41 Students or Job Seekers with Disabilities

Are you a student or job seeker with a visible or invisible disability who is finding it challenging to find work? Are you discouraged by the process and unsure how to talk about your disability?

For anyone searching for work in today’s competitive job market, finding a job can be a difficult and demanding task. For a person with a disability, the job search process may bring about other distinctive challenges. Persons with disabilities are uniquely valuable to employers in several ways, and an increasing number of persons with disabilities are entering the workforce.

When an employer chooses to hire a person with a disability they tap into underutilized talent, generate more diverse perspectives, create a workforce reflective of society, increase accessibility for all, and support the elimination of barriers


In this section, you will learn practical suggestions on how to address your disability-related concerns throughout different intervals of the job search process. Let’s ensure that your disability doesn’t stand in the way of getting a job and, in turn, focus on the immense value you will bring to the workforce. Before you start your job search, consider the following strategies:

  • Evaluate yourself.
    It is important for you to start by evaluating your own feelings about this process. Reflect on the following exploratory questions and consider discussing them with a trusted source in order to work through your thoughts.

    • Are you able to describe your disability to others, and do you feel comfortable talking
      openly about it?
    • What limitations do you have and are you able to identify what accommodations you would need in the workplace?
    • Are you comfortable educating your team members and answering questions about your disability and do you have additional resources you can provide to help them understand?

    When you have a clearer picture of how you see your disability in the context of a work setting, you can start understanding what implications that might have on your daily life. Depending on your answers to the above questions, you are also able to start identifying what you need to do
    in order to better prepare yourself for transitioning more confidently into the workforce.

  • Educate others and challenge stereotypes.
    The more comfortable you are about your disability, the more comfortable the people around you will be. Advocate for yourself by educating others about your disability. When people are more educated about your needs, they are more likely to be understanding and less likely to make assumptions or feed into stereotypes. As a skilled and productive employee, you can change people’s beliefs, and help them see you as the hardworking, adaptable, and intelligent person you are. This might be more challenging with some people than others, therefore, surround yourself with good support, and reach out to your Disabilities Counsellor at the Centre for Accessible Learning for further suggestions.
    Furthermore, take matters into your own hands and recommend information or community resources that can provide them with further information.

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    Make an appointment with Accessible Learning.




  • Communicate effectively.
    Over the course of your work history, challenging situations will arise. As we previously mentioned, when people are uneducated about disabilities, they may not know how to ask questions or respond appropriately to matters concerning your disability. To navigate these situations effectively, you need to be able to communicate well. You should:

    • Avoid reacting negatively to other people’s behaviours, or assuming that someone is judging you, as your assumption might not be true.
    • Promote disability awareness by taking opportunities to discuss your disability as a chance to teach others.
    • Don’t be afraid to articulate what your preferences are with regards to how you would like to be treated and what assistance you might need.
    • Be open to discussing with your employer and colleagues how their comments affect you and suggest language you prefer to use when referring to your disability.
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Check out the Job Seekers Guide for Students and Graduates with Disabilities for further support with your job search.


Spend time reflecting on the job search methods from Unit 3, and then consider some of these additional strategies:

  • Maintain a positive attitude.
    There are many fears associated with entering and re-entering the workforce with a disability, especially if you’re newly disabled or you’ve had previous negative experiences associated with your disability. If you are feeling negative about your disability or situation, this can come across in your behaviours and attitude. In the face of your challenges, do your best to maintain a positive outlook – this will be a strong indicator of your future career success. Staying focused on the skills you can offer and your past successes will help you look at your situation in a new and more productive way.
  • Seek out companies that support diverse hiring practices.
    Through networking, conducting informational interviews, working with disability employment support agencies, and researching companies directly, you can find out information about different organizations and their practices around the support of persons with disabilities. By targeting companies committed to building a diverse workforce and adhering to employment equity practices, you will be more likely to receive the support and understanding you need to be successful in the workplace.

  • Be open-minded and create opportunities.
    There are many companies out there that haven’t hired a person with a disability before. If this applies to a company that you really want to work for, don’t be afraid to reach out. Suggest to an employer the possibility of a job trial so that you can showcase your skills and abilities on the job and they can evaluate your work performance before deciding to hire you. This also gives you the opportunity to decide if this opportunity will be the best fit for you.
  • Connect with employment-based disability service providers.
    Two heads are better than one! If you don’t want to go through this process alone, enlist the help of a community service provider. Some service providers are disability-specific and can offer programs on job search support and can connect you with disability-friendly employers.

    Research the following service providers to learn more about your eligibility and available support:

  • Stay motivated.
    Job searching can take a long time. When you’re in the midst of your search, it’s easy to lose your initial hopefulness. You must maintain your motivation in order to keep up with your job search activities. Stay motivated by celebrating your successes, even if you haven’t obtained employment; any opportunities you have had to discuss your skills with others is an achievement. Moreover, keep track of your efforts by documenting and reviewing all that you’ve accomplished; this will keep you on track and you will be able to evaluate whether or not there is anything more you can do.
  • Coordinate logistics.
    Ensure that you have made the appropriate arrangements for transportation, recurring medical appointments, and childcare. These may or may not be formal workplace accommodations, but they may be aspects of your life that are impacted by your disability and should be addressed prior to starting a job.
  • Identify a solid support network. It’s not always easy out there.
    To help you maintain your enthusiasm, identify people in your life whom you can rely on for encouragement, support, and sound advice. Network with other job seekers and other persons with disabilities who have been successful in finding work. Find ways to support your networks and they will find ways to support you.

