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Students with Disabilities

The internship and job search can be overwhelming for any student.  There are unique issues that individuals with disabilities may face during the job search including understanding the American Disabilities Act, disclosure, job search/interviewing strategies, and accommodations.  ECS is committed to supporting students with both visible and non-visible disabilities throughout the job search process.

Understanding the Law

Make sure you understand the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life, including employment.  ADA requires that an employer make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals who have disabilities, unless doing so would cause “undue hardship” to the employer. Additionally, employers are not obligated to provide any accommodation if, even with that accommodation, an employee will still not be able to perform the essential functions of the job.

Job Search

Once you’ve earned an interview, prepare as much as possible.  Know your resume inside and out, and make sure that it highlights your strengths and skills, not your disability.  In the interview be ready to show the potential employer all you have to offer the company.

  • If your disability is visible, it might be best to mention it before an interview, perhaps after the interview has been scheduled and when you are confirming details.  For example, you could mention, “Because I use a wheel chair, could you suggest which entrance to your building would be most convenient?”
  • If your disability is non-visible, it is up to you when or if you disclose it.  For example, if your disability is mental illness or epilepsy, you may need to mention it during the interview only if you will need special accommodations.  If no accommodations are needed, you do not need to mention it at all.

Special Considerations

Employers may not ask applicants:

  • To answer medical questions
  • To take medical exams
  • To identify disabilities
  • Whether they have a disability or the nature of a known disability
  • Questions about an applicant’s use of medication
  • Questions about an applicant’s prior workers’ compensation history

Employers may ask about:

  • Job qualifications (education, training, skills)
  • Performance of essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations
  • Time off from a previous job (but not why)
  • The reason the applicant left/is leaving a job
  • Past disciplinary issues

Job offers

  • A job offer may be contingent upon the answers to certain medical questions or successful passage of a medical exam if:
    1. The questions/exam are consistent with the business need, AND
    2. All new employees in the same type of job have to answer the questions or take the exam
  • (Exception) When it seems likely that an applicant has a disability and requires reasonable accommodations, and employer may ask about:
    1. Accommodations needed (e.g., person who is blind who must use computers)
    2. How an employee would perform specific tasks

Disclosure

It is up to you when, if, and how you disclose your disability to your future employer.  Think about how much the disability will impact your day-to-day work.  Weigh the pros and cons of disclosure at each point of the job search, recruitment, and hiring process and make the decision to discuss your disability when it is appropriate for you. The key is to not think of your disability as a setback, but as a way of doing things differently.  Consider the following stages to discuss your disability with an employer.

  • Before an interview
  • During the interview
  • Before any drug testing
  • After you have a job offer
  • During your course of employment
  • Never

Also consider the pros and cons of disclosure in the table below.

Potential Pros of Disclosing

Potential Cons of Disclosing

To receive reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of the job

You may be viewed as less capable than others

To establish a positive and open relationship with the employer

You may be treated differently due to misconceptions about disabilities

To provide legal protection against discrimination

You cannot take back your disclosure once your disability is known

If you choose to disclose your disability, think through the following:
 

  • Place and Time:  The “right” time for everyone varies.  If you have a non-visible disability, ECS *generally* recommends waiting until the job offer is made (it is illegal for an employer to rescind a job offer because an employee requires a specific accommodation).    Select a confidential setting and allow enough time for the person to ask questions. 
  • Details: There is no “required” information for you to communicate regarding your disability—determine what you want to share.  Read the job description and be ready to describe the skills you have that make you qualified for the position and capable of doing it well.  Do not dwell on the limitations of the disability. 
  • Who:  Consider which individuals you want to share your disability with—it often makes sense to do this on a “need-to-know” basis, which may include people who will help you with your workplace accommodations and/or your supervisor. 
  • Workplace Accommodations: One of the implicit concerns some employers will have is the cost of workplace accommodations, even though they often turn out to be minimal or free. Be able to briefly explain what you need and what the costs would be (e.g., inexpensive, free, or a specific sum).

Disclosure gives you the right to be treated respectfully, have your disability handled with confidentiality, and receive appropriate workplace accommodations.  It’s your responsibility to be upfront and proactive about your need for accommodations.

Disclosure Script 


You may feel nervous about disclosing.  That’s why it is a good idea to practice what you want to say until you feel comfortable with it. While discussing your disability, positively describe your skills. The more positive you are about what you can do, the more your strengths and personality will come across over any disability issues. Below is a sample script.

"I have ___ (preferred term for disability). I do have the skills and ability to do this job. It helps if I have ____(specific accommodations you need). I am confident I can do the job well, and I would look forward to the opportunity to contribute to ____ (organization or company name).