New anti-bias law enables the disabled job seeker

July 27, 1992|By Joyce Lain Kennedy | Joyce Lain Kennedy,Sun Features Inc.

Dear Joyce: I am a learning disabled college graduate -- liberal arts degree 1986. I process information slowly and deal poorly with sequenced information (what comes after what in a process). Especially difficult are tasks that require use of my hands or with getting to locations.

I possess good communication skills, intuitively understand people well and am a diligent worker. If given time -- 50 to 60 hour workweeks -- the quality of my work usually is higher than my fast-thinking co-workers.

How should I mention these difficulties during a job interview? -- P.C.

Dear P.C.: You're talking about "disclosure," and it's much safer now that the law of the land includes the new Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under the act, which took effect yesterday, all U.S. companies with 25 or more employees are forbidden to engage in hiring or job discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. In 1994, the federal requirements will extend to companies with 15 to 24 employees.

For the first time, doors will open to the 70 percent of individuals with disabilities who are jobless.

Interviewers cannot ask whether or not you have a disability, only whether you are able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

If it doesn't prove to be an undue hardship for an employer, time is probably a reasonable accommodation. Your abilities are more suited to marathon running than to sprinting.

(Presumably, you are seeking a professional job, making you exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act requiring payment of minimum wage and overtime. If you have doubts,check with your local Wage-Hour Division office of the U.S. Department of Labor.)

Despite ADA protection, the job world remains a jungle for the unwary who may -- to their detriment -- blurt out a disability during an employment interview. Guard against that error by becoming informed on wise ways to use your new rights.

An outstanding book for ADA-shielded job seekers has just been published: "Job Strategies for People with Disabilities" by Melanie Astaire Witt, (Peterson's, $14.95, available in bookstores or by calling [800] 338-3282). It is the first to combine state-of-art career decision-making and employment-search techniques with the special interests of the disability community. Quite simply, it is the single best career guide ever written for people with disabilities.

"Street-smart job hunters know disclosure -- and the timing of it --can have tremendous effects on the success of their job searches. They make an individual decision about disclosure for each job lead they pursue, keeping in focus the objective of landing jobs they want," says Ms. Witt, as she discusses the nine possible times, ranging from a mention in a cover letter to after you've been offered the job, to disclose a disability and how to do it in a positive manner.

The litmus test, she says, is: "Does disclosure of my disability at this time and in this way support my objective of getting hired?"

The ADA will substantially change the way American employers hire staff. Exactly how remains to be seen. Experts disagree about whether there will be an explosion of litigation. More in my next column about a law written by lawyers to be shaped by judges.

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