People get jobs through networks — so speaking with close friends and their colleagues may also be useful in helping you to think through and identify the accommodations that can help you succeed.
People often ask me, “Is doing volunteer work or seeking temporary employment a good idea when someone’s been out of work for a while?”
Many people have gaps in employment — for health-related reasons, child care, layoffs and so on. One way to transition back into work can be volunteering — it can help you try out new job settings, update your skills and get new references who can attest to your abilities. Go to Volunteering in America to find opportunities in your community. In addition, it is important to note that volunteer work will generally not jeopardize Social Security benefits in any way. Because your ultimate goal is to get a paid position, remember to go into this volunteer position with a definite sense of what you want to accomplish and what you want to do once you’ve succeeded in meeting these goals.
Another strategy for reentering the workforce is to gain employment through a temporary employment agency. It allows both you and employers to try out your skills without feeling obligated to a long-term commitment. Many employers will hire a person permanently after a tryout.
Mine your friends and acquaintances for job leads and connections. Through these connections, you may be able to set up some informational interviews as a way to get your foot in the door when a particular employer doesn’t have an advertised opening. This also affords you an opportunity to practice your interviewing skills, an essential component of your search. The Job Accommodation Network has a great interview checklist as well as a paper outlining practical approaches and strategies for a person with a disability launching a job search.
And finally, “What’s the main thing job seekers with disabilities should keep in mind?”
In addition to knowing about the supports and work incentives that are there to help manage your transition to work, it’s also essential to keep in mind the talents and skills you can offer employers! Even in this tough job market, employers are looking to hire qualified people, and a disability or health condition does not have to define or limit what you bring to the workplace. Check out the success stories from our Campaign for Disability Employment as well as the Office of Disability Employment Policy.
And, finally, it’s true that fear, misconceptions and antiquated stereotypes still remain the biggest barriers to people like me and you joining and thriving in the workforce. Your best defense against these problems is an offense: Be all that you can be. I believe strongly that the way to stamp out these obstacles is through firsthand experience. When we’re in the workplace and a part of a work culture that values us, these fears, misconceptions and stereotypes are gradually alleviated, because we have the opportunity to prove that we add value to the bottom line of our employer and to the economy of the country by becoming taxpayers.
Good luck to you! Your questions, and the answers to them, are important ones.