Job Insights #3: Mastering the Elephant in the Room – Disclosing a Disability in the Job Interview Process. Transcription Provided
Welcome to Episode 3 of Job Insights with Serina Gilbert and Jef Thompson. We focus on Employment, Careers, enhancing opportunities and bringing you the latest innovations from across the Vocational Rehabilitation field to ensure your choices lead you down the career pathway that you want and succeed in gainful employment.
From getting started with services, to assessments, Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) to gaining the skills to succeed and tools for success, Job Insights will be giving you tips and tricks to help your journey to employment and break down the barriers along the way.
In this episode we take on the White Elephant in the Room, that is, the job interview room.
With guest voices answering the question, “Do you disclose your disability during the job interview process, and if so, when do you disclose?”
Hosts Serina Gilbert and Jeff Thompson take a good look at this Million Dollar question from all points of view and leave you with information that will better prepare you for your job interview process. There may not be one set way and being prepared for the job interview gives you an advantage that may help you land the career you want.
Check out episode 3 of Job Insights and send us your feedback and topic suggestions by email.
Follow the Job Insights team on twitter @JobInsightsVIP
Job Insights is part of the Blind Abilities network.
Job Insights #3: Mastering the Elephant in the Room – Disclosing a Disability in the Job Interview Process. Transcription Provided
Female voice: And most of the people that worked there did not know that I had any sort of vision impairment or anything like that, and at that time I was not comfortable walking around with my cane.
Jeff: Job Insights, a podcast to help you carve out your career pathway and enhance the opportunities for gainful employment.
Female voice: Because an interview is not just the employer figuring out if they want to hire you, it’s you figuring out if you want to work for the employer as well.
Jeff: To help you navigate the employment world and give you Job Insights and enhance the opportunities to choose the career you want.
Selling yourself, you want to be the best box of cereal on the shelf because when people come down they’re looking at all the colors all the things, what makes them pick a certain box?
Is it the toy inside, is it the fancy colors?
So you had to start selling yourself and be the one they pick.
Female voice: If you have more of a obvious disability, you want to make sure that you kind of address that in a way that makes it so that they’re not thinking about that, they’re thinking about your skills, that’s what their inner monologue isn’t about you, it’s about what they think that you can’t do in their bias.
Jeff: And you can find the Job Insights podcast on Blindabilities.com, part of the Blind Abilities network, with host Serina Gilbert and myself, Jeff Thompson.
And you can contact us by email at Job Insights@BlindAbilities.com, leave us some feedback or suggest some topics that we cover.
On Twitter at Job Insights VIP and check out the Job Insight support group on Facebook where you can learn, share, advise, and interact with the Job Insights community.
Female voice: I didn’t catch them off guard by showing up with a cane, and I found that that approach worked really well for me.
Jeff: Learn about resources for training, education, and employment opportunities.
Female voice: I think sighted people just like since video calls exist, they, that’s what they use, so it’s definitely becoming, it’s going to be a type of interview than most people will have I think.
Jeff: And now please welcome Serina Gilbert and Jeff Thompson with Job Insights.
Serina: Hey Jeff!
Jeff: To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question I ask of thee.
Serina: Have you been reading Shakespeare?
Jeff: No, but I have been reading the Job Insights support group page.
There’s been a topic going on there about disclosure.
Serina: Yeah it seems like a lot of people have some different opinions on, do I talk about my disability in the job interview, do I not?
Female voice: I have a very disability in that I use a cane, and I can’t make eye contact and so I find that usually, and this is the same thing that I did after the phone interview but before the in-person interview, I disclosed.
Female voice: Do I talk about it when I’m doing my cover letter or my resume or not?
Male voice: If you’re applying for a position and it involves using some kind of accommodation, then it’s probably wise to disclose it.
Serina: And I really wanted to see if we could talk about that a little bit today get some different opinions.
Female voice: If I need to than I do, if I don’t need to I don’t.
Serina: Just get it all out there, I know this will be a pretty divisive topic, everyone has some pretty strong opinions on disability disclosure.
We’re here to offer you some tips on what might help you in the job interview process, when might be a good time to disclose and work to your advantage in a job interview, and maybe when might not be a great time to bring that up in a job interview.
