Getting a Job When You Have a Learning Disability

Recently, Amna Saleem posted an article on Buzzfeed, 7 Things I Learned From Struggling With Dyscalculia.  This article really spoke to me, especially since I’m job hunting once again.

The linked Wikipedia article defines dyscalculia as “difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, and learning facts in mathematics.”

Along with dyslexia, dyscalculia is a learning disability (LD for short), not to be confused with intellectual disabilities (formerly called mental retardation).  Symptoms vary for different people.  For example, Amna points out in her article that she has trouble reading maps.  I can read maps okay; yes, I do occasionally go the wrong way.  But I once got myself unlost at night by looking at the sky and knowing that Venus rises in the west.

800px-venus_over_radom

I’m in your sky, telling you which way to go.

Image:  Man / Wikimedia Commons

Dyscalculia limits me to work that has no accounting, budgeting, or data analysis.  I have accepted this, but more and more companies combined jobs during and after the recession.  Of course, they didn’t raise wages either.  So a receptionist position will be renamed “administrative assistant” and do both accounting and front desk duties, often for minimum wage or just a couple of dollars more.  Not really enough to live on.

450px-the_writings_of_charles_dickens_v4_p12_28engraving29

Please sir, can I have some more?

Image:  George Cruikshank illustration, Oliver Twist / Wikimedia Commons

At the start of this year, my perfect-fit administrative / editing job got sucked into a larger department after my angel of a boss retired, and it began to change.  I rode the struggle bus for a while.  Despite disclosure and accommodation (of a sort), my performance suffered, and they let me go.

I made mistakes and I own them.  But they recently posted the newly altered job, and I pulled the listing out of curiosity.  It had morphed from report-heavy to numbers-heavy.  Even if I had been 100% perfect otherwise, I could not have done the work the way the new boss wanted.

When you’re job searching with a learning disability, there are questions.  Keep in mind that I’m not an expert.

#1–Should I disclose the LD to potential employers?

Multiple forums say no, don’t tell them you need an accommodation until you actually have an offer.  Unfortunately, many LDs aren’t well understood, and though employers aren’t supposed to discriminate against people with disabilities, unconscious bias still exists.

That said, you absolutely can disclose, on a need-to-know basis.  If so, keep it positive.  Focus on what you can do and how you get around limitations.  I’ve included a Department of Labor link at the end of this post with guidelines.

If you need accommodation, you will have to provide proof of the disability.  So if you’ve never been tested, you might want to look into it.  If you’re employed currently and have insurance, see if it’s covered, or if your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) can help you find professionals who diagnose LDs.

#2–How do I find a job I can do?

Read listings carefully.  You are the best judge of your abilities and limitations.  Example:  I can’t do your budget reconciliation, but I can assist accounting personnel with filing, data entry, check matching to invoices, and other duties.

side-pose-of-young-male-showing-folder-imagerymajestic-fdp-net

Got your file right here, bro!  BOOYA!

Image:  imagerymajestic / freedigitalphotos.net

If duties are unclear, make a list of questions to ask.  The best time to make these inquiries is if you have a phone interview; many companies do a short phone screen first before they schedule a formal interview.  Some don’t.  In that case, you’ll have to wait until you actually speak with the hiring manager.

#3–What if I can’t find a job I can do?

I’m the last person to advise anyone to take on debt they don’t have to–thanks to school loans, I can never ever retire.  But if your field has changed in a way that prevents you from finding gainful employment due to your disability, it might be time for a career switch.

My unemployment in 2012 led me to the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation program, which can retrain people with disabilities (choose the school track, not the work track).  Fortunately, it paid for testing too.  However, the program will not pay living expenses, and it does have an income threshold.  Even with Exjob’s tuition reimbursement, I couldn’t avoid taking out more loans.  That killed that.

You might be luckier than I was.  You might have in-demand skills that can swing a career transfer without going back to school.  You might have a spouse or SO who can work while you retrain.  You might have enough savings to carry you through.  You might have a trust fund.

