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Succeeding in the Workplace as a Person With a Disability

If you have a disability, finding and keeping work is usually no different for you than for those without disabilities. However, there may be additional things to consider.

Setting up your transition to work

Use these suggestions for a smooth transition into a new workplace:

  • Accept a position because it’s a good fit for your abilities and experience.
  • Assume that you’re being hired because of your abilities.
  • Ensure that any special conditions or accommodations you and your employer have agreed upon are written into your contract or letter of agreement.
  • Be prepared to identify and address any inappropriate attitudes or stereotyping you may encounter at work in a positive, appropriate way.
  • Organize any transportation or supplies you may need in advance.

If you’ve found work through a service provider, there may be a “try-out” period as you transition into the job. Both you and your employer may be able to access follow-up assistance from the service provider to support your transition.

Working strategies

Use these strategies to help you succeed in your new job:

  • Maintain balance.
    Chances are you’re happy you’ve found a position and are committed to doing a good job. Be aware that over-commitment may adversely affect your health and wellness, support systems and leisure time. Maintaining a lifestyle balance may be a challenge, but it’s vital to your health and success at work.

  • Access resources.
    Starting a new job can be stressful. Take advantage of resources your employer may offer, such as employee assistance programs and diversity advisors. Community resources, such as professional associations, unions, service providers and other groups, can also be sources of support. If your work is stressful or difficult, these resources can make a real difference.

  • Orient your co-workers.
    Be ready to educate your co-workers about your disability. Accurate facts go a long way towards eliminating misinformation. Service providers and disability support organizations provide information about specific disabilities, and some may also offer training to help you handle inappropriate attitudes and stereotyping. If you’re not comfortable leading this kind of discussion with your co-workers on your own, ask for support from your supervisor, human resources or a community organization.
    • Your co-workers may be uncertain of the appropriate way to manage a situation related to your disability. They may also be unaware of your preferences. Be open—discuss how you want to be treated, what assistance you may require and what not to do.

  • Find a buddy at work.
    Social relationships at work are an important part of job satisfaction and success. Finding a co-worker who will show you the ropes and provide support is a crucial strategy. Your buddy becomes your first ally and can help you develop other positive relationships at work.

  • Identify what you need to succeed.
    Beyond the accommodations you may require, you may want to talk to your co-workers about things that will help build or improve your ability to work with them. These could include finding an accessible location for meetings, using email if voicemail doesn’t work for you or helping to plan social activities that everyone can participate in.

  • Network.
    Networking has probably been an important part of your work search. Maintaining contact with your network, both online and otherwise, will help you stay connected and current. The people in your network will also be an asset in future work searches.

Raising concerns

It's not a perfect world. There may be times when someone tells an inappropriate joke, uses language that puts down you or other persons with disabilities or acts in a way that compromises your ability to succeed. Consider these questions and ideas when deciding how to respond:

  • Timing—When is the best time to discuss the situation?
  • Frequency—Is your concern a one-time event or does it happen often?
  • Opportunity—Should you talk to the person in front of your co-workers or is it better to discuss the situation in private? Would a group discussion or awareness training session be an effective way to handle the situation? Should you talk to your supervisor about the situation or involve human resources or someone higher up? 
  • Alternatives—Sometimes doing nothing at all may be appropriate. Your co-workers may address the inappropriateness of the comment or event. At other times, a co-worker’s action may be inappropriate but may not be deliberate, in which case you can suggest more appropriate choices.

There are no right or wrong ways to deal with individual situations. Your response depends on your relationships with the person involved and your supervisor. Whatever you decide, try to raise your concern in a positive way. Focus on the event, rather than the person involved, and look for solutions that are satisfactory for everyone.

Landing the job is only the beginning. Succeeding at work takes work. Build good relationships, focus on the positives, use the right resources and maintain a healthy work-life balance to increase your satisfaction and success in the workplace.

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