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Hear from Career Center staff Ricardo Flores about job hunting with a disability

Navigating grad school with a disability can be disheartening. Sometimes it seems like everything is designed to make things more difficult for you, or just without you in mind. Then, when you are on people’s mind, it’s not always for a good reason — enter discrimination. One of the things I’ve been dreading, and that has been significantly affected by the fact that I have a disability, is exactly what to do about a career after I finish my degree.

If you are someone who has had similar thoughts or feelings, the Career Center here at Cal has just the person for you to talk to! Ricardo Flores is the Assistant Director for Students with Disabilities at the Career Center, helping students with disabilities build the skills they need to confidently pursue their life aspirations. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down for an interview with Ricardo to talk about some common concerns students with disabilities have about entering the workforce. (This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

 

Q&A with Ricardo Flores, Career Counselor for Students with Disabilities

Ricardo has a Masters degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from Texas Tech. He previously worked as a consultant on projects aimed at increasing disability awareness and led  training sessions on diversity and inclusion.

Disclosing your disability to an employer is a murky subject. Are you required to disclose your disability to an employer? If so, when in the hiring process is this typically done?

This is a really commonly asked question, and the choice to disclose really depends on the person. You are never required to disclose your disability to an employer. Some disabilities are more visible than others, and that may take a little of the choice out of disclosure. We do tell students that they are able to disclose at any step in the process, as some will need accommodation before being hired. Ultimately, if you disclose and when you disclose is the student’s choice. We encourage students to have a strength-based philosophy when it comes to their respective disability. By this we mean that students with a disability have developed an expertise on their respective disability and needs, and that they can confidently articulate those needs to an employer should they choose to disclose. In order to facilitate the development of this, we often tell students to write a script and practice it until they become comfortable describing their disability and any required accomodations in any situation.  

Institutions are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, so that we can participate meaningfully in work-related activities. Can you expand a little bit on what ‘reasonable’ means in this context and who decides if an accommodation falls in that category?

An excellent resource that describes common accommodations for a variety of disabilities is the Job Accommodation Network (askjan.org). This is a great way to approach employers on this topic and help them understand what other institutions have put in place to accommodate those with your disability. Most of the time the accommodation process will be a group effort between the employee, the supervisor, and the employee’s medical provider. The determination of “reasonableness” isn’t set in stone. The employer and employee need to work together to determine which strategies need to be in place to help you succeed in the workplace.  We do tell students to investigate the culture of an employer they’re considering before applying to determine if the employer has a favorable culture of diversity or existing disability resource groups to gauge the employer’s openness toward disabled employees.

What are the best steps to take to make sure you have a strong strategic plan for job hunting as a disabled person coming out of a degree program?

Just like with any other job hunting endeavor, experience and network are the most important things. Many graduate programs have built-in opportunities to acquire relevant experience that are incredibly valuable — we highly recommend that students take advantage of these opportunities. The more relevant experience you can get in your field, the better.

Building your network is also incredibly important. DSP puts on a lot of networking and skill-building events for students with disabilities, such as the upcoming event on April 2 called Inclusion Chats with Workers with Disabilities (sign up via Handshake). This will be an ongoing event on the first Fridays of each month. Because those with disabilities can be more introverted, I do encourage such students to hold themselves accountable to attending these networking events, as these sorts of events are where we can find our opportunities. We also help students prepare for these events by teaching them the STAR method for interviews: Situation, Task, Action, Result. For an interview question we tell students to identify a situation, the tasks that came up, the actions they took, and the result they achieved. Overall, we tell our students to over-prepare.


To learn more about career resources for students with disabilities:

Thank you Ricardo, from all of us here at GradPro!


Allison Gleason is a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering and is a disabled graduate student with a research focus in traumatic brain injuries. She currently serves as a Professional Development Liaison in Berkeley’s Graduate Division.

 


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