Talking positively about disability can make the difference between really impressing a prospective employer or putting them off you altogether.
Disabled people make great employees
The reality is that, in many cases, as disabled candidates we make the best employees. On average, we are just as productive as non-disabled people (often more so). We tend to have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and we stay in our jobs longer. We are all experienced in having to navigate around an inaccessible world. So we have developed skills such as creative problem-solving, tenacity, negotiation skills and innovation.
However, as we know only too well, not all employers see us that way. They may perceive we are somehow less able than others. That we are an expensive risk. That we cause more problems than we solve. And so we need to work hard to persuade them otherwise.
Emphasise the positives
Sometimes, as disabled people, we can be our own worst enemies in failing to challenge negative stereotypes. I went to an interview with a brilliant autistic candidate a while back. His first twenty or so sentences either began with “I can’t” or “I need”. Whilst these may have been valid comments, beginning an interview by explaining to the employer exactly why you shouldn’t get the job is unlikely to result in success! The same candidate had so much to offer the employer, and could have been just as honest telling them what value he would bring to the organisation. Starting his sentences with “I can” and “I will” would have been far more positive. Asking for adjustments can come later – when the employer has already decided he is the best candidate.
Highlight the benefits your disability brings
If you do decide to mention your disability, you can also do this in a positive way. Rather than “I’m autistic, so I’m useless at working in teams”, perhaps say “my autism means I pay incredible attention to detail and tend to be much more accurate than neuro-typical people.” Both statements may be true, but the latter one will make being offered the job more likely. Other examples include, “Being Deaf means I’m really good at reading body language,” and “Requiring personal assistants means I am experienced in employing and managing people,” and “Acquiring an impairment has helped me develop new skills I never knew I had, such as resilience and adaptability”. The trick is to phrase your impairment as an asset rather than a problem.
Turn adjustments into positives
Similarly, when asking for any adjustments you may need, this can be done positively too. “I’m afraid I will need specialist software to help me do my job,” could be rephrased as, “with the correct software in place I will be able to be effective and productive – and Access to Work will pay for the software and train me to use it.” Or even better, “in my previous role I used dictation software, paid for by Access to Work, which meant I was both quicker and more accurate than my colleagues.”
Whilst some employers are enlightened enough to be positive about disabled applicants, we may need to challenge others – in a subtle and positive way – to rethink their pre-conceived ideas about us. Talking positively about disability can really help.
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