By Elizabeth Davis
In your opinion, do you believe—in general—people without disabilities have a fear or discomfort of working with a person with a disability? Where does this fear come from?
A: I certainly think they used to. If people without a disability are uncomfortable around people who have a disability, it is generally because they have little exposure to people with disabilities. The real obstacle is fear of the unknown. I have Cerebral Palsy, a neurological condition I have had since birth. I use a rolling walker for support. When I was younger, I never saw other people like me. It was common for people to stare at me as I walked down street, some stopping to stare or assuming that I was intellectually challenged. I went to school before the Americans with Disabilities Act, and any number of prospective employers were concerned about my mobility impairment. Common interview questions included, “What happened to you?” and “When are you going to die?” Even after I had been practicing for years, a partner at a former firm refused to work with me for fear of “saying the wrong thing.”
My experience today is dramatically different. In fact, my current firm never even questioned my ability. Only after I joined the firm did anyone inquire whether I needed any accommodations. (I didn’t.) I believe my experience is different today because it is more common to know someone with a disability. I occasionally encounter someone who moves like I do, and plenty of colleagues know someone else with a mobility impairment.
What do you think employers have to gain when hiring individuals with disabilities?
A: Prospective employers have much to gain from hiring well-qualified people with disabilities. As with many diverse employees, people with disabilities bring different experiences and perspectives. People with disabilities are used to finding creative solutions to problems. For many of us, just getting through the day takes creative thought to overcome obstacles. Any employer can benefit from a team member who has experience in meeting challenges head on and overcoming them. Their experience benefits the company and the company’s clients.
How can we do better at creating a world in which people with disabilities can participate more fully?
A: Don’t be afraid! Talk to people with disabilities. Get to know us, and you’ll soon realize we are not so different.