This month marks the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In August the Americans with Disabilities Act, which played a major role in giving people with disabilities access to schools and workplaces, celebrated its 30th anniversary. These milestones, combined with the challenges we’ve faced as COVID threatens many of our businesses and livelihoods, have thrust disability employment into the spotlight.
I’ll admit it; I used to think that asking for accommodations to perform my job somehow made me less valuable as an employee and as a human. Of course this isn’t true. And I’ve learned that while some see the needs of people with disabilities as an inconvenience for employers, the resilience, adaptability and determination of those with disabilities often far outweigh the negatives. Fortunately, more and more companies are beginning to realize this and are making strides toward a more inclusive environment.
As a graduate assistant in my university’s Center for Career & Professional Development, I’ve become even more aware of the need for inclusion and immunodiversity in the workplace. To help all students and alumni succeed in their job searches and professional development, we have to remember those with disabilities and/or chronic illness. Luckily, there are more and more resources popping up every day for the growing population of job hunters with disabilities. My current favorite is Chronically Capable, a job search platform created by Hannah Olson, a Lyme survivor who was forced to leave her dream job because of intense IV treatments.
Chronically Capable isn’t just a great resource for people seeking more accessible careers; it’s an opportunity for companies to connect with largely overlooked talent. According to their website, companies that employ people with disabilities have 90% higher retention rates and a 72% increase in employee productivity. And it’s no wonder: employers that have partnered with Chronically Capable provide their teams with the tools they need to succeed. Each employer’s profile includes a breakdown of the workplace accommodations they provide, like flexible work and leave schedules, sign language interpreters, accessible restrooms and fragrance-free workplaces. Many companies also offer the option to work remotely.
Another easily-accessible resource for job hunters is abilityjobfair.org. This site provides live online career fairs with a variety of companies on a regular basis. Job seekers can video chat live with employers on this talk/text/ASL-friendly platform. Abilityjobs.com also offers a job board with thousands of postings by companies seeking people with disabilities.
If you have questions about the ADA, disability employment or accommodations, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) and the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) are great places to start. JAN even offers an A to Z list of accommodations that you can search by disability, accommodation or work-related function. If you’re not sure how to talk to your supervisor or HR department about accommodations, you can learn how other people with similar limitations have adapted their jobs to fit their needs.
These are just a few of the resources available to job seekers with disabilities. Many colleges and universities also have career and professional development offices or disability and inclusion departments that may be able to help students and alumni in the job search. As more companies realize the benefits of hiring a diverse team and the feasibility of working remotely, more doors may open for people with disabilities. It’s time we start recognizing and appreciating the unique contributions people with disabilities make in their careers every day!
For more great tips on working with a chronic illness or disability, check out this WEGO Health webinar with Ilana Jacqueline and the University of Findlay’s Career Chat with Kara Maruszak.