Jennette Ballas and Aliza Elbert

Dilemma: I am a graduating senior looking for potential jobs and have currently started the interview process. I have a disability that can and might have an effect on my productivity at work and I will most likely need special accommodations. When, if ever, do you think that I should tell my potential boss and co-workers? – Rebeca S.

Having a disability can sometimes be uncomfortable to talk about in fear that the person whom are you speaking with will think differently of you, treat you differently, look down on you, etc. It should be possible to talk about having ADD, depression, dyslexia, hearing/visual impairments or multiple sclerosis without running into worries or skepticism. However, this is rarely the case. In today’s world, people might be familiar with disabilities but might not understand their effects on the individuals too. Because of that, stereotyping and preconceived notions easily arise.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual is “disabled” if he or she meets at least any one of the following tests: 1. He or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities 2. He or she has a record of such an impairments; or 3. He or she is regarded as having such an impairment.

There is a law now to protect against discrimination on the basis of disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 makes it unlawful to discriminate when employing a qualified individual with a disability. In fact, employers are bound by law to provide what are called “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace.

When you are job seeking, do not be afraid of applying or interviewing because of your condition. Do not tell your boss or co-workers when starting a new job. Instead, let them get to know you, and then when there is a basis of trust and the time is right, let them know. Be sure to explain your disability because once they understand where you are coming from, it will make your work environment more satisfying and productive. Once you tell your boss or co-workers, try not to get defensive, but rather be sympathetic with the other person’s point of view. They may never have heard of your condition and at first it may sound suspicious. They may think “There’s a neurological condition to explain why you’re disorganized, frequently leaving for doctor’s appointments, irritable, forgetful, late and impulsive? Come on.”

There is a myth that disabled employees cost more. However, in reality, “reasonable accommodations” don’t usually cost much at all; many in fact are free.  Around two-thirds of employers with less than 50 employees say they incurred no extra costs as a result of employing a disabled person. In general, larger companies are more likely to have employed individuals with similar disabilities and have some sort of coverage plan for them.

The Bottom Line: Whether you are from the Bay Area or the OC, are admitted as a freshman or a transfer, are “normal” or disabled, don’t let that label define you. You are what you make of yourself.

Aliza Elbert and Jennette Ballas are both marketing concentrations with a knack for changing the world – one ethical dilemma at a time. This article is written on behalf of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) with a goal of teaching others about business ethics.

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