An Interview with Staff Members of Able South Carolina
Meet three of Able South Carolina’s staff members who are sharing about how self-advocacy and accommodations can promote success in the workplace. Able South Carolina is a Center for Independent Living (CIL)– a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability nonprofit that provides an array of independent living services to people of all ages with all types of disabilities.
Emily is Able SC’s EQUIP Coordinator. EQUIP is a self-advocacy group for young adults with disabilities led by young adults with disabilities. Emily is studying for a bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina in business administration with a minor in management. As a young adult with multiple disabilities, she knows how important self-advocacy and awareness are for people with disabilities.
Dori is the Director of Community Outreach & Consumer Rights. Each year, Dori promotes independent living and disability rights by training hundreds of individuals all over the state, including people with disabilities, community businesses, service providers, and government agencies. Growing up with both a physical and developmental disability enhanced her desire to empower others to fulfill their goals and dreams.
Cali is an Employment Services Coordinator. Cali was born with low vision and proudly introduces herself as a woman who happens to be blind. Cali received her bachelor’s degree in 2009 and has since worked with individuals with disabilities to assist them with obtaining their employment goals. Cali is passionate about breaking down barriers to employment and educating the community.
1. What accommodations do you use in your current job?
Emily: I use noise canceling headphones so I am not distracted by the chatter of the office. I have a mirror situated by my computer monitor so I can see who walks behind me so I do not get startled. People in the office know they should approach the right side of my desk and wait until I see them. I have permission to take breaks during meetings lasting more than 1 hour.
Dori: I use several accommodations in my job. I use Dragon Naturally Speaking Software which allows me to dictate information and reports into the computer. I also use shelving to raise my monitor so that I don’t have to strain my neck. In addition, I use different straps on the doors to help me navigate in and out of the office. I have special adapted locks on my filing cabinet. Finally, I have a service animal who helps me transfer in the in the bathroom, reach material on high shelves, get my lunch out of the refrigerator, and pick up items.
Cali: I use computer software that magnifies my screen with high contrast and tells me what’s on the screen (screen reader with magnification). I also have a CCTV on my desk that allows me to magnify hard copy documents and a hand-held video magnifier.
2. How do you make sure that employers see your talents, skills, and abilities first and not your disability first?
Emily: It is easier for me because all of my disabilities are invisible. However, when I do disclose my disability, I make sure to follow up with how I may do things differently but still effectively.
Dori: To ensure that employers see my talents, skills, and abilities, I focus on the skills I can bring to a job. Rather than simply telling someone that I can do the same activities as my peers without disabilities, I demonstrate by carrying out my job responsibilities with passion, commitment, and self-determination.
Cali: Confidence looks good on everyone. If I’m comfortable with myself and can explain how I can do a job, I hope an employer can see past my disability. I always strive to show that disability is one part of who I am, but not my defining characteristic.
3. What role has self-advocacy played in helping you find or advance in employment?
Emily: Self-advocacy played a role in helping me advance in employment because knowing about accommodations and how to ask for them gave me the ability to perform my job.
Dori: Self-advocacy is a must for anyone in the employment sector. Individuals need to speak up for what they need in order to be successful on the job. When I have needed a reasonable accommodation, I let my employer know right away. I make sure my employer knows how having the supports will increase my productivity.
Cali: Everyone needs help every now and again. If I find that I need something so I can do my job better, I ask! The worst thing you can do is let your work suffer and then try to play catch-up. Speak up as soon as you recognize a problem. I’ve found that employers are generally willing to be proactive if it means I can be more productive at work. Present the problem and THEN propose a solution!
4. What are some of the employment barriers you feel that people with disabilities face?
Emily: Some people with disabilities face difficulty with typical interviews since those interviews rely on good conversational skills and eye contact. Practice is key when preparing for an interview. Get feedback from a trusted family member, friend, or service provider. One barrier is that employers may think accommodations are expensive when most accommodations are free, and those that do cost are typically under $500. There are also tax incentives that can assist employers with offsetting those costs.
Dori: Attitudinal barriers are still the biggest barrier people with disabilities face. People with disabilities are often dismissed as incapable of accomplishing a task without the opportunity to display their skills. You have to explain to an employer why you can perform the job tasks with or without reasonable accommodations in order to break down negative stereotypes and allow the employer see you as a potential employee.
People with disabilities do not want special treatment, just equal treatment!
Cali: Transportation is a huge barrier for many people. Another barrier is not having access to the FULL pre-employment process from start to finish. I need to search for jobs, apply online, and attach a resume. If any of these websites are not accessible, that can be an artificial barrier to employment.
5. What advice would you give to people with disabilities seeking employment?
Emily: If you are seeking employment, start in places you already go. If you volunteer somewhere, see about getting a job there. If you have an interest area, try getting a job related to that interest.
Dori: Believe in yourself and your abilities! Use multiple sources to find a job, including technology, friends and family. Don’t be afraid to seek out community resources to find reasonable accommodations or supports. Think outside the box. “Where there is a will, there is a way!”
Cali: Diversify your efforts! Spend time online but don’t forget to use your social capital; people get jobs because they know other people!