If I asked you to guess the largest minority and the fastest growing subgroup of the population in the U.S. what would you say?
According to the U.S. Census, the answer is people with disabilities. This group runs the gamut from visible disabilities to non-visible disabilities such as chronic health issues like asthma or diabetes; partial sensory impairment like poor vision or hearing loss; learning disabilities; and mental health conditions like depression. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, if you don't currently have a disability, you have a one-in-five chance of developing one before retirement age.
I don't argue with those statistics-I think we'll even discover some new disabilities now that we have a generation of people who have grown up using computers and cell phones their whole lives. (My guess is that in about 40 years, zillions of people will be seeking early retirement due to Chronic Texting Thumbs Syndrome or Headset-Induced Giant Ear Disease.)
What worries me is how the workforce will treat those who have disabilities. Will their increasing numbers mean they'll be more readily accepted by employers or will the four-in-five people who are not disabled end up landing all the jobs?
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with known disabilities and ensures reasonable accommodations within the workplace. But what about when you're just interviewing for a job? And what if you have one of those "non-visible" disabilities? When do you disclose this, if at all?
For the record, the three categories of non-visible disabilities are:
- Chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes, cancer)
- Sensory impairments (e.g., hearing loss, mobility limitations, vision problems)
- Mental health and learning disabilities (e.g., depression, bi-polar disease, ADHD)
I just can't imagine if I suffered from bi-polar disease or depression that I could mention this in an interview and not have it be a detriment in an interviewer's mind. I'm sorry but I've heard from too many disabled folks frustrated with the job hunt to believe otherwise.
Now, let's be brutally honest here. If the average corporate manager has it drilled into him to avoid situations that might cost the company money, how likely would he be to hire a person that would require office modifications, work rescheduling, etc., from the get-go? To be fair, if you're hiring for a support position that calls for a person to be able to lift 50 pounds of expensive equipment, it would be fair to rule a job candidate out if he says he has a herniated disk and can't do that.
My concern is with the person who would count out a candidate with a disability because accommodating that person would be laborious or expensive. Do you think hiring managers would take advantage of such disclosures to eliminate job candidates?
I'm going to cover some specifics about non-visual disabilities in future blogs, but I'd like to get a sampling of your thoughts on this topic. Let's be totally honest here-no one is going to out you on Oprah or anything. If you had to choose between two job candidates, equally qualified, but one has a disability, how would it affect your decision? Or does it depend on the type of disability?
Toni Bowers is the former 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.