over on them.

In the last few months, I’ve heard the same advice from other people as well. Still, it feels weird and awkward to deal with. I think the fact that I am now not putting anything like that on my application materials makes me feel a little dishonest and guilty. I dread the thought of going to those interviews, with people who probably will wish, after they invite me to go to one and I tell them I’m visually-impaired, that they could take the invite back.

So I’ve put off applying to this one job I REALLY want for awhile. I just don’t want to get rejected! It is a job I KNOW I could do, one that totally fits my skills and strengths and interests but I don’t know, I get scared. I just kinda don’t want to deal. And then today I found out about a volunteer opportunity that is also kinda perfect, totally related to two different things I’m interested in, is only two hours a week (so I could potentially do the job and the volunteer thing and school – I’m at my best when I have a lot going on) would be an amazing opportunity and I have such genuine interest. And it’s really close to where I live. And it would just be so, so awesome, and I find myself wanting to put off applying for that too b/c of the same shit.

I realize at this point that I am standing in my own way! If I don’t jump on this, others will. It just sucks so much sometimes to get all excited and then there’s the let down. It is just hard sometimes to want to face dealing with all the rest of everything. I get all nervous and immobilized and that just isn’t helping the situation any. It just sucks sometimes and it can be hard to feel motivated to face the suckiness and awkwardness and the dilemma of how much do I say or not say and what’s right and what’s not and dealing with the other person’s discomfort. Ugh.

But if I really want these opportunities, I’ve gotta grab ’em. So I think that’ll be my mission for this weekend – get some of this shit done. Get out of my personal molasses and give it my best shot. Not really feeling the motivation to do it but I think I’ll try to push through that and do it anyway!

~EJ

Currently listening:
“Duet” – Rachael Yamagata and Ray Lamontagne

(Rachael)
Oh Lover, hold on
’till I come back again
For these arms are growin’ tired,
And my tales are wearing thin

If you’re patient I will surprise,
When you wake up i’ll have come

All the angerwill settle down
And we’ll go do all the things we should have done

Yes I remember what we said
As we lay down to bed
I’ll be here if you will only come back home

(Ray)
Oh lover, i’m lost
Because the road i’ve chosen beckens me away

Oh lover, don’t you rome
Now i’m fighting words I never thought i’d say

But I remember what we said
As we lay down to bed
I’ll forgive you oh
If you just come back home

Hmmm mmmm
Hmmmm mmmm

(Both)
Oh lover, I’m old
You’ll be out there and be thinking just of me

And I will find you down the road
And will return back home to where we’re meant to be

’cause I remember what we said
As we lay down to bed
We’ll be back soon as we make history.

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6 thoughts on “Applying to Jobs with a Disability

  1. Wow, I didn't know Rachel and Ray duetted — I heart them both.On to the meat… you;ve hear dof the ADA? That's why you don't mention your disability in your letters. Scholarships and honors stuff, yes; jobs, no.Your school should also be able to place you in work-study, lab, and other student type of work opps — call them up and have them help you. I am sure you could get a research assistant position. And apply for that dream job. Now. the worst that could happen is you wouldn;t get it.And back to the ADA. If, for any reason, you apply for a job for which you are qualified and do NOT get it, the ADA can back you up. Okay? Peace…

  2. I have to say that I wouldn't call it dishonest not to mention it. Someone who is short won't mention it in a cover letter if they are applying to do things that a tall person could do with more ease. You bring a set of skills to the table, and thats what counts. But I'll be the first to say that I have no clue regarding the challenge you face on a personal & practical level. But the dishonesty thing? Nah.

