Advice

Ask Ada: How Do I Ace A Job Interview When I’m Disabled?

Plus: Ada helps a teacher do right by a student in her class with a missing limb.

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Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.


I’m In A Wheelchair. How Do I Get Past This Final Job Interview?

Dear Ada, 

I use a wheelchair, and I’m about to go on an in-person interview. I haven’t disclosed my disability yet because every time I do, I seem to not make it any further in the interview process for jobs I am qualified for (or overqualified). This interview is a final interview, and I’d like to make a good first impression and prove to this potential employer that my mobility won’t be an issue for their company. Previous to this long bout of unemployment, I worked for almost two decades for a great employer, so I have very little experience with this interview process (except for these recent failed interviews).

Congrats on your final interview! So much effort goes into applying and interviewing for jobs, so it’s a huge feat to be in the final round.

Choosing when to disclose a disability is a big decision, but know your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employers from asking you to disclose your disability during the application and interview process, with a few minor caveats. In your case, when an employer sees an obvious disability that may directly impact a regular job responsibility, they can ask whether you’d need accommodations for that task or how you would perform the task without accommodation. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says, “if the employer knows that an applicant has a disability, and it is reasonable to question whether the disability might pose difficulties for the individual in performing a specific job task, then the employer may ask whether she would need reasonable accommodation to perform that task…If the applicant indicates that accommodation will be necessary, then the employer may ask what accommodation is needed.”

That being said, most employers will refrain completely from asking about accommodations until a job offer is made so that they do not ask the wrong questions.

Job seeking is all about confidence. Let your professional background speak for itself… not your disability.

The most important thing is not to be on the defensive about your mobility. You may be in a wheelchair, but your work experience should speak for itself. Having almost twenty years being employed for the same company is rare these days. It shows your dedication and loyalty.

The best way to prove to your potential new employer that you’re the right candidate is to show up as your best self. The first few moments of an interview are most important. Wear professional clothes, present a cheerful and optimistic behavior, and come prepared having done your research about the company with reasons why you’re the ideal candidate.

If you feel like addressing your wheelchair is important, do so. Explain how your mobility was never an issue in the past, and how it won’t be a concern in the future. But if you don’t want the interview to focus on this facet of your life, don’t feel pressured to mention it at all.

Job seeking is all about confidence. Let your professional background speak for itself… not your disability.


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How Can I Include A Disabled Student In My Classroom?

Dear Ada,

I’ve been a second-grade teacher in the public school system for a few years now, and this is my first year teaching a student with a disability. For reference, she has an incomplete limb (arm). The school has a file on her that discusses some practical learning adjustments, but I honestly think it’s really light and doesn’t address her as a student or as a person, just notes on adaptations that were made to teach her to write. The mother has requested a private meeting during the first or second week of school, and I want her to know I’m here to support her child’s learning, in any way I can. What type of questions should I ask of her during the meeting? What else should I do to make the student feel welcome?

Signed, Teach Me

Dear Teach Me,

You’ll learn the most about supporting your new student from the meeting with her mother. Using the information you have on the student already, and by watching how she interacts with you and other students, make a list of any questions you may have. And if you’re unsure of where to start, ask the mother how you can best support her daughter. Then, follow that up with any questions you may have from the file.

The best outcome of the meeting is that you convince her mother that you have her daughter’s best interests at heart. This mom has been fighting behind the scenes to get her daughter the best help possible since she’s been in school. Heck, since she’s been born. What she wants is more people on her side. Show her that you’re there for her and her daughter.

The best outcome of the meeting is that you convince her mother that you have her daughter’s best interests at heart.

Look at your lesson plans to see how you can adjust your teaching to include a more diverse group of characters into your classroom. Representation matters, and this student has likely never seen someone like herself on the page, so be the teacher who goes the extra mile to help her do so. Here are a few examples of inclusive books and stories to get you started. When you update your curriculum, make sure you’re including characters with other abilities or cultural backgrounds, too. You’ll want to find a balance of making her feel included, while not singling her out. 

Let’s stay on that for a moment. You asked what you should do to make your student feel welcome. The answer is simple, because you already do it for all of your other students: make her feel included, safe, and as “normal” as possible, while making sure that she and everyone else know that your classroom is a safe space and that bullying and exclusion won’t be tolerated.

Finally, you mention the file on the student was “light”. Use this opportunity to rectify that, adding copious notes on what you learn so that every teacher who has her from this moment on has the benefits of your empathy and expertise.

You’ve got this. Good luck.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

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