Jeff: And when to know the difference, that’s um, I think the most important thing.
Jeff: Some of the topics that came up really shocked me like, I do my own accommodations a gentleman said, and that just made me cock my head and I had to think about that for a little bit, and yeah I get that, or someone says how dare you can you show up and shock them by showing up with a cane, you didn’t tell them, and I’m thinking, like in some situations the resume does not have a spot for that, they may be able to dissect it out of the some of the positions you’ve held, or some of the companies who worked for, but I think mostly it’s one of those situations that you’re prepared for either way.
Serina: Well and it’s interesting that you brought up the I provide my own accommodations piece of the equation.
I respect anyone who wants to step up and say here’s what I need, I already have it, that’s great, but in a lot of systems you can’t install your own programs onto computers without having some significant permission.
For example I work for a government agency, there’s no way they’re gonna give me an administrative password and all kinds of leeway to install any programs that I want because who knows what they could do to their network.
Of course I know that JAWS is safe and I know that they know that JAWS is safe, but they still have to have some sort of system for managing the programs that are on their server and other network because what if you install a pirated piece of software then what, not saying that you would, most employers unless it’s a real small company, it is their legal responsibility to provide you with that reasonable accommodation so why not take them up on it as opposed to using your hard-earned money to purchase those licenses and keep that up on somebody else’s computer.
Jeff: So having JAWS, having accommodations, and talking to them about accommodations that to, to read the screen, you can even have a person come in to do evaluation of what kind of software they’re using, what kind of databases they’re using, the see if you can gain access, and further down the line some scripts could even be made to help these specialized programs that they utilize just so you can overcome that hurdle, and it might be just a button that you have to get past.
Jeff: So there’s some great services that are out there when you’re trying to get a job, especially when you’re into the job field, it seems like State Services has a whole arsenal of people that are help at that point, or if you’re trying to retain a job too.
Serina: That’s a really good point, yes if you maybe already have a job, gosh I didn’t even think about that Jeff, if you, if you already are working, I’ve seen that and quite a few of the support groups on Facebook, I’m working, I’m losing my vision, I don’t think I can work anymore, and just remember that if you are having vision difficulties at work, you are still able to go apply for services at vocational rehabilitation and see what kinds of things they might be able to put place so that you can keep your job.
I’d hate to see somebody that has 20 or 25 years in a career and you’re just that close to retirement and feeling like you have to give up because your vision is changing with all the technology that’s out there now, not saying it’s gonna be easy, there’s gonna be some learning curves for sure, but the sooner you start getting those services, the sooner you can get back to working in the job like you used to.
Jeff: Yeah and that job retention it’s a lot, I’m not gonna say it’s a lot easier, but what it does is, you’re gonna go into some specifics you know, you’re just gonna do this to bridge this, to bridge that, to shore up what you’re not able to do because it’s obvious right away, rather than if you leave the job you go back home then you get to start from scratch like, I want to learn how to cook, I wanna, you know so it’s interesting at different points when people are losing their vision, but when we’re talking about disclosure, is that’s a unique point too.
I suppose because I’ve been blind for so long that to me I can live within my skin, and I think the difference is people who are trying to, especially high partials, or partials, they’re either around blind people, there the sighted person around sighted people or they’re the blind guy, or the blind person.
Jeff: But at a job interview, there’s a quandary there, do they use their cane or not use their cane and bump into things or do they bring their cane?
Serina: You just brought up a really interesting point because I just thought back to when I was 19 and I started getting cane training from vocational rehabilitation, and at that time I was a cashier at a retail store, and most of the people that worked there did not know that I had any sort of vision impairment or anything like that, and at that time, I was not comfortable walking around with my cane.
I’d rather bump into somebody then be seen as the blind girl.
So at the age of 19 I would have absolutely said, no way I am not disclosing my disability, I can do it just as well as anyone else.
I will just work twice as hard, and struggle at times, but now gosh, 20 years later ish, I think totally differently I, I could never personally see an instance where I would not want to disclose that because I don’t want it to be the elephant in the room, when I’m being interviewed.
