Important Notice:
This site has moved to AskAManager.org, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

addressing a disability in an interview

A reader writes:

I am legally blind, but it rarely hinders my ability to do most things (except for more dynamic things like driving and playing basketball). For most other things, I can use common tools like the "Zoom" options on most computer programs and simple handheld reading magnifiers, and I'll be just fine.

Ideally, I would like to just keep my disability a secret in an interview, but I also have a condition called nystagmus which causes my eyes to move involuntarily from side to side, especially when I'm nervous or in an unfamiliar setting.

My concern is that, if I don't explain this to an interviewer, they might think I'm crazy or on drugs or something. But, if I do explain, it will open doors for discrimination and under-estimation of my abilities.

Some approaches I have considered are just not saying anything about it or explaining that I have a visual condition but that it is not severe and I can accommodate for it with magnifiers, etc. -- much like a near-sighted employee who wears glasses.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

If the choice is between an employer thinking that you're crazy or on drugs, or risking discrimination by explaining, I'd risk discrimination. Being thought crazy or on drugs will disqualify you every single time. Explaining gives you a good shot, and plenty of employers don't discriminate. (Some do, of course, but your math is still better with explaining.)

I think the best thing to do is to be low-key about it, and after your interview is scheduled, say, "By the way, could you explain to whoever I'm meeting with that I have a condition that affects my eyes? New people notice it when talking with me face to face, but I accommodate it pretty easily with magnifiers and people generally don't even notice it after we get to know each other."

Anyone else want to weigh in?

12 comments:

clobbered said...

After the interview is scheduled say "FYI, I am legally blind but do not require any special accomodation".

I don't think actively hiding something from the employer by misdirection is a good idea, and for every person who would discriminate against you there is another who will consider it in your favour that you have performed professionally well (or achieved your educational goals, depending on your age) with such an impediment.

Anonymous said...

A REPLY FROM THE OP
Thanks for the answers given so far. It seems clobbered is offering slightly different advice from AAM. I'd appreciate more opinions/details to help me weigh the two options given (notifying someone before the interview if possible vs. bringing it up at the interview). Personally, I'm leaning toward the phone approach since I'm a little shy about it in person.

I'd love to hear what some more higher-ups (i.e. people who have already landed their first full-time post-college job) think!

If any of you would like some idea of what nystagmus is all about, you can read more about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physiologic_nystagmus.

For those of you who may wonder, I am a recent college graduate. I've been fortunate enough to land a long-distance internship-style contract-type job. And I was fortunate enough that someone else, in giving me a referral, broke the news to my boss for me.

Nichole said...

Since you have a physical condition that is evident, I would suggest simply addressing it.

I have worked with computer programmers who are completely blind but work with screen readers that allow them to be effective at their jobs. There is a lot of technology out there that helps people with all kinds of disabilities.

The right employer will be actively interested in helping you succeed at your job with your condition. My personal belief is that if the employer is going to think less (rather than MORE) of you, you don't want to work there anyway.

FrauTech said...

I agree with AskAManager. I think if you don't explain it you allow them to make up their own explanations. If you're applying at a fairly established company you'll usually talk to somebody in HR first and I would definitely mention it to them if possible a few minutes into your first in-person conversation. If you trust them to pass it on the hiring manager you can ask them to, but it still might be better if you provide your own brief explanation. That way the hiring manager can directly ask you, "can you do x, y, z" and be sure to say that you do not require "any special accomodations." Assuming your current boss can be a really good reference for you I think it'll be fine, having somebody champion your work will be important for getting past this, but I suspect the kind of people who would discriminate are not those you want to work for. Also it is a tough job market so don't get too beat up or assume it's because your disability if you aren't getting a job right away.

An HR Person said...

I have hired a legally blind applicant before. They actually met a lower level manager and told them that they were legally blind but were able to perform the job duties. The manager had reservations and didn't want to interview him (because she assumed he couldn't do the job). I said that was not an acceptable reason to not interview someone and I took his information and scheduled the interview (he was qualified for the position). Once he interviewed, the manager with the reservations was sold and she thanked me for making me interview him. We ended up hiring him and he needed a few accomodations (sending him pdf's of documents before meetings so that he could review them with the zoom feature beforehand, etc.)

