Everyone with a disability hopes to be independent, and an important part of being independent is having a job and earning an income. The level of disability caused by cerebral palsy varies widely by individual. Some will never be independent because of the severity of symptoms, while others have only mild disabilities, and of course, there are individuals in the middle with disabilities that don’t hinder independence but make finding a job and working more challenging.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides certain rights to people with disabilities, and these extend to the workplace. Cerebral palsy is not specifically listed under the ADA as a disability, but the law includes a general definition. For an individual to classify as disabled, he or she must have one or more impairments that significantly limit a major life activity. Many people with CP meet this definition. In spite of having disabilities caused by CP, you can find a job and you can thrive in your workplace.
Know Your Rights
The first step to finding a job is to understand what rights you have according to the law. In applying for jobs as a person with a disability, there are things a potential employer may not ask or request according to the ADA.
An employer may not ask you specifically about your disability or request any medical examinations that would evaluate your disabilities and abilities until after you have been offered conditional employment. The reason for this restriction is to give people with disabilities the same opportunities as anyone else. It forces an employer to evaluate your qualifications for a job without considering your disability.
Although an employer cannot ask you specific questions about your disability, there are some acceptable types of questions related to how you might perform job duties. A potential employer is allowed to ask about specific duties and whether or not you will be able to perform them.
For example, you may be asked if you can lift a specific amount of weight if that is required for the job. Employers are also allowed to ask about any non-medical qualifications and can ask potential employees how they would perform specific job duties.
Disclosing Your Disability
People with disabilities like cerebral palsy often struggle to know what information to disclose, what not to disclose, and when and how to do it as relates to finding or being successful at a job. Disclosure is a personal choice; some people like to be open about their disabilities and limitations, while others prefer to keep much of it to themselves.
What you should disclose is when you need an accommodation on the job. You have a right to request and receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace thanks to the ADA. An accommodation is something that will eliminate a barrier to completing your job duties, such as an appropriate office chair or a wheelchair ramp.
You should also know that you only need to disclose information directly related to the accommodation. You don’t have to tell your employer what your disability is, only that it is related to a medical condition.
Connect with the Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, provides free resources related to issues related to employment, disabilities, and workplace accommodations. It is offered through the U.S. Department of Labor and includes consulting services by experts in employment, disability law, and disabilities. These experts can provide personalized information on finding a job, applying for a job, dos and don’ts of disclosure, and your rights when it comes to accommodations once you land a job.
Try Job Networks for People with Disabilities
There are plenty of job networks, mostly online, that specifically list jobs that would be appropriate for people with disabilities. Some of these sites also include other resources, tips, and expert advice to help people with disabilities find appropriate employment. Essentially, these sites connect employers with people who are right for the open positions.
Take Advantage of Government Resources
There are state and federal agencies that were set up to help people with disabilities find work. Even if you are collecting Social Security Disability benefits, you can use these programs to help you find a job. For instance, the Social Security Ticket-to-Work Program is specifically designed to help people receiving benefits find jobs. States also have vocational rehabilitation agencies, which help people on a state level to find work that matches their abilities and limitations.
Apply with the Federal Government
The U.S. Federal Government actively recruits and hires people living with disabilities, including cerebral palsy. Anyone with a disability has two options when applying for one of these positions: through the standard, competitive process or through Schedule A, a non-competitive process. The purpose of Schedule A hiring is to make more opportunities available for people with physical, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities. The process even allows for permanent employment status after two years of service deemed satisfactory.
Put Your Best Self Forward
Once you have used all the resources to which you have access in order to find a job or to get to the interview stage, it’s time to put your best self forward and sell yourself to get the job. Employers may have prejudices about people with disabilities, whether they want to admit it or not, so you can combat that by emphasizing your abilities and by being prepared with a great resume and interview skills.
In the interview and in your resume, showcase your skills, your education, and your job experience. Emphasize actual experiences you have had that demonstrate your ability to do the job well. Be positive, dress professionally, and come to the job interview with a great attitude and your disability will become secondary to everything else you have to offer.
Become an Entrepreneur
Maybe finding a job just isn’t for you, and it doesn’t have to be. Entrepreneurship has become a huge part of the modern economy. All kinds of people are starting their own small businesses, and for people with limitations caused by disabilities like CP, this is a great option. By being your own boss you can set your own work hours, decide what kind of work you want to do, and set up your own home or office so that it works just right for you.
Finding a job while living with disabilities like those caused by CP means that you have more challenges than the average person. It does not mean that you cannot be successful. Working is a part of being independent, and if you use the right resources, know what your rights are under the law, and emphasize everything you have to offer, you can enjoy a long, successful, and lucrative career.