5 Things Anyone With a Physical Disability Should Know Before Applying to a Job

Getting ready for your next job search is immensely stressful for pretty much everyone (if it’s not, you need to share your secrets). However, it can seem impossible to find a job when you have a disability, especially for those of us who have a physical disability (seeing as a lot of physical disabilities are easily visible).

According to the United States Census Bureau, about 57 million Americans have some form of disability. However, just because people with disabilities are a protected class, doesn’t mean hiring managers throw job offers you.

In fact, the United States Census Bureau elaborates that people between the ages of 21 and 64 who have disabilities are 38 percent less likely to have jobs than those who don’t have disabilities.

Because those with disabilities are statistically less likely to get jobs over those who don’t, we need to work harder to land a job, especially since it takes extra work to combat the negative stigma that surrounds everyone with a disability. Beyond the incorrect stigma that people with disabilities are lazy, there are several things that we need to know before we even apply for a new job.

Related: 4 Ways You're Secretly Sabotaging Yourself at Work

1. You should choose to disclose your disability at your discretion

If you need to use a mobility device on a regular basis, then your disability might seem like it’s revealed once you meet a hiring manager. However, formally disclosing your disability to your company’s human resources department can help ensure that you perform your daily tasks more efficiently (by getting access to reasonable accommodations or additional sick days for medical appointments).

For those of us who have invisible disabilities, hiring managers might not notice our disabilities right away.

Staff Attorney for the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Amy E. Scherer, tells Her Campus, “There is still a lot of stigma surrounding people with disabilities, so I think there is, unfortunately, good reason for people to be hesitant about disclosing a disability. Obviously, if the disability is visible, there may not be a choice in the matter. But, I don’t think a person should feel obligated to reveal a disability to the employer if it has no impact on the ability to perform the job.” If you’re confident that you can successfully perform every aspect of the job without accommodations, then you might not need to disclose your disability to your employer. However, if this changes and you do need reasonable accommodations later in your professional career, you can still formally disclose your disability with your company’s HR department.

“However, it is important to note that if a person is requesting reasonable accommodations from the employer, covered under the ADA, one must disclose the disability. But, one can say that a reasonable accommodation is requested due to a medical condition, impairment or disability without having to disclose more about the particular diagnosis,” Scherer continues.

2. You have the right to reasonable accommodation

If a specific job posting requires you to stand for long periods of time (for no other reason than to stand to greet people or otherwise), your employer needs to accommodate you if you physically cannot stand or it’s too painful for you to stand for an extended period.

For example, I have arthritis (which is especially painful in my wrists and fingers), so I need text-to-speech applications to type this article.

Because I already know that these apps help my productivity and quality of work, I often indicate in my applications that I am disabled. If there’s a section in an application that asks for additional comments or any accommodations, I indicate that I need text-to-speech applications. However, I make it abundantly clear that these “accommodations” allow me to be even more productive and competent in my job.

Often, companies think that requesting additional accommodations somehow translates to you needing extra help or time on a project, which is why it’s important to inform your employer about why you need these accommodations and how they make you a better employee.

If your employer isn’t giving you access to reasonable accommodations, you shouldn’t quit. Scherer explains, “If your employer has ignored your request for an accommodation, your first step should be to make sure you were understood. Put the request in writing, and specifically mention the ADA. Even though the law doesn't require you to be so explicit, your employer may not understand its obligations or may not have fully grasped your request. If the request continues to be ignored after that, legal action may be necessary.”

If it feels like your employer has forgotten about your request for accommodation, try to continue the conversation and make sure they understand your needs.

3. You don’t need to accept a lower wage because of your disability

The United States Census Bureau explains that of those in that average working age (seeing as most people work between the age 21 and 64), those with disabilities earn significantly less than those without disabilities. “Adults age 21 to 64 with disabilities had median monthly earnings of $1,961 compared with $2,724 for those with no disability,” the Census Bureau says. That’s all sorts of messed up.

While the discrepancy in wages between people with and without disabilities could attribute to experience and education, it’s equally important that you know how to market yourself in an interview and that you know your worth.

Steve Aaron, a spokesperson for the National Organization on Disability (NOD) and President at SRA Communications, tells Her Campus, “For the 57 million Americans living with disabilities, the largest barriers to employment usually stem from stigma about what individuals with disabilities can achieve and contribute to the workforce. Despite an increasing number of people with disabilities entering the workforce, these pay disparities persist as another ‘face’ of these stereotypes, and they result in discrimination that devalues the work and contributions of people with disabilities.” Although the stigma against people with disabilities might seem impossible to break, you can still fight any workplace injustices – especially if you believe your employer has discriminated against your disability.

Aaron explains that “this discrimination is unlawful.” Though it may seem impossible to retaliate against workplace injustices, you can take legal action if you believe you’re experiencing pay disparity based on your disability.

Personally, I’ve had companies (granted it was only two companies that I applied to) tell me that they needed to pay me less than the salary they advertised on their job posting because, “They needed to allocate funds to my additional accommodations,” which honestly is BS. They know it. I know it.

Conversely, Scherer reveals that “it would be rare for co-workers performing similar jobs (one with a disability, one without a disability) to be receiving different salaries solely as a result of the difference in the person’s disability status.” This makes sense because not all physical disabilities are easily visible.

“The differences are more likely to be caused by the fact that the person with a disability may work part-time due to the functional limitations of his/her disability. The biggest reason for the discrepancy, though, is the huge unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities are forced into a life of poverty because employers are reluctant to hire them and therefore, they have no other income, outside of social security benefits,” Scherer concludes.

