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

Advertisements