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Creating Access and Inclusion for Disabled Talent

Feb 16, 2023 | United Agencies Corporate Blog

Applying for a job comes with no small checklist: resumes and cover letters, applications and multiple interviews are the norm. But for applicants factoring in a physical, behavioral, emotional or sensory impairment, the process can be even more daunting.

Andrea Dalzell, a disability advocate and New York State’s first wheelchair-bound registered nurse, knows these obstacles all too well. According to the Department of Labor and Statistics, one in four adults in the U.S. has a disability; the unemployment rate for that community is double that of non-disabled workers.

Dalzell now speaks on behalf of those like her, who face discrimination and doubt when applying for the jobs they want — and are qualified for.  Adding a disability, whether visible or invisible, she says, is another layer you have to peel back. “Human beings cannot be put into a box, but this is what we do as an American capitalistic society,” She says. “When we force people to stay in a box, they become obsolete.”

Dalzell has been using a wheelchair full-time since the age of 12, after being diagnosed with transverse myelitis at the age of five. The condition causes an inflammation of the spinal cord that leads to pain, muscle weakness and paralysis. In turn, she knows just how difficult it can be to break into a career, after receiving her degree and going through 76 interviews without a single job offer.

But a silver lining has emerged from those experiences: Dalzell can now easily relate to patients who struggle with the onset of a new disability, and give them hope and encouragement that comes from her own perseverance in the face of adversity. Still, she finds it frustrating that she and others in her career field still face levels of discrimination.

“We’re forgetting that [enabling] technology has advanced so much, and should allow our healing touch and compassion to come into the profession and give hope in a way that is normally not seen,” she says. “And yet when [people with disabilities] are saying they want to be nurses or be on a healthcare team, we’re saying well, you have a disability — you’re not good enough.”

Employers must do more, Dalzell says, than merely abide by labor laws that are meant to protect and give rights to those with disabilities. It means putting a hold on being performative, she says, and thinking about basic human needs. Encouraging people to apply for a position means being ready to accept and accommodate any qualified candidate.

“You cannot tell people you are an equal opportunity employer, tell them to come on in through the door,” she says, “but then be unprepared and your doors are not even big enough to accept someone.”

HR often struggles with understanding and providing accommodations, Dalzell says. The majority of what’s necessary falls under the categories of support and flexibility, and this requires empathy on the part of the employer — a generic list of accommodations assumes people will be in a black or white area, she says, and that isn’t realistic.

Dalzell encourages employers to remember that accommodating employees is something they have recently done through the course of COVID; doing so for those with disabilities shouldn’t be viewed as a new or daunting challenge. She also stresses that accommodations should be the last thing brought up, or not addressed at all, in an interview with a disabled applicant.

“It should always be about their experience, and never about what their inability is, because their abilities will speak louder than their inability,” she says. “Those with disabilities know how to overcompensate for whatever they lack. After you’ve given them the chance to say yes, that’s when you get to know your employee and how best you can support them in their role.”

For those managing a disability and applying for jobs, Dalzell encourages job seekers to arm themselves with their own experience and credentials.

“Whether that’s taking courses online, making sure you have the right degree, and making sure you’ve partnered with a resume builder and maybe even a speech coach,” she say. “This allows you to fully focus on whatever is going to be thrown at you in an interview. And if you deal with discrimination in an interview, call it out. It’s hard, but don’t allow it to fester because then we’re not calling out those biases — we’re not opening the door for someone else to come through.”

Article Source: Employee Benefits News