Nevertheless, it isn’t necessarily illegal for a company to offer anyone a different wage than the advertisement, seeing as a job posting isn’t a contract, so there isn’t anything that legally binding that company to offer you the advertised wage on the job posting. However, it’s generally a bad practice, and you can report them to the Better Business Bureau.

Regardless, you shouldn’t accept a lower salary offer if you aren’t comfortable with it. Instead, you should counter that you deserve a higher wage because of all of your qualifications and your potential benefit to the company.

Related: How to Deal With Criticism at Work

4. You don’t need to lie about gaps in your employment history

Depending on your physical disability, you may have had to take a brief hiatus from the working world (because your health is always more important than a paycheck). However, you don’t need to lie to a hiring manager about why you have a gap in your employment history. After all, even people without disabilities have to take extended periods of time off of work for their physical and psychological health.

Instead of creating an elaborate story that you retired from your last job to go on a year-long humanitarian expedition, tell the truth. Explain to the hiring manager that you have a gap in your employment because you needed to take some time off for your health because otherwise your wellbeing and your quality of work would’ve been in jeopardy.

It may seem a bit heavy to explain this during a face-to-face interview with a hiring manager, so you could always opt to reveal this vague, but truthful, information in an “additional information” section of an application.

However, you don’t have to explain that your employment gap was due to your disability or medical condition. Scherer recommends “highlighting anything that happened during the gap (volunteer projects etc.) and avoiding the inclination to go into any detail about the medical history that led to the gap.” In this scenario, you can transform your employment gap into a positive experience, and you avoid discussing your medical history.

You could also explain your employment gap, and subsequently your disability, to your advantage. Aaron reports that you can “be honest about the reason behind any gaps in your resume” as long as you “give yourself credit for the skills you may have honed in having a disability.”

After all, your disability has allowed you to develop an incredible set of skills. Aaron explains, “Dealing with a series of cancer treatments may have given you improved multitasking skills or heightened your sense of empathy. Learning to navigate your city in a wheelchair with paraplegia may have improved your time management skills. All of these are valuable assets to employers. This fact is more than field-tested: the employers who do hire from this pool consistently rank employees with disabilities among their best, most dedicated workers, with some of the lowest rates of turnover.”

Instead of trying to seem like the perfect professional person, be truthful without revealing too much information about your medical condition. By too much, you don’t need to review your entire medical history with your hiring manager. Instead, you can simply explain that you have a gap in your employment history because you had a medical emergency, and use Aaron’s advice by explaining how your disability gives you strength in the workplace.

After all, your hiring manager would contact your previous employer to confirm whether or not you left that position to volunteer around the globe. And a company never wants to hire an untrustworthy candidate.

5. You aren’t alone

If your inbox is filling up with rejection letters even before you get to an interview, you aren’t alone. Scope explains, “When applying for jobs only 51% of disabled applications result in an interview compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. Also on average, disabled people apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people when searching for a job.” Not only do people with physical disabilities get fewer interviews than applicants without any disabilities, but we also have to apply for more jobs than those non-disabled applicants.

Although we might have to search for jobs a bit differently, companies also need to grow and change in order to include people with disabilities in their hiring practices.

Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Team Leader at Ernst & Young (EY), which is a member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council, acknowledges that “one important signal in building the kind of culture that makes employees feel comfortable self-identifying is ensuring that company facilities are truly accessible to all employees. For example, are hand towels in the bathroom within reach of an employee in a wheelchair? Do emergency alarms feature accessible visual and auditory cues for blind or deaf employees? Does your company show employees with disabilities of all levels working and contributing in your company? Do they share the stories of how they are successful on the job, especially if it involves accommodations?” If more companies update their facilities to accommodate for people with disabilities, then their workplace atmosphere will appear more inviting to every applicant.

Company attributes like these also help applicants find employers with their best interests in mind.

If you’re still having a difficult time landing an interview, try reaching out to one of these organizations:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services: If you’re having a difficult time affording medical devices or issues finding employment, try contacting your local Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.

  • National Disability Rights Network (NDRN): A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the civil and human rights of people with disabilities. NDRN is also the most prominent, legally based advocacy dedicated to protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

  • Scope: While this non-profit organization is in the UK, their mission is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same employment opportunities as people without disabilities.

  • National Organization on Disability (NOD): This organization is a national leader in helping businesses tap the disability labor pool, and offers companies a complete set of solutions, including benchmarking, program design and planning and customized local hiring engagements. NOD’s employment experts make the journey with companies, from initial exploration through stage after stage of improvement, all the way to success.

  • American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD): AAPD promotes positive change and growth for people with disabilities, and helps connect people with disabilities to the proper resources to ensure we have the same employment opportunities.

  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): If you believe that you are being discriminated against during an interview, at your work or you simply aren’t receiving reasonable accommodation, then you should contact the EEOC immediately.

Although there’s a stigma that disabled people are just lazy people who live off of the government (which, by the way, is ridiculous, especially since the average SSI disability paycheck barely keeps people with disabilities above the poverty line), people with disabilities want to work and a lot of us are actively searching for employment opportunities.

For those people with disabilities who want to work (or just don’t want to go through the hell that is the SSI application), only 17.9 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We can’t really put the same effort into applying to jobs as people without disabilities and expect to receive equal job opportunities. Instead, we have to think of fancy new tricks before we apply to jobs, because we can’t just attach a business card dispenser to our mobility devices and expect hiring managers to swarm toward us. Instead, we have to fight the stigma against people with disabilities even before we start drafting your application material.