Rob Hobson: It’s really up to the individual, some people like to not say a thing, show up to the interview, surprise I’m blind, you know, granted they don’t say that.
I think to the interviewer that, that’s a surprise, but if you want to go that route, that’s totally fine it’s entirely up to you.
But I want you to think about something when you go in for that interview, blindness is that, the white elephant in the room, if you don’t address it, you’re left to whatever conceptions they have a blindness, positive or negative, but if you address it as in a positive way, you bring up the fact that you are blind, and that you utilize accessible technology via you know whether it’s JAWS or NVDA, or a system access, whatever it is you use, explain to that employer why you’re the best candidate for the job.
The long answer is, it’s up to the individual, but if you don’t address the fact that you’re blind, I think it puts you at a disadvantage.
Jeff: And that was Rob Hobson, he’s the director of programs at Blind Incorporated in Minnesota.
Jeff: And that’s what it is, it’s that the elephant in the room, and if you don’t squash that, they’re gonna paint their own picture as big as a an elephant any way they want to.
Serina: Well and the reality is is that every employer knows that they can’t come out and say, what’s your disability, they can ask, do you require any reasonable accommodations to perform the essential duties of this job, which is a roundabout way of still figuring it out obviously.
But if you’re coming to an interview and you’re using a service animal, or you have a cane, it’s right out there and then they’re just wondering, well how on earth is she going to be able to do this, or how is he going to be able to spellcheck documents for me, or access the computer?
Because the technology that we use is not mainstream, most people don’t even understand what a screen reader is unless they know somebody who has a visual impairment.
Jeff: Mm-hmm, yeah and that’s the point where you have the opportunity to educate them and sell yourself with the skills that you do have.
Serina: Exactly, one of the other panelists did bring up a really good point.
If it’s a phone interview, that’s totally different, they don’t see you, they have no clue what you look like, what your abilities and capabilities are, and then what you’re selling to them.
I don’t think I would mention it in that interview type of setting, what about you Jeff?
Jeff: No I really don’t think so, I think the phone call is a situation where they’re just starting to get a good feel of how you, you know your social skills, they want to find out if you’re a good fit for the team, for the company.
Serina: Correct, because we talked about this a little bit on our very first podcast, if you got the interview then they have already determined that you’re qualified for the position, they’re just trying to see if you’re a good fit for the office but, whether that be the culture, or some more specific questions that they weren’t able to flush out in the application process, by not discussing your disability when you have a visible disability, you’re almost causing the employers to only focus on the fact that you just walked in with a service dog, or with your cane, and is human as people want to be, and is empathetic and understanding as they claim to be, that’s still going to be in the forefront of their mind especially if they’re not familiar with your disability.
Jeff: That’s where Daysha the employment specialist brought up a very good point about where you’re just talking about and she called it the internal monologue that the hiring person will be creating.
Daysha: When you do talk to somebody, especially if it’s an interview, you’re gonna get that tell me about yourself, you could even get that when you just meet an employer at a job fair or an internship fair, tell me about yourself.
You want to make sure especially if you have more of a obvious disability, you want to make sure that you kind of address that in a way that makes it so that they’re not thinking about that, they’re thinking about your skills.
A lot of people make the mistake of never seeing anything and then an employer, the whole time that they’re talking is thinking, well because they don’t have any experience with vision loss, so they’re thinking to themselves, I don’t know that I could do that if I couldn’t see right, I’m not sure that they’re gonna be able to do that, that’s what, their inner monologue isn’t about you, it’s about what they think that you can’t do and their bias.
Tell how you do things, go into it with confidence, know what your skills are ahead of time, know what you have to offer an employer, and just go into it that way.
Serina: Exactly they start putting those doubts in their mind.
I don’t know if they’ll be able to do this, what about safety concerns?
That’s a really big one, is my workers compensation insurance going to go up because I have this individual in my office who’s presumably, whether correct or incorrect, going to be causing more workplace incidents or accidents.
Which we all know if you’ve gotten your orientation and mobility training in your personal adjustment training, your always more safe than the people who are sighted in the office, because you’re not walking around on your cell phone or distracted.
