Buckle up for another series, this time on getting a job. We’ve talked before about having a job, the issues with adapting work stations, dealing with supervision, etc. But what do you do when you don’t have a job and you need one? The process might even be harder for people with invisible disabilities than for people with evident ones. In this series I’ll discuss the application (that’s today), the interview, and using government agencies for disabled people to find work. Feel free to suggest more topics in the comments.
A little background on my own situation: I lost my job in the 2008 downturn. I wasn’t actually downsized until 2009, but in 2010 I was hit by a car on my bike and obtained my disability. I have a mix of limitations that affect my performance: reattached right (dominant) hand with limited feeling, reconstructed left arm and shoulder with limited strength and range of motion (which makes changing to left-handed impractical, even if the injury to my right brain hemisphere didn’t already make that impossible), and nerve damage surrounding spinal fracture sites, with corresponding chronic pain. When I wear long sleeves, I look perfectly fine.
This leads to a problem I’m sure you’re all terribly familiar with—at what point to do we reveal our issues? For me, I hit a wall during the application process. I’m a professional who doesn’t usually have to fill out formal applications; in my field, a resume and cover letter are all you need to work in private industry. However, many of the available jobs for a person with environmental law expertise are in government. It doesn’t matter how high your position is there; you’re filling out the standard form. And it doesn’t matter how bound to a desk your job is going to be—every one of those forms, from city public works to the Army Corps of Engineers, has a check box for “Can you lift more than 25 pounds?”
I can’t lift more than 25 pounds. Oh, I do it at home now and then, when I’m feeling up to it, with safety measures in place. There are many days when I wouldn’t try it—I have the sense to wait for a better time. Sometimes I do it and hurt myself badly, and I’m down for days. You don’t have that kind of flexibility in the workplace. For the jobs I apply for, I might have to lift a box once a year, usually with a stronger person nearby who could help. Still, that check box stands between me and the working world like a barbed-wire fence. I can’t say for certain that it’s always been a deal breaker, but I can say for certain that I’ve never been called for an interview when I’ve checked “no.”
Recently I lied. I checked the box yes, and this one asked if I could regularly lift 40-pound boxes. It was for a records management job at my local public port office. I did get the interview, and I’ll tell you how that went when we get to the interview post next week. I’m fairly sure, though, that if I’d checked “no,” I wouldn’t have made it that far.
There are other check-box questions that trip us up too. How about “have you ever been treated for a mental illness?” In this day and age, how many of us can truthfully answer “no?” I have psychiatric medication for PTSD that I take maybe once a month; how am I supposed to answer that question? I say no, of course. There was a brilliant scene on the TV show Shameless (Showtime) a year or two ago, in which Ian, a young man who suffers from bipolar disorder that he treats successfully with medication, loses his job as an Emergency Medical Technician for lying on that check box. Ian does a better job than I do of telling us what’s wrong with that box in this YouTube clip https://youtu.be/3MdLrOVuuIc. This stirring scene hit me in the heart.
How about the open-ended questions? “Are you able to do this job without special accommodations? If not, what special accommodations would you need?” May I have a few more sheets of paper, please? No way am I telling them all the things I’d need to be able to do the job, there’s not a chance they’d consider me.
How about you? What barriers have you come up against? Did Ian’s scene from Shameless resonate with you? Tell us your story.