By Michelle Colvard
People with disabilities, like me, live full lives. In a typical day, I don’t give any more thought to the fact that I use a wheelchair than someone who wears glasses gives thought to their eyesight.
I am a research compliance officer in the healthcare industry, I have spina bifida, and I use a wheelchair every day. I have been hired as a person with a disability and, as a manager; I have hired individuals who have disabilities. Some people may associate having a disability with weakness or with inability. But I represent the opposite view: having a disability fosters resilience, problem solving and critical thinking. These skills serve anyone well, particularly in the workforce.
Throughout my life, I learned how to dance (in my wheelchair), drive cars, race cars as a hobby, earn a master’s degree while working full time, and, now, raise a child. We do the things we care about because we’ve adapted to the world and helped the world adapt to us. Part of this adaption occurs in the workplace. So, as a manager, here are a few tips for other hiring managers to keep in mind during the hiring process of individuals who happen to have a disability:
- Focus on Abilities, not Disabilities – Individuals with disabilities have education, skills, and professional experiences to offer employers. Don’t assume a person is incapable of doing a job just because they have a disability. During the interview, ask how the candidate will use his or her abilities to be successful in the role.
- Focus on Job Description and Skill Set – Employees with disabilities want to be treated like all other employees: with consistency. Don’t lower your expectations for candidates with disabilities. Be fair when interviewing all candidates; focus questions to understand how candidates’ skill sets align with job descriptions.
- Use People First Language – People with disabilities are people first, with the disability being just one part of who we are. Don’t talk to or about us in a manner that places our disability first. Utilize best practices defined by the concept “People-First Language” and say “a woman who uses a wheelchair” instead of “a wheel-chair bound woman.”
Remember that job candidates with disabilities likely have a pretty good idea of how they can be successful in the positions for which they are applying. Just like you would any candidate, give them a fair chance to explain.
Texas Workforce Commission is partnering with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Workforce Solutions network for a campaign called Texas HireAbility to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.