Responding to Job Interview Questions about Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act severely limits what interviewers can ask people with disabilities prior to offering a job. If you have a visible disability, you may benefit by giving an explanation of how you’re able to do the job.
Essentially, the ADA permits an interviewer to ask you about your abilities to perform a job, but not about your disabilities. As an astute employer once said, “We are not interviewing a disability. We are not hiring a disability. We are looking to hire a person who can do the job we want done.”
Suppose an interviewer asks: “How is your health?” Just explain that you’re able to perform the tasks that the job requires. (But if you have an obvious disability, the ADA makes the question illegal at the pre-offer stage.)
The sample interview questions below appear in bold, followed by effective ways to respond to these questions:
You say you can do the job. How would that work? Can you explain more?
When practical, ask to give a demonstration — if possible, bring your own equipment.
When a demonstration is impractical, pull an example from your last job (paid or volunteer) or educational experience. Storytell: Recount a true tale of your having been there, done that.
Anticipate essentials to job performance (anything in the job description) the interviewer may be worried about — such as physical mobility, safety, and motor coordination. If you have vision or hearing impairment, expect some concerns that you’ll miss visual or aural cues essential to job performance. Explain how you’ve adapted in these areas or will overcome obstacles.
Suggest a few references (previous teachers, counselors, employers, or coworkers) who can testify to your abilities to do the job.
Because you’re our first applicant with a disability, we’ve never dealt with accommodations before. How much are these accommodations going to cost us?
Promise that your requirements are minimal and give examples of how your skills will merit the company’s small investment. Get cost estimates on the Job Accommodation Network.
Offer to provide some of your own equipment (you aren’t required to do so, but the offer shows serious interest in contributing to the company).
Offer information on accommodations, such as telephone numbers for companies that sell accommodations devices or consultant organizations specializing in accommodations.
For a quick brush-up on your rights in job interviews, scour the federal Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (click on Frequently Asked Questions).