Hide And Be Hired: Should You Mention AS In A Job Interview?
It’s that time of year again — my semester is coming to a close and I am hunting for summer jobs. Over the years, I’ve had several jobs — retail, food service, and more. But ever since my AS diagnosis 2 years ago, my job search process has changed. I am restricted by my body, and what it can and cannot do.
Federal laws don't change people's judgments
In Canada, we have laws stating that employers cannot discriminate against any person due to disability and that they must provide equal employment opportunities to people with disabilities. I am thankful for this legislation that protects me from outright discrimination, but even federal laws cannot prevent implicit biases from affecting decisions. Even if not directly stated, a disability may influence employers’ perception of a candidate and their decisions.
My barrier is standing
I fully acknowledge that there are some jobs I cannot do. Some require lifting 75 pounds, a physical requirement that I wouldn’t be able to meet, even without a disability. I understand that some jobs are inherently physical and that not every job can be accommodated. However, in my case, the barrier is a basic physical requirement, standing. As a 21-year-old student, almost every job I am eligible for requires long periods of standing in one place. It feels unfair that my selection of jobs is sliced down by about 80% due to a chronic illness that I didn’t ask for.
Regardless of my skills or qualifications, I am immediately ineligible if standing is a requirement. With small accommodations like a chair or breaks to sit down, I might be a perfect candidate for the job. But wouldn’t most employers prefer a candidate that does not require the hassle of sorting out accommodations? If I were an employer choosing between two candidates, of course I’d prefer the able-bodied person. It would simplify things. Disabled people are a nuisance to employers.
Sometimes I have to lie
Sometimes, I still apply for jobs that require standing (because a girl needs to work!), knowing I will have to sort out the accommodations later. But when is the right time to bring up a disability to an employer? In my opinion, not until after the interview. I’ve been asked before, “can you stand for extended periods of time?”. To this, I have lied, “yes”. Because what would happen if I said “no?” Would my shot at the position die at that moment? Would my other skills and qualifications suddenly become irrelevant? I often wonder if I would have received the same job offers I have in the past if I had mentioned my disability in the interview.
To tell or not to tell
I choose to keep AS to myself in interviews. By doing this, I ensure that if I don’t get the job, I will know it was for some reason other than my disability. You may be thinking — why hide it if the law prohibits employers from discrimination? The thing is, if an employer was aware of my disability and did not hire me, of course they wouldn’t say the decision was based on my disability… they would state another reason and I would never know if my disability affected their decision or not. Also, sometimes, bias against disability is subconscious. When selecting candidates, an employer may be biased against disabled people without realizing it, allowing it to affect their decisions, even they have technically abided by equality legislation.
I'm not trying to be deceptive
All of this said — I do not want to be deceptive to employers. I do not want to complicate things for them or ask for unreasonable accommodations. But I want to, and need to, work. I want to be hired based on my skills, experience, and interview strength. I don’t want my disability to be a factor at all, at the risk of it ruining my chances. I am a great employee and with just simple accommodations for my AS, I can work just as effectively as any other 21-year-old. In a world where there are many negative stereotypes still attached to disabilities, I choose to hide mine rather than let it hinder opportunities for the rest of my life.
In the comments, I would love to hear others’ personal experiences of job hunting with a disability. How do you handle mentioning the disability and asking for accommodations? Do you bring it up in interviews?
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?