Self-Advocacy in the Workplace

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One of the most important skills to learn if you are an individual with a learning difference or disability, whether that be physical or invisible, is how to be an advocate for yourself and be able to communicate effectively about your needs in whatever may be thesetting.

Self-advocacy is knowing what you want, what you need, what you do well, and what you may need assistance with doing. This also includes knowing your legal rights, what is best for you, and who to tell what information. Self-advocacy can empower people and give them the access they need to reasonable accommodations and strategies. Let’s talk more about what are some helpful tips for becoming a better self-advocate in the workplace.

First Steps

  1. Work hard and be as productive as possible. If your supervisor knows you are a hard worker and reliable, they will want to work together on figuring out what works best for you and can improve your performance even more. Make sure you do your best at all times and it will feel more comfortable approaching your supervisor about workplace accommodations as well.
  2. Represent yourself well and professionally. In order to show that you are a productive worker, there are usually expectations to follow at your workplace, such as: dressing nicely, getting to work on time or early, keeping on track of your work emails, being respectful and pleasant around coworkers, being helpful, being passionate about your work, asking questions to your supervisors, and keeping them informed of things going on.
  3. Be as helpful as possible! We can’t stress this enough! When anybody asks you to help out or do something, DO IT! Use this as a way to grow and opportunity to serve and help others. If other people feel supported by you, the more likely they will be there to give support to you when you need it as well. It always helps to work in a kind, supportive, and steady work environment.
  4. Be confident! The more you practice being assertive and working on being kind and compassionate to yourself, the more others can see that and feel comfortable coming to you with things and having you as a team member. Confidence is a skill that takes practice, work on that by bettering yourself and working on things you might not be as comfortable with and by getting feedback from supervisors.

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Next steps: What Accommodations are Right for YOU?

  1. First off, you should always be familiar with your legal rights as a person with a disability. Read through and research the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When you are able to learn that the law really is on your side and here to help, this will help you to feel even more comfortable and confident when approaching supervisors about accommodations. Practicing these conversations is a good idea. You usually do not need to submit documentation when asking for workplace accommodations, but should have this available to you as employers can request that before actually providing the accommodation.
  2. Ask yourself these questions: Does your workplace have everything you need and does this increase your productivity? How well do you communicate with others, what are you most comfortable with and what are areas to improve on in this way? What are your main job duties and tasks? What do you need in order to be the most productive at your workplace? Always remember to focus on your strengths and what you do well.
  3. Be familiar with what accommodations are typically offered for individuals with your condition. A really good website to use is the Job Accommodation Network or askjan.org. This website lists different disabilities – physical, emotional, etc. It then lists examples of reasonable accommodations for each condition and ways to ask for or use these at your workplace. This is a great resource to turn to when you have questions and to better educate yourself and your employers as well. Feel free to check out the website at www.askjan.org or give them a call at 1-800-5267234.
  4. Make your request. Sometimes you do not even need to disclose your actual condition to your employer; there is so much new assistive technology that is constantly used by people with disabilities and without. The choice is yours on disclosing. Be comfortable deciding what you want to do and come up with your own suggestions and solutions before hand so you feel empowered.
  5. Follow up with your written accommodation request. This request should be brief and should also talk to the important information regarding your condition and the current need for accommodations. Make sure to talk about how these reasonable accommodations will assist you in meeting your workplace productivity and goals. If your accommodation request is denied, for whatever reason, continue to work with your supervisor and also with the HR department at your workplace to resolve the matter.

When your reasonable accommodations are approved, continue to use them well and to be productive in your place of employment. Continue to be helpful to your co-workers and supervisors and feel comfortable expressing how things are going. Remember, becoming a skilled self-advocate takes time, practice, and determination. Work hard and great things will come your way, we believe in you, Bulldogs!

Read other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

Photo source: Unsplash | Joanna Kosinska

To Disclose or Not to Disclose Your Disability? That is the Question.

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

One very important thing that comes up for many job hunters with disabilities is disclosure. Should you tell a prospective employer about your disability? If so, why? when? and how? While every situation is usually quite different, there are a few key things to most likely consider when making this important decision.