The point is, some people will discriminate against you, but others, like me, will not.

The employee I talk about above could see a little in his peripheral vision, so when he spoke to you he wouldn't look at you (because he was looking out of the side of his eye.) I can imagine a scenario where he didn't let us know about his legal blindness and he was dinged in his interview for not making good eye contact since he was being hired for a customer-service related position.

So, my position, as someone who's hired someone legally blind, is to tell them beforehand on the phone.

camorra said...

I agree with AAM completely. I don't think hiding something as significant as legal blindness from the employer is the best idea. If you can truly do the job, it should not impact whether or not you are hired.

Anonymous said...

As most of the posters have already said, let them know upfront that you have a physical disability but it doesn’t require any kind of special accommodation from them. I would like to think that if you are qualified and able to perform the duties of the position you are applying for, the physical disability wouldn’t be an issue.

You will probably come across discrimination based on your disability on occasion, but much of that will be in the area of misunderstanding the disability and not realizing that it won’t affect your ability to do the job, assuming you’re qualified. A simple explanation will address those concerns and that should be the end of it most of the time.

Besides do you really want to work for an organization that would actively discriminate against you because of your disability? They’re going to find out about it anyway at some point if they hire you. I’d rather be upfront about it and possibly lose out on a job or two with organizations I wouldn’t want to work for anyway then not be upfront with them and lose the job because of a misunderstanding.

fposte said...

OP, I don't think there's a big difference between Clobbered's advice and AAM's. I think you mention it during the making-the-appointment conversation whenever it seems to slide in most naturally. I'd be inclined to guess that that would be toward the end, when you're doing technical stuff, so long as you can trust yourself not to duck out on the issue (speaking as someone who has occasional failures of nerve myself). As for the actual words, AAM's phraseology avoids the possible scare-word of "blind," but again, I think it's more about what you're comfortable with than any big difference between the statements.

I would be prepared, just in case the message got dropped along the way and somebody asks if you're okay, to restate your brief explanation in the interview, but my instinct is to otherwise consider that you've informed the company and that you don't need to mention it again because labor-wise it's not a big deal.

And it sounds like you're doing an excellent job of interview prep for somebody at your level of experience, and handling this well is quite likely going to impress your prospective employers. Good luck!

Julie O'Malley said...

I'd avoid using the term "legally blind." Those are two scary words to an HR person or an employer. I like your idea and AAM's about calling it a "visual condition" or a "condition that affects my eyes."

Also, there are web resources specifically for job seekers with disabilities. They might have real-world info from people who've been there (gettinghired.com is one -- I'm not affiliated with them, just aware of them.)

Anonymous said...

ANOTHER REPLY FROM THE OP
Thank you guys so much! It seems kind of obvious to me now (and should have been before I asked) what I need to do. BUT it is very reassuring to hear confirmation like this from all of you. Thank you so much!

I will continue to check back here in case anyone has anything else to add. I am pretty much sure now that it DOES need to be addressed. And I would appreciate it if anyone else has any more input on the wording issue. If not, I will re-read AAM's post and practice, practice, practice! the wording she suggested.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

One of my coworkers has nystagmus - sure, it's a little distracting, but anything a person isn't exposed to all the time can be distracting. My wife has no hair - it's pretty shocking to people that've never met her, but I'm usually not even conscious of it.

Anyway, that coworker is thorough and has a good work ethic - I'd MUCH rather be on a project with him than with any of the following:

A) the "average" coworker who only wants to do the minimum amount of effort needed in order to "check the done box."

B) the "super-hot" coworker who's so used to most men falling all over themselves to do things for her that she expects it from all men.

C) (fill in the blank, ad infinitum)

Moral of the story:
So what if a person has a condition? (visible or not) Performance and results are what really matter...

Marsha Keeffer said...

Being proactive in describing the situation helps eliminate misunderstandings immediately.

'Legally blind' is serious and means...well, those of us who are sighted quickly jump to thinking it means not seeing at all. Your being able to read was initially a surprise to me - but now I get it.

Once hiring managers understand your situation, tools + skills should = job. I'd say disclose over the phone and get it out of the way.

Thanks for opening my mind - this is a very important post.