800px-biltmore_estate-27527-2

Well you hardly need MY advice then, do you, princess?

Image:  Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons

I recommend making a skills list–what have you learned from your previous work? Which of these skills can transfer to other positions?  You might be surprised.

  • Customer service can translate to sales.
  • Any management experience, even retail or food service, has value.
  • Software skills: databases, desktop publishing or document software, etc.
  • I now have nearly four years of technical editing experience, and I’m starting to look at jobs that need this skill.

Check the transferable skills link below for a good list.  Look at O*Net to explore careers.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an Occupational Outlook Handbook with scads of info on duties, pay, and more for different careers.

People with learning disabilities can do tons of jobs.  And we can find employers who value our skills and embrace our abilities.

Additional reading:

Transferable Skills List:  Skills You Can Use in Multiple Jobs and Careers, by Dawn Rosenberg McKay, www.thebalance.com

Youth, Disclosure, and the Workplace Why, When, What, and How, U.S. Department of Labor

Pros and Cons of Disclosing a Disability to Employers, by Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos, www.understood.org

Getting the Most out of Working With a Learning Disability, by Eli Epstein, The Atlantic

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2015 in review

Happy New Year!

Wow, I’m surprised anyone is still looking at this thing.   I can’t possibly compete with excellent work blogs such as Ask a Manager and Evil HR Lady.  Go check them out, if you haven’t already.

Not much has happened lately in the world of work for me to write about, but with the start of the new year, I have a new boss and my job is changing (yipes).  So I’ll probably talk a little bit about how that’s going.  I’m sure new issues and challenges will arise, and I’m happy to share what I’ll learn.

In the meantime, WordPress has done its yearly thing so here it is!  Happy New Year to everybody!  To those who are trying to escape a horrible job or find something, I wish you luck; to those who just became employed, I wish you congratulations, and to those who are doing well, hooray!

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

How Not to Write a Cover Letter

A commenter on Ask a Manager posted a hilarious version of a centered cover letter (a joke re Question 4 in this post).  Not only is it a masterpiece of eyestrain, but it encompasses every single thing anyone could possibly do to not only be an extremely poor candidate, but a horrible employee as well.

Please do not copy this—IT IS A JOKE!  If you send a cover letter like this, you practically guarantee you will not get the job.  But they’ll remember you…perhaps forever.

Enjoy!

MarySue Jobseeker Perfect Candidate

 

Discount on Ask a Manager’s How to Get a Job book!

Hey everyone — if any of you are looking for a job right now, I’d like to pass on a resource.

For the next few days, Alison Green at askamanager.org is offering a discount on her book, How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager.  It’s chock-full of useful advice and helpful tips on interviewing, resumes, and more.

You can click on this link to go to her blog and buy it.

Get your copy today!

Image:  askamanager.org

Image: askamanager.org

Happy New Year! 2014 in review

I didn’t post much on Clerical Chick this year.  And yet more of you stopped by here than by Graphomaniac.  Let’s hope 2015 is a bit more eventful–of course in a good way.  Thank you for reading!

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

4 Ways to Balance School and Work

I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL from this blog—there’s not much to write about lately, workwise.  Plus, I have been trying to query a novel and finish another first draft so I can dive into a vast pile of research.  And teach myself how to write a screenplay.  While working full-time.  Argh.

In spring of 2014, I finished my last finals for the Semester of Hell (you can read my periodic whinges about that over on Graphomaniac).  I don’t know how I got through it this time.  Both classes were online, which helped.

How does a person juggle school plus work?  More people are taking the Money Bus to College Town in hopes of improving their job skills.  I’ve been through this once, and I actually managed to finish.  These tips helped me and I hope they’ll help you.

You can use these same tips for outside projects.  Like writing a novel.

Time management is key

This might seem obvious, but if you’ve never tried to do it, figuring it out can be a bear.

This one. 

This one.