Some people with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations to do a particular job or duty. According to the US Department of Justice, a reasonable accommodation is a “modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.” Some examples of reasonable accommodations can include things like making the facility accessible, modifying work schedules, assistive technology available, and being able to work from home, just to name a few.

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Something to keep in mind is that if your employer is unaware of your disability, they have no legal obligation to provide you with a reasonable accommodation. If you need an accommodation to perform a job, you will need to disclose your disability at some point. One of the main reasons behind WHY disclosure in the workplace is important, is so that the employer is able to provide you with accommodations so you are able to perform the essential functions of the job.

Disclosing any sort of more personal information can be scary. We totally get that. Some things that could be helpful and possibly make you feel more comfortable disclosing your disability, especially if you are new to this subject, would be to research the company’s history with disability. Some questions to ask yourself are :

  • Have they hired people with disabilities before?
  • Does their website or hiring materials include a diversity statement?
  • Has the company been involved with any disability-related organizations, such as sponsoring an event, donating to a fund raiser, or posting openings to disability-focused job sites?
  • How is the company environment; more flexible, open, etc.?

Another important question that pops up is WHEN to disclose your disability. Do you disclose before the interview, during the process, or after you are hired?! Guess what…..that is TOTALLY up to you! You will want to make sure you select a confidential place in which you feel comfortable and allow the potential employer time to ask questions if needed. Always, always focus on your strengths and things you do amazingly; do not dwell on any limitations your disability might pose. The timing of disclosure might depend on the requirements of the interview process, the barriers presented by your disability, or the essential duties of the job.

Last but not least, HOW to disclose your disability to potential or current employers. Being prepared is KEY for disclosing your disability. It may even be helpful to practice your disclosure discussion with someone you feel comfortable with. You could even put together a little script to help you out and practice that. Remember to keep it positive and strength focused and you will shiiiiine. You got this!!!

If you want more information on this topic or even some practice disclosing, do not hesitate to reach out to me by email at alstainb@d.umn.edu – we can even meet in person if you like! I would be more than happy to help!

However you disclose, it is helpful to be familiar with your rights under state and federal disability laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. See the links below for more information.

Sources and more information:

Read other posts/resources about Disabilities in the Workplace

Photo Source: Unsplash | Ashley Knedler

Introducing Disability Resources

By: Alissa

Hi there! Did you know Career & Internship Services and Disability Resources at UMD are collaborating this year to bring you tons of cool and new information around the topic of disability in the workplace? Well, now you know!!! I am so excited to be a guest author this upcoming school year and maybe be able to teach you a thing or two about this topic. 😉 My name is Alissa Stainbrook and I am a Disability Specialist on campus working in the Office of Disability Resources. I am also a Licensed Social Worker and am just wrapping up the MSW program here at UMD. So I totally get what it’s like to be a student too….best of both worlds — working and education, am I right?!

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Alissa in her office.

Our office is a pretty awesome place. We are located in the Multicultural Center on campus as we consider disability a part of diversity and want to spread the awareness to others as well. Our office is here to ensure access for students with disabilities. What do we do here in DR you may ask? Well, our office does the following: coordinate academic accommodations, provide a testing location for students who need accommodations, work with students to coordinate access to other on-campus resources, and offer guidance & support.

What does DR do

Another important question we get asked is who does our office work with? 

  • Our office serves any students with documented disabilities who need to arrange academic accommodations for their classes. This includes students who have ADHD; Mental Health Conditions; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Acquired Brain Injury; Physical, Sensory, or Learning Disabilities.
  • Our office works to educate the campus community about access and disability related issues. We also work closely with UMD faculty and staff members.

This year DR and C&IS are teaming up to bring you a pretty awesome series around Disability in the Workplace. There are a number of topics we want to cover including: disclosing disability – when, how, and why; differences between disabilities and what accommodations are reasonable; how to ask for accommodations; how to be a better advocate for yourself; what resources are available to you; mental health and well being in the workplace; and personal stories of students who have graduated who have disabilities and are now working.

We cannot wait to chat with you and are totally open to any suggestions of other topics around disability in the workplace and what you want to know!

It is going to be a great year, all!

Of Possible Interest:

Photo source: graphic 1