It’s an important hurdle that you, as a jobseeker with a disability, will likely face: trying to negotiate accommodations with a new employer who may lack information about the particular assistive technology that you need to perform well in your new job.
You can follow each step and fill out all the forms that the Job Accommodation Network recommends, but equally important may be the “soft” skills you need to employ in negotiating accommodations that are acceptable to both you and your employer.
Let’s look at those soft skills from the perspective of role, attitude and compromise.
You are dealing with at least three levels of distraction that you need to puncture if you are to get hired and gain action on your request for an at-work accommodation.
First, consider the key individual who can determine the speed at which you’ll get your accommodation and how successful it will be. This could be your immediate supervisor, a key player in the information technology department or an executive in HR.
In any case, your key player may be preoccupied by his or her internal emotions instead of rational thought -- those gut reactions we all experience when we first confront an unusual, maybe stressful, situation.
Those immediate internal emotions may generate thoughts like these:
“How can anyone with your disability possibly perform this job? It’s hard enough for the ‘normal’ people I now have on my team. I know I couldn’t do it, if I had your disability. Are you going to be able to carry your share of the load? Besides, you may make me, my team, our customers and our suppliers uncomfortable. I remember Tommy in second grade. He had your same disability. He was always whining. I can’t stand whining.”
Second, remember that your key “accommodation” individual is also working in a competitive corporate environment in which a perceived distraction can be translated into reduced job security.
Internally, that feeling of reduced job security may sound like this:
“Why should I take a chance on hiring someone who will take more of my time and budget than usual when I’m already up against the wall when it comes to proving to my boss that I’m capable of managing my team? My first priority is keeping my own job.”
Third, be aware of what is happening within the industry and larger society which can distract your key “accommodation” individual.
He or she may have these questions foremost in mind (instead of your need accommodation):
“The stock market just went down another 400 points, and I wonder what that’s going to do to the pending buy-out of the company. What should I do with 401k? I’ve got to do something, but I don’t what. Working on your accommodation is not a priority for me right now.”
You need to break through this fog, get hired and get your needed accommodation so you perform well on your new job. How? Allow time for the rational side of your prospective supervisor to kick in, monitor your own attitude and bargain in good faith to reach a compromise about your accommodation that you and your prospective employer can both support.
If time is dragging by and you’re getting no action on your requested accommodation, you might employ this push-pull approach. Weekly document what you’ve been able to do (and not do) on your new job, despite not receiving your requested accommodation. Share that documentation with your supervisor. At the same time, offer your help to the prime mover and shaker who is holding up your accommodation. Offer to do research, find contacts etc. for your requested accommodation.
In doing so, you are assuming the role of an educator, facilitator and mediator (as well as time-saver).
In a speech at the 2005 conference about “Multiple Perspectives on Access, Inclusion and Disability,” Mark Willis, who is visually impaired, talked about his experience in making a connection between flights at the Atlanta airport. He said this:
“Every time a disabled person negotiates an accommodation with a nondisabled person, no matter how simple or routine the accommodation, there is an interface where divergent attitudes about disability can collide. I believe such interfaces are also rich with existential possibility.
“Sometimes I held my ground, sometimes I went with the flow, sometimes it didn’t matter what strategy I tried because events had an unexpected momentum all of their own. My energy budget for negotiating accommodations was spent.
“Maybe friction at the interface is an inevitable cost in the energy budget of living with a disability. I began to see what I had just experienced as one more problem to be solved. The next time I was passing through the Atlanta airport, I’d make a mental map of the subway system. I would reduce the coefficient of friction. I would find my own way.”
Note Mark’s flexibility. He’s not what others would call “uppity,” a term sometimes use by others for minorities who stand their ground. He’s independent. And, he’s a careful observer of human behavior, using his observations for the benefit of himself as well as those who provide accommodations for him.
Prepare yourself as an expert about the accommodations you need to get a job done correctly and on time. That is your responsibility. Then, gladly assume the role of educator in showing the decision makers how they can best help you implement those accommodations. When you take the initiative to obtain the accommodations you need, you not only become an educator. You become a leader, too.
As a leader, you also know how to compromise. Compromise is finding agreement through a mutual acceptance of terms. It often involves variations from the original goal or desire.
That means, due to cost, workarounds or availability, you’re probably not going to get the optimum assistive technology you would like to have for doing your job. But, that’s life.
Successful negotiators keep in mind these four things:
- What you would like to have.
- What you’ll likely get.
- What you need at a minimum.
- What is not acceptable to you.
Do your best at getting what you really need (always remembering your role and the attitude you want to project). If your requested accommodation ultimately falls short of your original expectations, you accept that reality and come up with workarounds, if they are needed.
As a successful jobseeker with a disability, you are an educator. You realize the attitude you display can go a long way in securing and retaining the job that is right for you. And, you have learned that the art of compromise is often the key to securing and retaining employment.
Copyright © 2014. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org/), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse’s forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.