Finding a Job with a Disability: Explaining Workplace Accommodation Needs


“I’m currently looking for full-time work. Because of a physical disability, I require some modifications to my workspace. At what point should I bring this up to my employer? I have good qualifications and want to make sure they give me a chance.” — Aaron from Omaha, NE


Thanks for your question – it’s an important issue, and I certainly understand its sensitivity.  Often times, having a physical disability means it’s a presenting disability – one that can seen by others.  Sometimes, though, a physical disability is one that is not observable.  In either case, an accommodation may be needed to get the job done.

In an interview, a potential employer is looking for what you offer that is going to improve his or her company’s results – increased production, more sales, higher customer satisfaction, you name it. Your job in the interview is to showcase how you can contribute to making that happen.  An accommodation is just a part of the strategy for you to deliver on those results.

After you’ve presented your skills and qualifications for the job opportunity – your “I can help you get done what you’re trying to get done and here’s why” – you can follow that with “I can help you get done with what you’re trying to get done and here’s how.” Bringing up the topic of accommodations here makes sense because it puts your need in the context of helping a potential employer meet their needs.  Remember that landing a job is all about showcasing how you can help that employer achieve its business goals.

It would be best if you had specific ideas or examples of the type of accommodation you would need so that the potential employer can have some idea as to what would be required – a screen reader, adjustable desk, flexible work hours for doctor’s appointments, etc. You can also refer them to the great resources available through the Job Accommodation Network, where suggestions for a variety of accommodation are available for employers to reference for employees with disabilities.

From the employer perspective, Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute says that:

If an employer could reasonably believe that an applicant will not be able to perform a job function because of either an obvious disability or a hidden disability that the person has voluntarily disclosed, the employer may ask that particular applicant to describe or demonstrate how s/he would perform the function. Similarly, if the employer reasonably believes that the person will need a reasonable accommodation to perform the job, either because the applicant has an obvious disability or because of voluntary disclosures by the applicant, the employer may ask whether s/he needs a reasonable accommodation and what type of accommodation would be needed.

For other questions you might have about related to accommodations, do make sure and check out the Job Accommodation Network website.  You can even ask questions of counselors about your specific situation for personalized advice!

Best of luck!