A friend of mine has a 45 year-old daughter who is in a wheelchair. She has a Master’s degree in Library Science. She’s worked for 13 years at a major consumer products company before her position was downsized. She also worked on Wall Street before that. She has concern about searching for a job in this difficult job market with such high unemployment. Since she is confined to a wheelchair, she is worried that many employers will pass when they see her. She isn’t telling employers about her disability and is just showing up for interviews in a wheelchair. My opinion (which I told my friend) is she should mention her disability in her cover letter. This way, if she gets a call, the disability probably isn’t an issue.
I certainly can speak with her and offer advice but I thought there would be no one better than you to ask what your views are about this challenging situation!
Dear Concerned Friend,
Thank you for the high value you place on my viewpoints. I am pleased to share my perspectives regarding this special situation.
I have the opposite opinion from yours. I feel it’s best and appropriate for a person who is wheelchair-bound to refrain from indicating that in any initial communications with potential employers. If the person were to get an interview, it would be up to her to decide at that point if she wants to inquire about wheelchair access to the appointment location. We live in an age where diversity of all types is an accepted part of our workplaces, protected by law and that can’t be used as excluded grounds for employment. We also know that the vast majority of employment is networking-related and that leveraging contacts and relationships is always the strongest route to gain employment for everyone. This is certainly a more key factor for individuals with special challenges. She certainly has a good track record of employment and a solid credential. I would also highly recommend that she become as technology/digitally fluent as possible and highly informed about social networking if she has not yet gained these capabilities and areas of expertise. I hope my thoughts and recommendations are helpful.
Here is an excerpt on good networking strategies from my book SPEAK EASY – The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success:
We will encounter much more success in all of our endeavors when we recognize the high value of gathering information from real people who’ve traveled the road before us and of building strong and lasting bonds with them.
There is great variety in individual styles and comfort levels when it comes to engaging new people and nourishing relationships with those outside of an already well known or familiar circle.
The word, NETWORKING, is used so freely and widely that its basic meaning has been diluted and it has lost many of its most important nuances and benefits. When career advisors emphasize the importance of networking, they often neglect to teach its subtleties adequately and to fine-tune their clients’ networking communications well. It’s easy to see why many jobseekers think that networking is simply informing as many people as possible that they’re looking for a new job.
Certainly, letting people know you’re looking for a new job is a much better strategy than simply sitting by the phone, waiting to see if someone will call you up to offer you a job. However, if your bottom line is no more than a numbers approach of seeing how many people you can get your resume in front of, the benefits of the fine art of networking will be sadly missed and the process of continuing the endeavor will become stale and unrewarding. After all, how many times can you say to someone, “Here I am again, still looking. Got anything for me?” No wonder people become so disenchanted with networking – both on the asking AND on the receiving end!
Until next time,