Jeff: We’ll have to put in ramps and handrails, we’ll have to label everything and yeah, but you can control that, and I think at that point, you know you’re coming in with a cane and you know they don’t know it yet, so that’s your opportunity right there, that’s your opportunity to call out the white elephant in the room in your favor.
You can address it and you can tell them exactly like we said, selling yourself, you want to be the best box of cereal on the shelf, because when people come down, they’re looking at all the colors, all the things, what makes them pick a certain box?
Is it the toy inside, is it the fancy colors?
So you have to start selling yourself and be the one they pick.
Serina: It’s interesting that you mentioned when you come to the interview, let’s say with your cane or your service animal, I have seen situations where individuals do have a visual impairment that warrants the use of a cane and they opt to not bring that to the job interview, and I have seen that cause some problems, because when you don’t have your cane or your service animal that could create some super awkward situations when you’re trying to interview with the employer.
As an example, the employer comes out to the lobby to get you, and maybe your vision is not adjusted or whatever the case may be to that particular office environment, and you’re walking not so steady, or unsure about yourself, just think of the assumptions that they’re putting in their mind now with the individual that’s interviewing for the job, but not walking appropriately in their office, or not making eye contact, or not quite getting the handshake.
Jeff: Mm-hmm, yeah and that’s very important because myself, I have no central vision, and I can pick up some peripheral stuff, but in an interview you’re probably trying to make the best eye contact you can, and I was just in an interview, this was a podcast interview and I told the person right off the get-go, don’t think I’m looking over your shoulder or something behind you because that’s how I sometimes pick things up by looking away from what I’m really looking at, so I actually made them feel more comfortable than them trying to talk during the interview wondering, what’s behind me he keeps looking at, or something like that.
Serina: Exactly, yeah.
Jeff: In reality I, whatever I’m looking at I can’t see anyways, so you can control the situation.
They’re going to start working this white elephant up in the room, they’re gonna start, and not even hearing what you’re talking about, all the stuff you’re talking about, so you have to get control of the conversation a little bit and that’s where you can start saying that, how you overcome doing job details that they want like word document that you use because you use JAWS, or how you can use other type of apparatuses or tools for success that get you to the point where you can compete against anybody that they hire.
Miranda: I say no because I feel like with as much misunderstanding as there is in the world with with blindness, it’s easy for a employer or potential employer to look at your resume and see that you’re blind and see all these other resumes that he’s got to go through that are just as educated, just as qualified as you are, and to simply just let that one go, like alright, I’m not gonna deal with that.
I mean because you’re you’re talking about them having to deal with ADA and all this, all that other kind of stuff, walk in there confident and stuff, don’t disclose before you go in, and just be like, hey this is what I can offer your company.
If you made it in there, if they invited you in then that means you’re qualified and you should have a shot at it just as everybody else.
Jeff: You’re listening to the voice of Miranda Brandenburg, she’s a certified personal trainer and nutritional specialist.
Miranda: The vast majority of people out there have never dealt with a blind person or encountered someone, especially one that is out there making waves, that’s out there leading the charge, that’s out there willing to work and get in there and travel and do this and do that and get out on the mat and fight and compete with sighted peers on every single level that they can.
Serina: And it doesn’t have to be the first thing you talk about you know, it can be something that, because I’ve never been an interview that didn’t say at the end, do you have any other information like to offer me, or do you have any questions for me, I don’t, what about you Jeff?
I’ve never not been asked that?
Jeff: Every time and have that question, because they want to know something, so I suggest before you going into an interview, go online, read their mission statement, see what company they are, see what they’re all about, what, what’s their key words, and that’s something that you might want to integrate into your dialogue with them, and then when they come with that question, ask that question, like do you have any questions about my ability to do this job?
Serina: And the way that I’ve approached it, I’ve only had to do it once, because one was I was applying for a County job at a local Workforce Center, and the second interview was using a white cane, was at the division of vocational rehabilitation.
So it could not be more of a comfortable environment.
I didn’t even have to address it there, but the first one I did come in, I had my white cane, towards the end they said, do you have any more information you’d like to share with me?