Image:  Diane Krauss (DianeAnna) / Wikimedia Commons

Not this one:

Not this one, sorry!

Image:  Waugsberg / Wikimedia Commons

You can:

  • Make a schedule.  You can use a Gantt chart (hah, I learned about this one in school).  Click the link for more information about them.
  • If you have children and they are in school, and you’re trying to go back to school at the same time, you can make their homework time your homework time (and get a little done, anyway).  Seeing you study will also give them incentive, and you’ll be right there if they need help.
  • Cook healthy foods on the weekend and freeze them.  Seriously, I hate having to stop and make food when I’m this busy.  I usually end up shoving crap into my mouth and regretting it later.  Why do you think college students subsist on pizza?  It’s cheap, fast, and someone else does all the work.  If you’ve pre-made meals, you can just pop them in the microwave and still eat well.

Note:  Make sure you build time to relax into your schedule.  You will need it.

Use your lunch hour

This one is completely up to you.  Some people like to study over their lunch hours.  I write on mine.  When I’m not taking Buzzfeed quizzes, that is.

I’m Plankton!

I’m Plankton!

Image:  buzzfeed.com

I wrote most of my police procedural this way, dragging my laptop to work every day and tapping out scenes whilst I shoveled leftovers into my gob.  Now I use a flash drive, but the principle is still the same.

You may prefer to keep your lunch hour as Me time.  Go shopping, go for a walk, or read a book you know you won’t finish when you get home because you have too many assignments.

Leave your work at work

Once you leave for the day, you might have to go to class.  You won’t do well if you can’t stop thinking about your job.  Make it a point to disconnect once you walk out the door.  Blast your favorite music on the drive over, or listen to it on public transport if that’s your ride to school (quietly, please!).

If you have the kind of boss who texts you at 3 a.m. because she just woke up from a nightmare of  OMG DID WE PROOF THE TPS REPORTS CN U PLS CHK WHN U GET IN TMRROW, then the difficulty level rises.  If you’re hourly, you may not be able to deal with any emails outside work hours without clocking in.  Tell your boss that would be overtime—that usually kills it right there.

BUT I NEED YOU NOW!

BUT I NEED YOU NOW!

Image:  stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Set small goals each day or week, rather than one huge one

This is such common advice I almost didn’t want to include it, but so many people forget this.  Then they look at the giant thing they have decided to do and give up completely.

As with New Year’s resolutions, you can’t just say “I’m going to write ALL THE PAPERS this semester!” and expect it to work out without some kind of plan.

Almost all classes will have a syllabus—use it.  Put each due date on your calendar and make note of what you have to do each week before you reach that date.

Example:  You have a fifteen-page paper due in six weeks.

Cannot-unsee

 Image:  cutestpaw.com

If you look at the example sentence, it’s huge.  It’s insurmountable.  It looks like a lot of work.  It is, but you can do it.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time, my friend.

Try something like this instead:

 

Period Task Due Date
Week 1 Choose topic; submit for approval 2/1/15
Week 2 Receive approval; research 2/8/15
Week 3 Outline 2/15/15
Week 4 Body of paper 2/22/15
Week 5 Bibliography/works cited 3/1/15
Week 6 Paper due 3/8/15

That is very, very broad, but you get the idea.  Each week, you have specific tasks you need to accomplish.  Don’t think about the entire paper at once; just think about what you have to do that week.

Below, see a screenshot from the spreadsheet I used to keep track of my fall 2013 semester.

Fall semester spreadsheet

Image:  Elizabeth West

The highlighting let me tell at a glance which tasks I finished and which were still pending (or which I forgot to mark as finished).  This is my general routine; your results may vary.

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Just in case you’re still mired in despair, remember that I did finish two degrees this way.  I can tell you it is possible to work full time and still go to school.  Yes, I quit this time around, but I did it because I needed to write.  That was more important to me than school right now.

If you have any ideas or suggestions that might help other readers, please feel free to share them in the comments.