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Disability at the workplace

Today, mainly due to modern technology, more and more disabled people are finding it easier to obtain jobs in their desired fields, and employing a disabled person is no longer seen as a daunting task by employers.

However, there may be a few additional things to consider for both the employee and the employer.

A person with a disability may need certain arrangements, such as working conditions and a few extra tools or technologies to compensate for his or her disability. But as many businesses evolve and experiment with alternative working conditions for their staff, accommodating a disabled person should be no different.

For example increasing demands on productivity and effectiveness are leading to new technologies. Working at home or from satellite offices is becoming more common. Tasks are being assigned on a contract or temporary basis, based on skills.

Offices are introducing larger computer monitors (once the domain of large publishing houses), improved lighting and ergonomic chairs to reduce physical strain. Most of these are easy to introduce and cost very little.

In the case of employing a disabled person some other factors may come into play, including making workplace facilities accessible, modifying work schedules and restructuring.

As a disabled candidate for a job it may be a wise move to pre-empt a potential employer's objections by taking care of your own needs as much as possible, in very much the same way as an able-bodied applicant would do.

If possible provide any special equipment or technology you may need. Be open and clear. Explain your specific needs. Don't expect your employer to anticipate them. Know how much it costs to provide any special equipment you require and where to buy it. Whether you are looking for a full- or part-time job, the right vacancy is out there waiting for you to find it.

Job interviews for the disabled

Once you have decided that you're ready to find work it may be helpful to develop an action plan. You can do this on your own or with the help of family and friends. If you have no idea what kind of work you want to do, or what you're capable of, a careers advice centre may be able to help.

They can make suggestions and point you in the right direction. This often entails getting to know yourself, exploring possibilities, setting goals and taking action. Remember to focus on your abilities rather than things you cannot do.

Always be positive. Don't tell yourself that nobody will hire you because you have a disability. Everyone has abilities and someone will hire you. This is where counselling and a strong support network can be of huge help. Always remember you have developed lots of skills from the challenges of your disability, such as creative problem solving, flexibility, recovering from a mistake or difficult situation and determination.

It is important to have both short-term and long-term goals. Small steps, such as training to build self-confidence as you work towards a bigger goal. Having difficulty with one step doesn't mean you will fail to achieve your overall plan.

As with any prospective candidate at a job interview, anticipate the questions. Prepare yourself for typical work-related questions as well as those that go beyond the workplace. These could include questions relating to your disability and its impact on your ability. Any special equipment you may require and how much it will cost. What transportation arrangements do you have? Are they reliable?

Focus on your good qualities. Be positive. Explain any gaps in your CV. For example "I took some time off after my accident to reassess my skills and abilities." Use examples of how you have performed well in the past. Re-direct negative questions back to your skills and abilities.

Self-confidence is one of the most important factors in any successful job interview. Focus on positive experiences, your abilities and success in all areas of life. Be confident when asked about your skills, abilities and disabilities.

For some people, telling prospective employers about a disability may be a big stumbling block. Remember it is your choice. You have to decide what's best for you. It may be better to be up-front and mention it on your CV, or you may prefer to wait until you get an interview, or even wait until you are offered the job. But before you decide, it is worth taking a few things into consideration.

Is your disability visible? How do people react when you tell them? How do you deal with their reactions? When do you feel most comfortable telling people about your disability? Are there any safety reasons that would affect your decision to tell your employers? Are there any misconceptions a potential employer may have?

Succeeding at the workplace

Many disabled people are making their mark at the workplace for a number of reasons. Firstly, their work matches their abilities and interests. Their disability can be an asset in some aspects of their work. They have received training in identifying and addressing the attitudes of colleagues.

Maintaining a balance in your working life is important. Over-commitment may affect your health and well being. Making friends at work is important for everybody. Find someone who will show you the ropes and provide support. As any new employee, take the initiative to make your needs known. Everyone needs to learn how to work together.

But remember, it's not a perfect world. There may be times when someone tells an inappropriate joke or uses language that offends you. Consider how best to respond. When is the right time to discuss the matter?

Is it a one-off or something more frequent? Should you speak to the person individually, consult your boss or even someone higher up? Would a group awareness or training session be in order? Or should you do nothing at all? Perhaps your co-workers have addressed the situation already.

Invisible disabilities

If you have an invisible disability, you're living with a chronic condition that can't be seen. This is a long list and includes fibromyalgia (ME), migraines, learning disorders, Crohn's disease, epilepsy, mental illness, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many others.

A significant number of people have an invisible disability and although it may not affect their job performance, the onset or recurrence of some disabilities may affect a person's ability to function on the job.

One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with an invisible disability may be deciding if, or when, you should tell a potential employer.

Unless your disability could put you or someone else at risk, telling a potential employer really is a matter of choice. However, if it's a safety issue you will need to disclose your disability at an appropriate time.

This is less likely to be a concern if you use effective planning and job search techniques. Take time to carefully analyse the type of work you're able to do. Think about what you need to do to succeed on the job and apply for positions that most suit you.

With an invisible disability, it may be best not to mention it on your CV or application form. Think carefully what type of CV will suit you best. Make sure you include education, training, employment history and make sure you account for any gaps between jobs.

Ask yourself the following questions as you make the decision whether or not to let a potential employer know about your invisible disability. Will disclosing it help or hurt your chances of getting or keeping work?

How will the employer react? Are there any misconceptions about your disability and how will you address them if you disclose it? If your disability is under control, is there any reason to disclose it?

Do your coping strategies allow you to meet the job requirements? If you know you are unable to perform some of the duties in the job description because of your disability, would disclosure help the employer modify the job to fit your abilities?

Would you consider work alternatives such as part-time work or job sharing? Before you make your decision about disclosing your disability, think about these points. From an employer's point of view, not disclosing your disability means that you don't need special treatment.

You can never undisclose, but you can always disclose at a later stage. If you choose to tell your prospective employer, decide whether to do it during an interview, when you've been offered the job in writing, or if you need special considerations.

If your disability could be a safety concern for yourself or others, discuss it with the employer after the job offer has been made so you and your employer can take appropriate steps to avoid any risks.

For example, if you have epilepsy and there's a chance of seizure, your employer can ensure a co-worker with First Aid qualifications is available to help you, if necessary. If your invisible disability poses no safety concern, you may decide to discuss it after you've been given a written job offer or if you're required to pass a medical exam.

If you choose to accept the job without disclosing your invisible disability, it's important to get a letter from your doctor stating that, at the time of employment, you were deemed fit to work. Keep this letter for your records. You may need to tell your employers if you need time off for medical appointments or recovery. As you prepare to discuss your condition, remember that anyone can develop a disability, invisible or not, at any time.

You haven't been dishonest by not disclosing your disability. You were able to work because your disability was under control. This is why a note from your doctor dated from the beginning of your employment is essential.

Once again, don't overlook the skills you've developed as a result of living with a disability. By using effective career planning and job search techniques, you'll be able to assess your skills and find an employer who recognises what you have to offer.

CSB Recruitment Agency has been supporting the local business community with its services since 1987. For further information you can write to CSB at 185D, Old Bakery Street, Valletta VLT 04, call 2123-2224 or 2123-2225, fax: 2123-2226, e-mail: [email protected] or visit www.VacancyCentre.com

© Copyright 2006, Commercial Services Bureau (CSB) Ltd.

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