And I said well, you know, you obviously know I have a visual impairment, I just wanted to give you some information on the technology that I use in order to get things done, and I had gone as far as to print out some real short tip sheets on, at that time I was using a portable CCTV, and JAWS, so that they knew I had already thought about the types of things that I might need on the job and was already skilled in that, so that they didn’t have to worry about, okay, obviously I’m gonna have to train her on our procedures, but is she also going to have to get training on her technology needs.
Jeff: Mm-hmm, and that’s a good point to come in there and let them know how you’re gonna access the material that they have.
Serina: Mm-hmm, now I have seen some questions in our support group about, do I disclose in the application process?
A lot of applications are automated and they, some of them do ask if you have a disability.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about that because, yes they might be asking if you have a disability, but if, unless they’re breaking the law, that information is not to be passed on to the hiring manager or the individual that’s reviewing your application.
Typically when they’re asking if you have a disability or require reasonable accommodation, that information is used for one of two things.
The first would be that there is a program called Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows employers to have taxes reimbursed to them to offset hiring expenses and things like that for hiring individuals in a variety of situations including those that have a disability, as well as those that are on public assistance, or they’re using it because they know that they have some sort of testing that all the applicants have to do, and they really truly are trying to reasonably accommodate anybody that might need those accommodations.
So I wouldn’t hesitate to answer that personally because that could put you in an awkward situation down the road should you have to take, for example if you’re applying at a call center, should you have to take one of their tests and all of a sudden you’re asking for an accommodation when on the application you said that you don’t need accommodations or don’t have a disability.
Jeff: And the same thing in Minnesota our Governor passed two years ago, he passed the proclamation that 7% of all employees in the state jobs, they’ll hire people with disabilities to fill that 7% goal that they want to have, and so in some applications, some situations, there is a checkbox for that, and that way companies that do want to hire people can have that choice too.
Serina: And that brings up another good point, the federal government also has a mandate that they have to hire a certain percentage of individuals with disabilities, and in fact, if anyone has been through that federal hiring process, it’s a nightmare to say the least.
If you do not check that you have a disability, then you’re not going to be considered in any of the priority categories which means that your application might never even get looked at for open position.
Jeff: Yeah it’s a tough area and a lot of us, like I said on the last podcast, a lot of us aren’t fully up on everything that there is to know about blindness when you probably, if you weren’t born blind, or you just became blind, there’s a lot to learn and there’s lots of people that are offering suggestions and no one’s really wrong, but I think the best fit is the best fit that you feel most comfortable with because if you’re uncomfortable they’ll know you’re uncomfortable with it so, that’s why in Minnesota here at the state agency, they do tutoring on job interviews, mock interviews, where you do get the situation that you know, mister mister boss might ask questions or make you feel awkward in a sense just so you can understand that every interview that you go to, you’re gonna get a different person that has different preconceived ideas and it’s gonna be in a different situation each time.
So if you have an opportunity to try a mock interview, that’d be really great experience.
Serina: Well and frankly I remember reading an article, I think it was last year, people are actually scared of blindness, they would rather have cancer than be diagnosed with being blind or visually impaired.
So imagine that fear then being put into the situation of, oh my gosh how could I possibly hire somebody that has this visual impairment?
If you don’t address how you do things in the workplace.
Jeff: Mm-hmm that’s a great point, another great point is to remember they want to hire someone who can get the job done.
Bottom line, get the job done.
Susan Robinson, an entrepreneur out in New York and a TEDx speaker, and visually impaired by the way, she told me that she has never terminated a person because they were sighted.
Serina: Hmm, that’s an interesting way to put that.
Jeff: Mm-hmm, she has a job that she needs to get done, she wants to hire the person that could come in and do that job, that’s it.
Serina: Wow, look at you getting all philosophical over there!
Female voice: To me it was no different than anyone else doing the same thing with the exception of letting people know during an interview process what I might need from them.
So again it was the same sort of self-advocacy to use your wonderful term as I did in college, so in an interview process, the first interviews is sort of getting to know each other, do I think I like working for this person?
Because an interview is not just the employer figuring out if they want to hire you, it’s you figuring out if you want to work for the employer as well.
