NOTE: October is Learning Disabilities/ADHD/Dyslexia Awareness Month
This blog is written by Alyssia Jackson, a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities
One of the scariest experiences in life is finding a job after college. Sometimes it felt like the more I applied, the more I got rejected. I struggled with finding the right job. You see, I am a woman of color with a learning disability and society also sees me as presenting with a physical disability.
I grappled with whether I should identify myself as having a disability on applications. I did not know if checking that box would cost me an interview, and many times, it felt like it did. Once during an in-person interview, I remember being asked if I had “gotten into a car accident recently”. At that time, I explained my learning disability, and the response was “does that mean you can’t read?”
My job search experiences were one of the main reasons why I decided to get into a career in Human Resources. And, I am happy that I have a job in this area now and plan to focus more on diversity and inclusion! As I grow in my career, I have learned to be more open about my learning disability. I’ve also learned to accept and embrace my life as a woman of color with various disabilities.
I’ve learned that there aren’t many people like me in the workforce. The ones who are in the workforce are often not in positions to help make changes to support and lift-up others with disabilities.
I am passionate about diversity and inclusion within the workforce. I want to be a voice for others like me and ensure everyone has a fair chance.
I make no apologies for who I am anymore. I have learned not to see my disabilities as disabilities, but as differences. That is why I see myself as a “triple threat”, Black, Educated and Exceptional.
Here are some of my tips for others that share similar qualities to me:
1: Be Yourself
Whenever you are applying for a job, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Confidence is key. I struggled in my job search because my confidence was destroyed by my experiences with bad human resource recruiters and hiring managers. They made me feel self-conscious and I was afraid of what they thought about me. Someone eventually gave me advice in my career search that helped me: “if they are not willing to accept who you are, maybe that’s not the company you want to work for.” I then realized, why would I want to work for a company that doesn’t accept me for who I am? If you are uncomfortable about disclosing, that’s okay. Disclose what you feel comfortable disclosing—when you feel comfortable—and be confident in your choice. This may be easier said than done, especially since economic circumstances often don’t give many of us the opportunity to pick and choose where we work.
2: Be the Game Changer
Educate your co-workers. Lack of knowledge is what drives stigma around disabilities. People are not always aware of what you need/what you experience as it does not affect them like it does you. Go to your human resource department and ask about their employee resource groups, affinity groups and other resources. If there is not one, this is an opportunity for you to create one. Sometimes it takes that one person to step up and make a difference.
3: Apply Pressure
Self-Advocacy is key. Make sure to request and review your employee handbook. Know your rights as an employee. Look at your benefits, and if there are services within your handbook that you need, do not be afraid to ask. Also, if there are services and benefits that you think your company should provide, propose those services be offered. Write a proposal and speak to your head of human resources and benefits department. Show them what other companies offer and let them know how these benefits would benefit employees at your organization/business.
These words of advice aren’t comprehensive, but they come from my own experience as a triple threat trying to make her way in a fulfilling career. While I don’t have it all figured out, I’ve learned that I am most happy in a job when I am able to be myself.
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