Based on Census Bureau data from 2015, there were an estimated 1.6 million working-age Texans with one or more disabilities. In the same year, Austin was home to nearly 72,000 residents living with disabilities or roughly 8 percent of the city’s population. These are significant numbers, and they likely do not include many invisible disabilities as defined by the ADA Amendments Act (2008).
While the situation is improving, many challenges remain for job seekers with chronic medical conditions in the United States. Discrimination in the workplace, lack of accessibility and inaccurate perceptions are all contributing factors to a disability unemployment rate that is more than twice as high as the general population. Moreover, the unemployment rate is not an ideal metric to gauge the economic participation of people with disabilities, as it does not account for many people who would like to work but are not actively seeking employment.
However, more and more employers are realizing the benefits of hiring a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities. In this day and age, companies need employees who are able to solve problems in unique and creative ways. And candidates with disabilities are often well positioned to think outside the proverbial box.
With more than 22 years of experience putting people with disabilities to work in Austin, we’ve compiled some of our best advice for job seekers with chronic medical conditions.
Consider a public sector job
The Obama administration exceeded their goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities during the past several years. With many states and municipalities following, this act alone has undoubtedly contributed to a falling disability unemployment rate over the same time period.
If you’re unable to get a government job directly, you might consider working with a company that does business with the public sector (shameless self-promotion alert). At Peak Performers, we recognize that disabilities have little to no bearing on an individual’s skills and capabilities. Our mission is to find jobs for qualified individuals, especially those with a disability. In fact, at our company, your status as a person with a disability can actually put you at an advantage–when we fill jobs, we give priority to qualified people who have a chronic medical condition.
Expand your network
Shameless self-promotion aside, we’re not the only ones in Austin providing jobs for people with disabilities. We recommend utilizing a variety local and online resources in your job search. Here are a few of our favorites:
- The Launch Pad Job Club is a networking, support, and job lead sharing organization that aids and supports job seekers in Austin. Looking for work is hard to do alone. The job club model offers free, weekly meetings to network and learn from local experts and job seekers.
- Workforce Solutions is our regional workforce development system and a partner of the American Job Center network. With three locations in the Austin area, WFS is a one-stop resource for job search assistance and employment-related services in Travis County.
- If you are new to the workforce or are recently disabled, you might benefit from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – one of the leading sources of guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.
Consider when to disclose
The key question for many disabled job seekers is when (or if) to disclose their medical condition to a potential employer. Depending on your individual circumstances, this decision will be different for everyone. However, it’s important to think ahead and be prepared to address any skepticism from a hiring manager.
For people with highly visible disabilities, it is generally recommended to address any accommodations at the outset, so that expectations are set early in the process. Those with invisible disabilities can typically choose whether or not to disclose at all. Many career advice articles suggest that if your disability is not easily noticeable, it’s best not to say anything. Despite legal protection, the sad truth is that workplace discrimination is still a significant reality for people with all types of disabilities.
Know your worth
If and when you do decide to disclose, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to outline your entire medical history. We recommend sharing any accommodations you might need and focusing on how you’re able to contribute to the company. As with any job search process, it’s important to highlight your skills, experience and professional accomplishments. Understanding your worth can go a long way to giving you the confidence to nail the interview. The system might be broken, but you certainly are not.