On the Job

Being Disabled Shouldn't Hinder a Job Search

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 5, 2007; 12:00 AM

Applicants are faced with a number of issues when job searching. From putting together a winning resume and cover letter to impressing hiring managers, there's a lot to consider. But when you have an added factor such as a physical disability, which you can't necessarily hide during an in-person interview, how do you address that? Mention it beforehand? Or more importantly, do you need to bring it up at all?

That's what this worker wants to know:

I suffered a stroke two years ago and became physically disabled after giving birth to my daughter. I am now on the road to recovery and am slowly trying to re-enter the workforce. My cognitive abilities are well intact, but I still have physical challenges (I walk with a cane) that may be disconcerting to a potential employer.

I am eager to get out there and start interviewing, but I want to be candid with potential employers about my disability before we meet in person. How should I indicate this on my resume or cover letter? Or do I even have to under the disabilities law?

At this early juncture in the job search process, there really is no need for this applicant to disclose her physical disabilities, says Declan Leonard, an Arlington, Va.-based employment lawyer.

Instead, he advises that "she focus more on her qualifications," and not mention the disability at all. While no hiring manager would be able to ignore that the job seeker is using a cane during an in-person interview, Leonard continues, the law is heavily in this applicant's favor.

Assuming that she's applying to a company that falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act, "it's not allowed to address the disability issue until a conditional job offer has been made," Leonard says. And even then, he adds, the firm can only ask the potential new employee, "Can you perform all of the functions of the job, with or without an accommodation?"

At this point during the interview process, the applicant could explain her cane use, Leonard mentions, and whether it would inhibit her job performance. For example, he says, the applicant may be able to operate a fork lift in a warehouse without further assistance, but might need a cart to travel between warehouses. By the same standard, she may not need any accommodation for a desk job.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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