Tech & Work

Job search advice for the disabled

Many people with disabilities are unsure of when to mention this fact to a potential employer. Here are some guidelines to use.

More than 49 million people across the nation have some level of disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And many of those people find it hard to find a job because of an employer's reluctance.

Dr. Daniel J. Ryan, a recipient of the Professional Service Award from the Association on Higher Education and Disability, has just released a book called  Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities, Third Edition, in which he offers solid job search guidance enhanced with expert advice on issues specific to job seekers with disabilities.

For job seekers who are wondering when and if to disclose disabilities to potential employers, he offers this advice:

  • If your disability is visible, your interviewer may have questions about your ability to do the job. You should be prepared for these questions, and you can do that by first making contact with the Job Accommodation Network.
  • If your disability is visible, it is best to address it directly early on in the interview. Because human nature is what it is, a failure to disclose the disability may result in the interviewer going through the motions, trying to be careful not to break any laws, but focusing less on your answers.
  • When addressing your disability, point out that it will not impact your ability to perform the functions of the job, or that it will require only minimal accommodations. Although there is no guarantee, this approach is your best bet at getting the interviewer's attention focused where you want it-on your ability to do the job.
  • If your disability is not visible, it is up to you as to when or if you ever disclose it. In most cases, I have advised clients to wait until after an offer is extended to disclose any disability. After you have agreed upon the terms of employment and have established a starting date, you should mention any accommodations you may need so that the employer can have them in place for you when you start.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


I have a permanent disability, Cerebral Palsy, and use a scooter to get around so it's blatantly visible. In the early '90s as I was changing careers from broadcasting into IT as a programmer, I found jobs hard to find even though those were relative boom times in IT. I had a B.A. in Mass Comm. with a minor in Computer Science and an Associates degree in Computer Information Systems. I was an A-B student. In my area, most of the businesses were smaller firms; less than 1,000 employees with most smaller by far. When I'd get a call from one I'd sent a resume, etc. to the chat would go fine until I mentioned my scooter. Then, I'd get the "oh, we're a small business and our offices are upstairs..." type of song and I would not get an interview. So, I stopped mentioning my disability. Finally, I heard a nearby Fortune 500 company was hiring IT in droves and after 2 apps, I got an interview at their HQ. I never told HR of my scooter and just showed up at the scheduled time. The HR rep was surprised and maybe even annoyed I did not mention it. Not because they wanted to weed me out, but because he wanted to be sure I had no obstacles or issues in getting to my interview. I eventually was hired and have been here almost 17 years in various roles. My feeling is larger enterprises are more financially able to provide accommodations (I need few beyond accessible entrances and bathrooms). And, knowing they are seen as having lots of money, large businesses are more careful about exposure to employment discrimination suits. My advice, unless it's a sick firm like say Blockbuster, think BIG.


I find that there is never a good time to mention that I have one. There are some disabilities that require minimal accommodation and generally have minimal impact on the ability to DO the job, but carry a stigma that is definitive. I have learned that it is not always a good idea to disclose this kind of disability. ADA may be the law, but if you live in a "Right to Work" state, it can be easily bypassed. Unfortunately, variability isn't state by state, but rather job by job.


Know and and be prepared to discuss any incentives or subsidies that can benefit the employer hiring you. (For example, I interviewed one person who was being sponsored by a program for people with his disability that would subsidize his salary. Also, some counties offer incentives for making your office wheelchair accessable). Be prepared to discuss them when the subject comes up, but don't bring them up first. Remember the interview is still about your ability to do the job. Having said that, I have received job applications specifically about the benefits of hiring a person with a disability, but these were being sent out by an agency, not an individual, and they were for industrial positions.

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