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Disability's Workplace Minefields: Professor Doron Dorfman Speaks to Vice Media's Refinery29

Posted on Tuesday 7/13/2021
Doron Dorfman

My Disability Is Obvious In Job Interviews. Is That A Bad Thing?

(Refinery 29/Vice Media Group | July 13, 2021) “So… how does the winter weather affect you?” I sat across from the person interviewing me for a job I really wanted, totally unsure of how to respond.

It was the spring of 2016, and I had applied for more than 100 jobs in my chosen field of journalism. I was about to finish graduate school, and I knew that I needed to be as open and flexible as possible given the dearth of opportunities in media. I’m also physically disabled and wear a tracheostomy tube around my neck, which helps me breathe. My disability is visible; it’s usually one of the first things a person notices when they meet me ...

... So was the question I got from the editor-in-chief about winter weather fair game?

“I don’t think so, because it’s not a question about the type of accommodation for the interview or the job,” said Doron Dorfman, an associate professor at Syracuse University College of Law, who specializes in disability law and teaches employment discrimination. “I also don’t really see it as job-related or considered a business necessity. If it’s a desk job, why is the weather so important?” ...

... For some people, though, disclosing a disability is necessary for a job interview in order to request accommodations, Dorfman said. Employers can’t provide them if they don’t know. But those with invisible disabilities may be asked to submit documentation proving their disability status and need for accommodations — which can indirectly feed into what Dorfman called a “fear of the disability con,” or the ableist notion that disabled people are faking in order to gain some unfair advantage.

On the other hand, talking about disability can also help destigmatize it. Once I started honing my expertise as a disability reporter, I found it easier to talk about my own disability during job interviews because it helped me explain why my work was so strong: I had direct experience with the community I covered. Occasionally I’d get questions about my disability as it related to my career, but Dorfman said these were less likely to be an ADA violation given the context. They also hit differently than the winter-weather question, which made me uncomfortable and lowered my self-confidence ...

Read the full article.