By Lamont Washington
As the world has become more inclusive, more businesses are hiring people with disabilities. This is very good news. For many people with disabilities, managing their day-to-day responsibilities and interactions on the job is no different than it is for employees without a disability. But there are some individuals with disabilities who may need a little extra guidance and support to perform at their best. What can be done to minimize potential challenges and maximize success? As a Supported Employment Specialist at JCS, here are some suggestions I find to be very helpful to my clients.
When choosing a job, consider 4 important things.
Location: Is it easy enough to get to and from work? A job that’s too far from home can add unnecessary stress to your day.
Salary: Are you being compensated fairly for your job responsibilities and is the pay practical for your financial needs?
Workplace Culture: Do you feel like you are a good “fit” within the work environment?
Accommodations: Are there reasonable accommodations available for your needs? For example, if mobility is a challenge for you, is there an elevator to help you get where you need to in the building? Are the support staff comfortable working with people who have disabilities? Is there an open-door policy that allows your job coach to assist you if needed?
Finding a job that checks off all the boxes above may make the job-hunting process take a little longer, but it will be worth it in the long run.
Once you start your job, here are a few more tips for succeeding in your new role.
Focus on solutions, not problems. It’s important to be proactive in finding solutions for barriers that might get in your way. If social cues are a challenge, keep conversations with co-workers professional. Be aware of when to talk and when to work. If it’s too challenging to use certain office equipment, talk to your boss or to Human Resources about making accommodation. If you find that you’re worrying a lot, try to identify what specifically you’re concerned about and channel energy into thinking of what you can do to fix, or at least improve, the situation.
Be a good listener. “Talk less and listen more” has proven to be a very useful motto for my clients while learning a new job or handling workplace problems. When we listen, most problems can be solved and learning increases.
Time your communications. Know the appropriate time and place to raise concerns or make requests. For example, trying to have a conversation with a supervisor during a very busy time at work would not be the right time to ask about taking time off. Request a meeting instead. You will have the full attention of your supervisor and both of you can think clearly, listen, and respond without distractions.
Ask questions. When in doubt, ask questions. Understanding your tasks will help you to grow, improve workplace relationships, and build confidence.
Assemble a strong supporting cast. Have a variety of people outside your workplace who can help you deal with challenges or stressors. Sometimes a family member is the perfect person to confide in. At other times, reaching out to a professional – mental health specialist, occupational therapist, or trusted clergy – who can offer suggestions, tools and support may be what you need.
While these are some top tips I offer my clients with disabilities, it is sound advice for anyone seeking their next career opportunity.
Lamont Washington is a Career Coach, Supported Employment Specialist, and Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) Team Leader at JCS.
Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. For information, call 410-466-9200 or visit ignitecareercenter.com.