Veronica addressed students, faculty, and community members on March 9, 2016 regarding “Disclosing Learning Disabilities to Employers and Maximizing Job Success.”  During her presentation, Veronica began by speaking about the history of disability acts within the United States.  The evolution of protections offered to persons with disability was furthered through the 2008 passing of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 by President Bush.  This act broadens the number of persons who are allowed the protections of the Americans with Disability Act, which was enacted by congress in 1990.  Even with these developments, Veronica continued that still “so much is missing.”

summer academy 2With the new developments in the ADAAA, the focus is on employment.  Employers need to adhere organizational policies to the ADAAA, must retrain employees involved in assessing employee disabilities, broaden their understanding of accommodations, and consider actions they take towards employees who may now qualify for protection under ADAAA.  To this point, Veronica identified that it is necessary to identify who is a qualified person in order to recognize the protections that are offered.

Further, persons with disabilities must also accept their disabilities.  In recognizing one’s disabilities, there is an acknowledgement that issues may need to be addressed, that one’s life might be affected, and that one should look into taking steps to correct anything that is needed.  Moving forward, then, also includes putting a plan into place, sticking to that plan, making adjustments as necessary concerning that plan, and disclosing to others when appropriate.  Disclosure, however, involves knowing when to disclose, knowing who to disclose to, and also knowing when to disclose in relationships.

Veronica stated that of the employees who have disability, 96% of them have hidden disabilities.  In fact, some of the most common misunderstood disabilities include learning disabilities (LD), chronic pain, mental health, fertility, birth disorders, diabetes, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), allergies, and hearing loss.  Combining the percentage of persons with hidden disabilities with common misunderstandings results in common mistakes in the workplace.  These mistakes include making jokes and off-handed comments, correcting employees in front of others, complimenting when problems are occurring, increasing salary when problems are occurring, not providing accommodations after disclosure is made, having anyone mistreat staff, and treating staff with disabilities as if they are special.  As a result, the workplace can become filled with misunderstanding, resentment, depression, rage, mania, paranoia, anger, hurt, and potential lawsuits.

Statistically speaking, Veronica highlighted that a third of employers believe it is appropriate to ask if a person has a learning disability even though it is illegal to ask.  Additionally, two-thirds of Americans know someone with LD.  Furthermore, 37% of parents do believe schools adequately help students with LD while 64% believe that schools do not provide information on learning disabilities.  In stark contrast to these statistics, only 12% of respondents online admit to having a learning disability.  This point alone reinforces Veronica’s statement that one needs to accept their disability.

Continuing, Veronica mentioned that hidden disabilities come with a different set of societal views for hidden and visible disabilities.  For persons with hidden disabilities, they may be regarded as lazy, having the issue all in their head, not trying hard enough, not being tough enough, and acting like a big baby.  At the same time, visible disabilities can be met with statements that one is born that way and can’t help it; therefore, society responds that it must hurt and wow…can, you imagine that being you?  Such responses for both groups may result in offense, hurt, pain, and shame.  Therefore, one can easily perceive that discrimination comes in many forms.  Regarding employment, it can be found during the beginning application process through the interview in the job offer and on the job after obtaining employment.  It also appears during performance evaluations, lay-off, termination, retirement, and health care benefits.  In response, human resources has encouraged many companies to create affinity groups for employees with disabilities in order to provide them assistance.

From here, Veronica returned to the topic at hand, “Disclosing Learning Disabilities to Employers and Maximizing Job Success.”  First and foremost, one should look at the essential job functions for a position and determine if reasonable accommodations exist and are necessary to perform the essential job functions.  Accommodations cannot pose an undue hardship and offer the employee access to be able to do the job.  In other words, the employee must able to meet the essential functions of the job with/without the reasonable accommodations the employer provides that does not result in an undue hardship.

Second, one must therefore identify the essential functions.  These functions can be found in the job descriptions where they may be listed as essential functions, key duties, or key elements of the job.  From here, one can work through a task analysis wherein one observes and works through a functional assessment of the job being done.

Finally, one considers when and if to disclose.  In general, Veronica cited a study from Cornell that found that over 90% of applicants were not interviewed for a position if they had listed LD on their resume or cover letter.  As such, one should refrain from identifying this information on either the resume or cover letter and should be hesitant of identifying this within the application.  Moreover, one needs to understand rights found under the law as well as risks associated with not disclosing.  Additionally, one should recognize the help associated with disclosing and receiving an accommodation.  In asking for these accommodations, appropriate phrasing should be used with the employer, which includes tying in disabilities with strengths and accommodations to essential functions.  From here, one can express the willingness to work with the employer on alternative ideas and close by thanking the employer for openness and willingness to help.

To conclude, although self-acceptance of one’s disability can seem a daunting step and even though this step can be mirrored in fear with the notion of disclosure to an employer, Veronica asked, “Aren’t we really all the same?”  In consideration of her question, Veronica played the song “Don’t Laugh At Me” by Mark Wills.  Consideration of these lyrics profoundly answers her question:

“Don’t Laugh At Me”

I’m a little boy with glasses
The one they call the geek
A little girl who never smiles
‘Cause I’ve got braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels
To cry myself to sleep.I’m that kid on every playground
Who’s always chosen last
A single teenage mother
Tryin’ to overcome my past
You don’t have to be my friend
Is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me.

I’m the cripple on the corner
You pass me on the street
I wouldn’t be out here beggin’
If I had enough to eat
And don’t think that I don’t notice
That our eyes never meet.

I lost my wife and little boy
Someone crossed that yellow line
The day we laid ’em in the ground
Is the day I lost my mind
Right now I’m down to holdin’
This little cardboard sign.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m short, I’m tall
I’m deaf, I’m blind, hey aren’t we all?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
Someday we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me.