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


Is It Rude Not to Contact Someone You’ve Interviewed When You Fill the Position?

Heck yeah it is.

It is extremely thoughtless not to contact candidates you have interviewed to let them know they weren’t chosen.

Job seekers need to follow up, so the employer knows they are still interested.   But once someone has been interviewed and has done this, the ball is in the employer’s court.

Think about it.  You have an opening.  You call in several people and spend time talking to them.  After a period of time, which could range from one week to several months, you choose someone.  You decide you’re too busy to let the other candidates know.   They might even have found another job by now, right?


Here’s why you should be considerate of your candidates.

The economy is pressuring everybody

Many people now are unemployed for longer periods of time than before the recession.  Unemployment statistics are skewed, because the Department of Labor isn’t counting those who have run out of benefits and haven’t returned to the workforce.  The facts are clear:  thanks to outsourcing and extreme downsizing, there are fewer jobs out there.  Even crap jobs aren’t hiring.

So there’s no guarantee.  Your candidate may be waiting to see if you hire him, or if he has to take that job cleaning fish.

The hours suck, but the pay is great.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons

Job seekers’ time is valuable too

Think you’re the only one who’s busy?  Think again.  Job seekers still have responsibilities.  They don’t want to waste time any more than you do.

Besides the actual meeting with you, preparation—reviewing your company, listing questions to ask, choosing clothing—is time-consuming and nerve-wracking.   It’s very annoying to go through all that and then hear nothing.

It leaves a bad impression of your company

If you don’t bother to call your candidate back after she’s taken the time to prepare for and attend an interview, she will probably wonder what you’d be like as a boss.  I guarantee it won’t be a very favorable impression.

A couple of times, I have actually been told I dodged a bullet when I told people which companies did this to me.


What are some efficient ways an employer can be more thoughtful?

You probably won’t have as many interviews as you received resumés.  It’s okay not to respond to every applicant.  It’s best to call, or write a personal message to your rejected interviewees, but if that’s impossible, you can:

Set up a template for reply letters, emails or postcards

This will save you so much time.  For mailed replies, all that’s required is a mail merge with the candidates’ names and addresses.  Something basic, like this:

Thank you for taking the time to interview with us.  After a thorough review of your qualifications, we have decided to select another candidate.   [IF IT’S POLICY TO DO SO] –We will retain your resume for [X amount of time].  We wish you the best of luck in your job search.  

A personalized letter is better, but in a pinch, a form is better than nothing.   As an admin, I’ve sent these out myself.  I would much rather be told I didn’t get the job than feel as though I’ve been blown off.

I haz a sad…


Click the link below for a really fantastic one at  It’s almost a pleasure to be rejected with a letter like this one.

Announce in your posting that applicants will only be contacted for interviews

This might seem harsh and impersonal, but it means an applicant can set a time limit on her wait.  For most people, that’s two or three weeks.  You might even put one in there, the way literary agents do.  Something like “If you haven’t heard from us in [X], please assume the job has been filled.”

You’ve also covered your butt if you know you’ll be too swamped to field a plethora of follow-up calls.  Most job seekers know you’re busy; we’re all too aware companies are cutting back.

Know that rejection is just part of the hiring process, and candidates know it too

Notifying rejected candidates is uncomfortable.  But ignoring it won’t make it any easier on them.   Everyone who applies knows they may not get the job.  They’re prepared to hear this, even though they’re hoping they won’t.

Now that the candidate knows something about the organization, he may be able to recommend someone in his network next time you have an opening.  That person could be the dream employee you thought you’d never find.  He’s much more likely to do so if your rejection was professional and kind.

“Have I got an applicant for you!”