  3. I guess you guys are right about not mentioning it. It's just that the woman at the career center (and also a grad student friend of mine who is working in the disability field) said that I should take off *everything* that could indicate my disability, which means leaving off some volunteer experiences, honors, public speaking experience, etc. It gets a little muddy. I'd like to list the little job I did over spring break, working with the blind kids in Montana on monitoring Snow Goose migration by sound. Other than the enviro ed job, this is the only science thing I have to list, and it's much more current, but it seems it could give them an inkling so it's best to leave it off, or word it so they don't know I was working with blind kids.I don't know, it just feels a bit sketchy and weird!As for the ADA, the problem is that changing the law doesn't really change people's minds. It doesn't make employers aware of the abilities of blind people. It doesn't mean they don't have a million concerns and questions and misgivings. And there is almost always something they can cite. No one is going to say, "I didn't hire that person b/c they are blind," and it may not even be conscious, more just a lack of real confidence in that applicant or something.So it would, in almost all cases, be very hard to prove. It would have to be really overt. And yes those cases DO happen but most of the time it's much more subtle and hard to quantify, much less prove. Almost everyone I know in the disability community has their own litany of horror stories.And with numbers this far off the chart (unemployment in the nation at large is high, but nowhere near 75% – there is a huge disparity), things are not quite right.It is sad, in this day and age, how backwards a lot of things still are when it comes to disabilities. The National Federation of the Blind is still fighting and advocating for things like making the bar exam accessible for blind law students, trying to convince colleges not to require equipment that is inaccessible (like the Kindle), trying to work with certain schools and types of schools (again, mostly law) to even consider blind applicants! It's just the sort of thing that kinda feels like we're still in the dark ages.There are certain employers that are more disability friendly. For example, the Social Security Administration (and other parts of the federal government) can actually be more on the up-and-up in terms of hiring qualified people with disabilities. Unfortunately, it is not yet the norm.I did qualify for work-study for this coming year (did not this previous year) so come fall I will be eligible to apply for those positions.

  4. I competely understand you feeling sketchy, weird and many other things.The carrer advisor knows what he is talking about. Most jobs receive umpteen number of applicants and the employer plays every trick in the book to get rid of the riff-raff so that he can interview fewer people. You don't want to be caught in that over-zealous atempt to thin the crowd. Everyone I know tweeks their resume to escape that axe. They exclude all sorts of things like being an ex-con, ex-addict, alcoholic, mental patient, being fired for stealing and all sorts of nonsense. I know you feel a sense of dishonesty in hiding your disablity, especially when you have doubts about your capacity to do the job. Believe me, no one who doubts your capacity to do the job will ever hire you. Do what it takes to get the interview. Then, you may be able to convince them, they may be convinced or not. The most damage you would have done is taken up about 10 minutes of their time in the interview.And, about building up high expectations about a job, then second guessing our capacity, and then wondering if we will get it to the point of obsession is something each and everyone of us do. That just proves you may be a litte more blind but are as crazy as everyone else.

  5. Chrys,Thanks so much for your comment on my blog. After reading this post of yours, I can see that I am not the only one who has concerns about my vision when beginning a new job and when going on interviews. Your words of encouragement are very much appreciated. It's so hard to know when to address the vision issue (the elephant in the room) with employers, because you will always wonder if they didn't pick you because of your disability. I waited until I got hired and then brought it up to HR for this job I am beginning later this month, but I don't "look blind," whatever the fuck that means, so I have the choice of when to come clean.You should know that when you find an ethical company and boss to work for, who hire you because they believe in your skills and abilities, it is so worth the wait, to go to a job you love every day, to walk into your office and know that you are doing what you were meant to do, and to feel "home."–Jen Sinclair Ringler

  6. Wow, Jen and Story Teller, I have been away too long. Great comments, both of you. Story Teller, you really made me laugh with that last part!Jen, that's really interesting to know how you handled it. I do think that not "looking blind" can help at times. Sometimes I wonder how much I do, b/c my eyes move constantly, but then I wear glasses, and a friend pointed out that people might not even know, might think the glasses fix it and I'm fine, and maybe I don't need to bring it up. Hmmmmm.When do you start the new job? I'm really excited for you!

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