Whither disability discrimination?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/05/10 03:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/05/10/8482865.aspx

In my blog Disabilities in the workplace, Mary suggested in the comments:

I'd like to see a discussion for those of us with non-mobility disabilities. How about mild autism? Just try and get through the first 5 minutes of an interview and make a positive impression when you can only lip read for the first 5 minutes!

Now there's a challenge! Do you say "I'm sorry, I didn't see what you said" and become "that deaf over 40 chick" - when you're not deaf. Or do you disclose the disability and get bumped? Or do you not disclose it, try and bumble through and get bumped for being slow to respond and comprehend?

A very good point, and one that I only have limited experience with myself, to which I can add info from colleagues who suffer from problems like mild autism and Tourette syndrome.

The experience I do have myself comes from MS symptoms that put me in similar situations -- like visual defects so severe that I couldn't see too much beyond right in front of me.

That particular problem has only happened to me two times, but both times I avoided the situation, and canceled the scheduled meetings. It seemed prudent due to my inability to see people who would be there, which would be a very noticeable symptom.

But maybe that points to what I would do if there were no way to avoid it -- there is really no other way than to be upfront with the situation -- if there was no way to hide it, I'd choose Mary's "choice B" and disclose.

These days, it seems like people tend to be pretty sensitive about even the hint of discrimination. So I would be upfront about what I can't do but then launch immediately into what I can. nd let the chips fall where they may.

For an interview, I'd make sure to walk in with them knowing that information, and (since there is no way they would know what to do or how to handle it), I'd try to make sure the interview was structured in a way that I could handle it (a more extensive version of what I have done in interviews when standing at the white board wasn't feasible).

The risk of negative bias or even prejudice is there, but giving people the opportunity to think the worst of the situation is not really such a great idea even then, so there is no downside unique to disclosure. In situations like Tourette's or Asperger's that have come up in television shows either not too long ago or recently (in L.A. Law and Boston Legal, respectively), there is even perhaps some common basis for contrast -- like what about one's own case is different from the ones popularized on television.

I actually only know of one time when I was definitely directly discriminated against in word or deed, and that person felt guilt enough that they went out of their way to correct the situation afterward.

Discrimination is a very rough thing, in any form and against really anything. And the odds are obviously much better in an employment situation than an interviewing one (since in is much more in the former that people have a vested interest in getting along), but what else can one really do?


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# John Cowan on 10 May 2008 1:40 PM:

I cheerfully disclose all my disabilities, the most of important of which socially is my face blindness, as soon as possible.  That way, people have a chance to respond thoughtfully rather than react instinctively to the sight of someone who appears to be snubbing them.  But at the first lunch meeting, I promptly mention the seven injections I take daily (some people are squeamish about needles: fine, they can look somewhere else), and it doesn't take much to bring out my troubles with balance or my fear of heights.

Or as a guy with severe tardive dyskinesia (which, believe me, makes you look like a geek, and I don't mean a computer programmer) said cheerfully to me in a meeting once:

No stigma!

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