Preparation

Viewing Your Disability as a Career Strength 

In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October).

As a student with a disability, you have overcome many obstacles on your way to Boston College. Just getting here was a major accomplishment! Perhaps you now can see your disability as a strength, or at least as a source of personal growth that most of your fellow students have not experienced. 

You have developed resilience in the face of discouragement and failure; ingenuity in the face of real obstacles; optimism and determination in the face of others’ judgment or indifference. And you may have developed some very practical skills, too – for example, perhaps you have a chronic illness that can sap your strength, but you have developed strong time management and self-care skills.

But what about stepping out into the job or internship market? Will employers see the whole you, the entire person, with your own unique brand of strengths and skills, and not just a person with a disability. 

Here are some practical tips to ensure you convey your strengths throughout the application process.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ASSISTANCE

  1. Meet with a Boston College career coach to help identify your skills and strengths, target appropriate employers, and hone your application materials and interview skills. 
  2. Have conversations with BC alumni in Eagle Exchange (the Boston College career network) who self-identify as having a disability. Ask for their advice and insights into how best to communicate your strengths and skills during the job search. Once you’ve registered in Eagle Exchange, click on Explore the Community >> More Filters >> Do You Identify with Any of the Following Affinities? >> Persons with Disability.
  3. Join the Lime Network and be matched with a professional mentor with a disability. Take advantage of their workshops, networking events and fellowship programs.
  4. The Job Accommodation Network offers free, one-on-one advising on all aspects of workplace accommodation (including accommodations you may need for the job search process) and serves up a huge range of information on their website. 

DO YOUR RESEARCH

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on disability and applies to employers with 15 or more employees. 

  1. Know your rights around disclosure (or non-disclosure) of a disability and the use of accommodations in the job search process. Read materials on both topics – you may want to start with this blog post: To Disclose, or Not To Disclose, That is the Interview Question (Lime Connect). In addition, the Job Accommodation Network provides some great resources on a wide array of workplace accommodation topics. 
  2. Identify employers who truly value diversity. You probably want to work for an organization where you will feel valued, and while some organizations excel at recruiting and accommodating qualified employees who happen to have disabilities, others only pay lip service.

  • How do you identify employers who value diversity?
    1. Examine their website – do they include images of a diverse range of employees? Do they acknowledge that a diverse workforce makes for a stronger and more successful organization? (By the way, research strongly confirms this.)
    2. Examine their human resources and careers pages. Do they offer resources and affinity groups to employees with various identities?
    3. Use disability publications and websites, such as Careers and the Disabled, to identify disability-friendly employers. 
    4. Read employee reviews on sites like GlassDoor and Indeed – understanding that the happiest and the most disgruntled employees are the most motivated to write a review.
    5. Read our blog post, How Can I Tell if a Workplace is Inclusive or Not?

CONSIDER HOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND SKILLS MATCH THE JOB

What core competencies and skills is the employer seeking for the job you are considering? Do you possess at least some of these? Will your disability – and the skills and strengths you’ve built – be an asset in this job? 

Lois Barth, business coach and author, writes on the College Recruiter website about a colleague with very intense dyslexia and ADHD. “She couldn’t sit still for more than 20-30 minutes, and paperwork that should have taken 10-20 minutes took hours and was tortuous. On the positive side, she was amazing with people, could pivot on a dime, had tons of energy and loved making people feel special. She was also hilarious, passionate about health and loved helping people.

“Fortunately, the health club where she was working saw her strengths and was smart enough to move her from a stifling mid-level administrative position to a sales job where she could meet and greet clients. Her people skills, creativity and natural curiosity about others, made her very good at this position and, in turn, the position made her very happy. Within the first month, she became head of sales.” Like Lois’s friend, you may be struggling to discover where you fit into the world of work.

Consider making an appointment with a career coach at the Boston College Career Center for an informal discussion attuned to your needs.

Peter Hunt
– By Peter Hunt, Assistant Director, Career Education

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