Once we got to maybe a level 2 or level 3 conversation in the interview process, at that point when it seemed to be a little bit more concrete that the position possibly could be mine, I would disclose and I would say, I just want to let you know I have a visual impairment, it may not be obvious to you, but what that means is I’m gonna bring everything that we’ve already talked about, my, all of the skills and characteristics that we’ve discussed, but I am going to need a large monitor for my computer so that I can see things you know enlarged a little bit, and generally people were very receptive to that because again I’m letting them know which is what every potential employer wants to know, can you do the job, are you willing to do the job, and are you going to be a good fit?
Jeff: Serina, when we had our conversation with Cindy Bennett, a researcher out in Washington and a former intern at Microsoft, she mentioned something that we hadn’t even considered, and that was, an interview via videoconference.
Cindy: I think if I had a video interview I would probably disclose, but I would frame it something like, I’m actually blind so, I might be like, hey does the camera look okay, okay cool, like just like that, just really quick.
I do practice if I do a video interview, I always like first of all clean my apartment and look nice.
Second of all, I set up my computer on a table in front of my couch and call someone I know, like I video call someone I know and they tell me okay this is good.
I found that just like a quick little thing at the beginning of the video interview, I’m like, oh by the way I’m blind, I just wanna make sure that you can see me okay in the camera.
If it’s an old-fashioned audio phone interview, then usually the person emails me and says we’d like to invite you for an in-person interview and I say thank you and confirm the dates and say, oh just for your information, I’m blind, here’s what I need.
Jeff: Were you excited when we asked for a podcast that you didn’t have to clean your house?
Cindy: Yeah [Laughter mixed with inaudible talking] I don’t want to do a video call …….. I think they are important things to think about, like I honestly with a lot of my colleagues now that I’m comfortable with them, I’m just like, can we just do audio because then I can just set my phone down beside me and we can go on with our business, but I think sighted people just like, since video calls exist, they, that’s what they use.
So it’s definitely becoming, it’s going to be a type of interview that most people will have I think.
Serina: I honestly didn’t even think about how the video interview, how that would be impacted by the visual impairment, so I’m glad you brought that up because I haven’t had an interview for a job since 2010 and it was definitely not when people were doing video interviews or anything like that, so that’s definitely something to think about.
Jeff: It’s really great that so many people came on board and shared their experiences, the way they handle disclosing a disability during an interview and the people leaving comments on Job Insights support group page on Facebook.
And to sum it up, here’s Rachel Hastings, she just got done running the marathon, the Boston Marathon and she’s a music therapist.
Rachel: I’ve done it both ways, so I’ve done it one time I didn’t tell them that I was blind until I got there and I think it kind of caught him off guard.
I mean part of me is like deal with it, but the other part of me is like, well you know, there’s no harm in telling them over the phone.
After they invite you to an interview, and so because I kind of felt like I made it awkward, so the next time I was first offered a phone interview and I told them over the phone, I’m like, by the way I want to let you guys know that I’m legally blind, but I’m very independent and that, that was after they invited me for an in-person interview.
So it’s like there was no way they could turn me down but yet I didn’t catch them off-guard by showing up with a cane in person, and I found that that approach worked really well for me.
Jeff: So Serina, next week we’re gonna be talking about some apps.
Apps for the workplace, apps for productivity, apps for a school.
Serina: Yep, I know that I have my favorites.
Jeff: Hmm, you gonna save them, you’re gonna make us wonder till next week aren’t you?
Serina: You guys will have to wonder till next week.
Jeff: The cliffhanger strikes again.
Serina: So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to our show today.
As always if you have any questions or topics that you’d like us to follow, you can give us a message on Twitter, that’s at Job Insights VIP, or on our Facebook page which is Job Insights, and we also have a brand new job insight support group on Facebook, just search Job Insights support group, see you next time.
Jeff: Thank You Chee Chau for your beautiful music, that’s lcheechau on Twitter.
We really hope you enjoyed this podcast, thanks for listening, and until next time bye-bye!
When we share what we see through each other’s eyes, we can then begin to bridge the gap between the limited expectations and reality of blind abilities.
Jeff: For more podcasts with the blindness perspective check us out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on Twitter at Blind Abilities, download our app from the app store, Blind Abilities, that is two words, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening.