By Suzanne Robitaille
In the world of job hunting, finding meaningful work can sometimes feel like spearfishing off a cliff. And if you happen to have a disability, that cliff can be a steep one.
People with disabilities often face a slew of attitudes and misconceptions from employers who may view disability as a weakness instead of an asset. Perhaps that's why the unemployment rate for working-age people with disabilities in July was 13.4 percent, which is 5 percentage points higher than for those without disabilities (8.4 percent).
Luckily, there's a world of employers who see the business value that hiring a person with a disability brings to the table. Employees who know how to deal with the challenges of a disability can offer unique perspectives and skills (such as creative problem-solving), which can drive innovation for business. These skills can translate to things like product development, creating new markets for existing products and services and contributing to employee morale, customer satisfaction and a company's reputation.
That's why Think Beyond the Label is partnering with Brazen Careerist for an Online Career Fair for people with disabilities on Oct. 16, 2012. Job candidates with disabilities can register for free here. Still not convinced? If you're a job seeker with a disability, here's why you should consider an online career fair:
1. Targeted online career fairs give you an advantage.
Unlike with women- and minority-focused recruiting, there's no clear-cut way to identify or explain a disability. Furthermore, employment experts do not recommend highlighting a disability in a resume or cover letter.
By participating in an online recruiting environment that's specifically targeted to people with disabilities, candidates can let their guards down, knowing that the employer is eager to learn more about them.
2. No one has to know you're in a wheelchair.
Many disabled job candidates don't want to talk about their disability in an interview, even if it's readily apparent (like when you can feel the recruiter's eyes burning a hole through your wheelchair.)
Your privacy is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but with an online career fair, there's no need to reveal your disability. The recruiter doesn't have to know unless you choose to spill the beans. This allows you to keep the focus squarely on your skills and experience, not on your disability.
3. You can disclose your disability when you're ready.
Once you've made it through the virtual interview, the hiring manager will likely want to conduct an in-person interview. Since you've already successfully positioned your talents and skills in round one, it's more likely that the recruiter will focus on your abilities -- not your disability -- in round two.
Creating a first impression with a recruiter online gives you time to think about how to approach your disability with him or her on both a professional and personal basis. You'll be able to disclose on your own terms, when you feeling more confident about yourself and your abilities. And we all know that confidence is critical during an interview.
4. You can demonstrate your tech-savvy without leaving your home.
People with disabilities are often incredibly tech-savvy because their livelihood depends on it. In addition to showing how productive you are through the use of technology, an online career fair lets you demonstrate to an employer how easily you'd fit into a corporate environment, with or without an accommodation.
Say you're blind, and you tell the recruiter you're using assistive technology like a screen reader that converts web text into speech so that you can conduct a virtual chat. An online career fair gives you a chance to impress the recruiter with your technical skills and show how easy it will be for you to integrate into the workplace.
5. It's a great alternative to a phone interview.
People who are deaf and hard of hearing, up until now, have dreaded interviews because most were traditionally conducted by telephone. With the rise of online recruiting, deaf and hard-of-hearing professionals can strut their stuff without having to ask the recruiter to talk louder, repeat the question or initiate a call through video conferencing (where, in certain situations, the Internet bit rate might not be high enough for the candidate to lip-read the interviewer's questions.).
For deaf people whose native language is American Sign Language, an online career fair lets them share their skills and experience over chat, a popular (and natural) way for many deaf people to communicate with other deaf, as well as hearing, people.
So to all job hunters with disabilities: Here's to hoping you reel in the job of your dreams at the next online career fair!
Suzanne Robitaille (@suzrobitaille) is the founder of abledbody.com and principal of abledbody & co., a disability marketing firm.
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