I have written a general letter to an employer considering hiring someone with a disability and/or with chronic pain. This letter is expressing my ideal work environment and what it is I need and desire from an employer. Every individual is different, so I can’t generalize to others, yet it can be a great starting point for understanding and thinking about accommodations and support in the work place. My letter is addressed to a potential employer, as this is the beginning of the employment relationship and where the self advocating begins.
Dear potential employer,
Please consider me for employment opportunities in your company. I have many skills and experiences in which I can contribute to make your company a success. I also have chronic pain, fatigue and some ADD traits. Even though my health conditions require some adaptations, they have contributed to making me the strong person I have become. I am clearer about my priorities and values, I think outside of the box, I know how to work with others, I am persistent, have integrity and can see the silver lining in the most difficult situations.
Hiring someone with a disability will make you and your company better. I have met many people with various disabilities when I worked as a vocational consultant, and every one of them has changed me in some way. I have been inspired by the positive attitude, the ability to overcome obstacles, the self evaluation, the willingness to ask for help, and the humbleness of many. I have learned to be clearer in my statements, to slow down, to change my perceptions about certain disabilities, to ask others if they want my help (not assume they do), and to listen so I can receive a clearer picture of their life. I have also seen how difficult it can be for some people to find a sense of value and worth in the middle of such difficulty, and how many doors were shut down because they didn’t fit into our expectations of “normal”.
The structure you set up that will be effective in drawing out my strengths, will also contribute to greater relationships with others. Writing out instructions is helpful for me to be clear on what is needed, and develops procedures in the office. Regular meeting times helps me feel supported and allows time for constructive feedback. Working together we can see problems and visions from a different viewpoint making us more creative.
The greatest thing an employer can do is to learn about the specific individuals needs in regards to their disability. Asking questions to understand how I am doing and what I need creates a supportive environment. Because of privacy issues, it can be helpful for the supervisor to ask whether I would like to talk about the impact of my disability in the work place and if I wish to be the one to bring it up or to set up meetings periodically to discuss this. Many employers believe they are being supportive by treating them like everyone else, or ignoring the issue. However, for some individuals this can feel like the elephant in the room, and problems may not be addressed in their early stages. Though the responsibility does fall on the employee, it can be difficult for someone with a disability to be assertive about their needs for fear of losing their job, discrimination and/or rejection.
For some disabilities it may be helpful to have discussions about it with the staff. If the employee is interested, they can provide information to other co-workers about their condition and how it impacts them. If such disclosure is public it is imperative that the employee chooses this option, and follow up support is available. This can be a good option for the more visible disabilities or where the accommodations are apparent to everyone. In an ideal world disclosures about all disabilities would be treated with compassion. This is generally not the case, especially with mental limitations, and could become problematic for the employee in his/her relationships with others.
Making accommodations for an employee may feel burdensome. It can be difficult to schedule time to make changes in the work place and to have discussions with your employee. If the individual seems demanding or there are personality clashes, it can be challenging to sort through what is needed in the situation. An employee may not even understand clearly what they need in the work place, because the type of work and environment can be different than anything they have experienced. Often being around someone with a disability can trigger emotional reactions with co-workers and employers that are uncomfortable. The powerlessness in the situation goes against our nature to fix things, we may feel like they are getting special privileges, and we may have had negative experiences in the past that effect our current assessment. Processing through your own biases is crucial to a healthy environment.
Learning how to find your own support is vital if you find yourself reacting to the employee and if you start making decisions that go against the values and strategic plan of your work place.
Communication and support are the keys to any healthy work environment. If we have regular times to discuss issues then the remainder of the time can be focused on production and fulfilling company goals. There are many resources available to learn about the local laws, accommodations, and services for those with disabilities. Some disabilities can receive job coaching, through state or local programs and employers can receive training and guidance on particular disabilities. Being proactive will give a greater likelihood of success. However, just because one experience wasn’t successful it doesn’t mean the next one won’t be. With an open mind, you will be amazed at the lessons you will be taught, and the inspiration you gain from watching someone with significant barriers succeed in their job duties.
Thank you for considering me and others with disabilities for employment.