Disclosing a Disability

In reference to your job search, “disclosure” is the act of making your disability known to others. You may be experiencing many different concerns or questions about the disclosure of your disability. If you don’t take the time to consider what disclosure might look like for you, it could directly impact your self-confidence and the success of your job search. Remind yourself:

  • Disclosure is an important and personal choice.
    You get to call the shots when it comes to disclosure, the ball is always in your court for if, how, and when you would like to disclose. Don’t feel pressured by outside sources; make sure to make the decision that will be best suited to you.
  • Disclosure is not a one-size-fits-all concept.
    There is no one right way or right time to disclose your disability. When what, and how you disclose is entirely based on your individual circumstance and it will look completely different across every individual, employer, and job opportunity. Always use your discretion based on your current situation. Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide if disclosure is your best strategy:

    • Is your disability visible or invisible? Do the risks of disclosing outweigh the benefits or vice versa?
    • Will this information help or hurt your chances of getting and keeping a job?
    • Do you need accommodations on the job? Without accommodations in the workplace is your safety at risk?
    • Have you disclosed your disability in the past? What was the reaction you received? How did that make you feel?
    • Do you think your employer will understand your disability? If not, are you prepared to explain it?
    • Are you confident in reassuring an employer that your disability will not impact your ability to perform the job?

The Pros and Cons of Disclosing

Knowing when the best time is to talk about your disability can often be unclear; the chart below explains the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing at different times throughout the job search process. Identify what you would feel most comfortable with based on your individual circumstance.

When to Disclose Pros Cons When to Use
Cover Letter, Resume, or Job Application The employer may appreciate your honesty. The employer may be actively seeking to hire diverse candidates. Does not provide you with the opportunity to address questions or concerns. The information may be used to screen you out. Recommended when your disability might be seen as an advantage, i.e. when an Employment Equity program is in place.
Before an Interview The employer has already shown interest in you by scheduling an interview.If you need accommodations, the employer can be better prepared for the interview. Employer may make inappropriate assumptions or stereotypes that may impact their decision to hire you. The employer may feel you were dishonest in your application. Recommended if you require accommodations for your interview.
During an Interview You can take the opportunity to highlight your skills and qualifications, positively address disability concerns and questions, and convince the employer of your ability to do the job. The employer may react or feel you were dishonest. The employer may see the disability as a possible problem. You may not have the appropriate accommodations, making the interview more challenging or uncomfortable. Recommended if your disability is not visible, but you are able to confidently focus on your skills and abilities. Be prepared to answer questions about your disability.
At Time of Job Offer If your disability doesn’t affect your ability to do the job, the employer will be confident in their hiring decision. The employer can onboard you more appropriately. The employer may react poorly or feel you should have told them before making the hiring decision. Recommended if your disability is invisible, and you don’t require any accommodations. In this case, you could choose not to disclose your disability.
After you Start Work You have the opportunity to prove yourself on the job first and respond to questions about your disability with employers and coworkers. You may feel nervous or feel that you’re being untruthful by not disclosing. The employer may react poorly or feel that you were dishonest. It may change your relationships at work Recommended if not disclosing is causing you unnecessary stress or you need accommodations. It may also be appropriate if there are problems or concerns with your work performance or coworkers.
After a Problem Occurs You have the opportunity to prove yourself on the job first. The employer may react poorly or feel that you were dishonest. May perpetuate disability myths and misunderstandings among employers and coworkers. It may change your relationships at work. Recommended if problems or concerns at work persist. Be prepared to educate your employer and coworkers about your disability. Ask for help and rely on your support system.
Never You will not have to explain your disability. The employer and your coworkers may not automatically assume work-related issues are associated with your disability. The employer and your coworkers won’t become more aware or educated about the benefits and value of hiring and working with persons with disabilities. Recommended if your disability is invisible, and you don’t require any accommodations. In this case, you could choose not to disclose your disability.

Tips for Disclosing

If you’re thinking of disclosing your disability, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself. Read through the following suggestions and decide what is helpful for you:

  • Role-play your disclosure conversations.
    If you’re nervous about discussing your disability, plan what you’re going to say, and take the time to rehearse with a family member or close friend ahead of time. Not only will you feel more prepared about what you are going to say, but you will also feel more confident. Keep it simple. You don’t need to give all of your personal details, decide how much you feel comfortable sharing and stick with that.
  • Don’t present your disability as a weakness.
    Focus on what you can do for the company, and don’t let your disability stand in the way of highlighting your job capabilities. Focus on highlighting your skills and qualifications as they relate to the position. Give concrete examples of how you performed your job duties in the past, this will help the employer visualize you in the role. If you’re comfortable, talk more about what kind of valuable contributions your disability has had in your previous environments.
  • Be able to identify your workplace accommodations.
    The more you can tell an employer about the required accommodations after disclosing a disability, the more confident they will feel in knowing how to support you. It will also be helpful to provide examples or reflect on academic or employment accommodations you’ve received in the past. If you have resources you can provide to help the employer better understand your needs, leave this information with them. Research the costs and funding available for any accommodations you may need. When possible, be responsible for your individual needs by providing the software or equipment needed for your accommodation. Sharing this information with the employer is helpful and creates a sense of reassurance that you are prepared for your new work environment and it doesn’t provide an employer with an excuse not to hire you.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your disability.
    Questions are an opportunity for an employer or colleague to learn. Providing an educated and thorough answer will be an opportunity to break down perceived barriers.
  • Talk about the business case for hiring persons with disabilities.
    There are strong motivations for businesses to hire employees with disabilities, which is why it is helpful to inform employers of the added benefits of adding a person with a disability to their team. For example, they are diversifying their workforce, showing their commitment to employment equity, broadening perspectives, building a positive image in the community, widening their talent pool, and
    encouraging and improving accessibility practices for everyone.

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Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter is an adaptation of Be the Boss of Your Career: A Complete Guide for Students & Grads by Lindsay Bortot and Employment Support Centre, Algonquin College, and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

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