The Desk

July 23, 2012

Qualified and Disabled

QUESTION:

After making formal application for an advertised opportunity, I was invited to interview. When the interviewer saw that I am blind and use a wheelchair, she exclaimed that she could not see how I would be of benefit to that company [in light of my disabilities].

I got the job but I would like to know what to do the next time I interview and face a similar negative attitude.

ANSWER:

I’m glad that this sounds as though the outcome was positive. It shows that you demonstrated some excellent skills and ability to do the job. Congratulations. It also sounds as though you did a very good job of creating a sense of credibility for yourself through doing well during the interview. Possibly, you said empowering things that you did not even realize you were saying.

In answering your question, let me start then by discussing the most essential presentation during an interview.

  • your skills and qualifications for the opportunity
  • quantifiable evidence of how you are qualified
  • how those skills and qualifications will help the business function as well or better with you in the position.

You already pointed out that you were early for the appointment. That is good. It shows that you appreciate timeliness and that worked in your favor. No doubt, you took with you two extra copies of your resume so that they were ready in case your interviewer did not have it on top of her desk and you had one for yourself to pull out and discuss with them. You demonstrated being well prepared and skill in foreseeing and making contingency plans for unforseen circumstances. You showed diplomacy and tact.

The focus should not be on your shortcomings nor your disability (please note that those are two different things) but on you, how and why you are qualified. Discuss your direct, on-the-job experience that relates to the new opportunity. Discuss how well you performed in your last situation and how your input was beneficial to the customer and the company. If there were things or situations that were done better because of your involvement, talk about them.

Your speech should be cordial, business-like and professional. It should be at a good volume – not loud nor apologetic. Make certain your voice does not sound whiney – don’t be a martyr nor a cry baby. You are a strong, intelligent professional person. Show that in your deportment and presentation.

Finally (for this writing), openly discuss your disabilities. However, do not apologize for them. Discuss how adaptive you are to many situations and in short order so that you have several approaches to situations. These are not disabilities; they are opportunities for new ways of doing things. They are abilities that others do not have. Sometimes being in a chair makes you better suited for doing certain things better or more easily than others. Having low vision or no vision affords you with still other advantages. Point them out.

And having a disability is not the same as not being able. It is merely a different way of handling life and business situations. Two of your fellow South Africans have discussed coming into meaningful contributions to business and society by realizing how those “disabilities” proved to be assets and empowerment. Likewise, they point out how that South Africa’s (as well as India’s) relatively recent affirmative action legislation has created new legal bases for opening doors.

Although it positively states that those with disabilities are entitled to vie for opportunities, there is still a long way to go as far as making that new legislation meaningful for there is still the critical element of educating employers about the opportunities that are available to them through using all of the diverse population – diverse in age, sex, race and abilities. Likewise, there is still the matter of educating employers about the fact that employing those with “disabilities” is not a costly proposition and does not mean extraordinary expense to include that segment of candidates in the considered roster of candidates and personnel.

You did well and it appears you did so without realizing you did so. Focus on how you will be an asset to the company and will save money, enhance the business opportunities, have abilities that your co-workers may not have because of the issues that others see as shortcomings. Affirmatively show how you are qualified and “disabled.”

About the Author:

Yvonne LaRose was a Disabilities Accommodation Provider in the Bay Area of California from 1993 to 1997 as well as one of the founding members of Bay Area Disabilities Coalition (BADC). In addition, she was a news reader for Broadcast Services for the Blind (BSB) (a private band radio station based in the Rose Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind that reaches 13,000 listeners in 13 counties) from 1993 to 1997. From BSB, she produced and hosted her bi-weekly radio features and newscast, “Legally Speaking” from 1994 to 1996.

Originally published December 25, 2001

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