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.


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.


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.


Got your file right here, bro!  BOOYA!

Image:  imagerymajestic /

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.


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,

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,

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


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.


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 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!



Attention, Job Seekers–Discount on Alison Green’s How to Get a Job E-book!

Alison Green, work guru extraordinaire and owner of the excellent Ask A Manager work blog, is offering a discount on her book, How to Get a Job, for the next few days!

This e-book is a great resource for job hunters.  It helped me greatly when I was searching.  It contains advice on how to make your interview and cover letter awesome, and how to ace your interview.  And it has a new snazzy cover, too.

Soon, you too could be having this much fun getting a paycheck!

Soon, you too could be having this much fun getting a paycheck!

Go to this link immediately and get it today!

4 Things Not to Do in Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are mostly for screening, but they are your chance to make employers want to talk to you further, in person.  Just as you wouldn’t wear a monster truck t-shirt to an in-person interview, or show up drunk, there are things you might want to skip before your mini teleconference.

Sometimes these things take place unexpectedly, so here I’m just talking about scheduled calls.  It’s perfectly fine to ask if you can call the employer back if he surprises you.

Drink lots of soda!

Aww, but you love your Mountain Dew, don’t you?  And that cool Mexican apple drink you found at the Latino market?  Well if you want to let a great big juicy burp explode right in the employer’s ear, go right ahead.

Gaseosas.  Muy bueno.

Gaseosas. Muy bueno.


Ditto for your lunch if you take it before the interview.  While it’s unlikely your bean soup would produce an audible sound unless you’re on speakerphone, perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something equally bland would suffice.   Hiccups would be equally devastating.

Find the noisiest room in the house!

Señor Pancho is so cute.  His little skinny Chihuahua legs, his pointy nose, his bulgy eyes…that little sombrero you put on him sometimes…the way he yaps endlessly at birds, the mailman, your mother-in-law, the TV, etc. etc….

Yes, the person calling knows you’re at home.  No, she don’t want to listen to Señor Pancho barking, or Kitty Lovekins howling, or your four-year-old shrieking because her sister just pulled the head off her favorite Barbie.

child crying on grass

Just leave her out there for a while. The dog can watch her.

Image:  imagerymajestic /

A scheduled phone interview should give you plenty of time to find a quiet place with no distractions, and you should have picked a time when the noisemakers aren’t a problem.

You don’t need no stinkin’ paperwork!

If you’re like me, you’ve probably forgotten the job description between the time you applied and the time they actually call you.  This can take a couple of days, or up to several weeks.  I’ve gotten calls for jobs I applied for a couple of months ago.

Save the job description as a PDF file so you have it.  By the time you go back to it, the employer may have pulled it.   You can then have it open or print it out in time for the call, along with your resume and cover letter and your list of questions, so you’ll remember what you said and what you want to ask.

If you think you can wing it, go ahead.  More chance for me!

I see your mistake and raise you a face-to-face interview…

Image:  flipchip / / Wikimedia Commons

Wear your pjs in a Skype interview!

You know, the purple flannel ones with Scooby Doo on them.  You’ll exude a cheery, comfortable vibe!

Wear whatever you want in a phone interview, although I would recommend something comfortable, so you’re not thinking about how squeezed your waistline or—ahem—parts are, which will reflect in your voice.  Take a shower too, so you feel fresh and alert.

In a Skype interview, you’re meeting face to face, even though your potential employer may be hundreds of miles away.  Think this won’t happen to you?  Many small businesses are owned by larger companies, who have HR and division offices in other cities.  Rather than paying for airfare or asking you to do it, they may opt to simply talk to you using this handy dandy video phone.

Watch this tutorial from video.  It’s full of handy tips about background and where to look during a video interview.   Please ignore the reporter’s annoying vocal fry speaking technique.  Don’t talk like that.  It can cost you a job.

Probably best not to do this either.

Probably best not to do this either.

Image:  imagerymajestic /

Want to know more about phone interviews?  Visit Ask A Manager’s page on this topic!

Find tips from Alison Green on Skype interviews here.

How Combining Jobs in the Recession is Hurting, Not Helping

Many companies have eliminated positions due to the economic climate.  For employees left behind, that means an increase in their workload, sometimes to dangerous, even epic proportions.

You’re a god, Ray. Say yes. SAY YES!


There are good and bad points to this.  On the one hand, you still have a job.  And the company is saving money, perhaps enough to get it through the recession where it might otherwise have folded.

But putting more work on less people has risks, too.

Stressed employees get sick more often

According to this 2009 report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at, one-third of workers report high stress.  The report goes on to say that stress causes an increase in health care visits.

Anyone who is overworked and underpaid thanks to the economy knows this.  Stress can weaken immune systems, worsen existing ailments, and raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

If the conditions suck, employees will bail

Sometimes you have to man up and take one for the team.  At tax time, for example, most accounting firms are crazy busy.  They know this and can prepare for it.  With adequate preparation and staffing, most offices will sail through a busy period.

Turnover is higher when workers feel unappreciated, overworked and aren’t given control over their jobs.  When more employers start hiring and better jobs become available again, the unhappy will jump ship. It costs more money than you think to constantly replace workers than to treat them right in the first place.

Yeah, you know what you can do with those TPS reports….

Image: David Castillo Dominici/

Using temps and contractors saves money, but devalues jobs

Most people who temp aren’t in it for the long haul, but hoping for something permanent.  Since more companies are using temps in the recession, there are opportunities out there, but according to Laura Bassett on, jobseekers should be wary.

In Bassett’s article, George Wentworth, a senior attorney for the National Employment Law Project says, “There are abuses in many of these industries where employers try to keep somebody on a, quote, ‘temporary’ for periods of time far longer than you’d expect for a temp job, but in this economy, workers are less likely to complain. And the temp agencies are pretty much unregulated, so workers are on their own having to bring contract action.”

With all the cheap temps floating around, companies may be less inclined to hire permanent workers and pay them benefits.  The Affordable Care Act may, at least at first, make it harder for people to find jobs that provide health insurance.

Reluctance to hire to pre-recession numbers erodes motivation

The good news is that more big companies are hiring. Unfortunately, they’re not doing it in the U.S.  Many of the jobs workers lost in the recession are gone for good, replaced by outsourced workers who earn pennies compared to U.S. workers.  Citing “efficiency,” big companies are remaining cautious, while smaller ones are struggling.

This makes it harder for workers doing several jobs to remain motivated.  If there is no end to the pressure, eventually something’s going to give way.  And it just might be a company’s workforce.


So how to survive in this recession-ravaged work world?

Many people have turned to freelancing, which isn’t for everyone.  But others have invented their own jobs or started their own businesses.  Career development professional Michele Martin has some interesting thoughts on how to create a new career.  With the Internet, it’s easier to do this than ever.

The workplace of tomorrow?


If your digital skills are rusty, there is no shortage of free tutorials on the web.  I’ve included some links at the bottom of the post.  Tech skills, even basic ones, are a necessity these days.

Even if it’s not practical at the moment, it’s worthwhile to put on the thinking cap and explore new possibilities.  As the old saying goes, the only certain thing in life is change.


Goodwill Community Foundation good for beginners or for brushing up on programs you don’t use often. Language Courses:  Traveling for work?  Need to get the basics of a new language? Start here.

Open Culture:  free university lessons on a myriad of topics.

U.S. Small Business Administration:  everything you need to know about starting a small business.

O*Net Online: U.S. Department of Labor tools for researching career options, job descriptions, etc.