Make Sure You Take Off Your Medical Alert Bracelet Before the Interview: The Disabled Job Hunt

Me pouting at a computer screen while drinking tea out of a BB8 mug.

I am looking for a job. Most of my friends are in the same boat. I was talking to one of my closest friends and they briefly mentioned they weren’t all that concerned about the job hunt, that once they put their mind to it, they’d likely find one immediately. I can’t relate. Everything about looking for a job fills me with dread. It’s not the interaction that makes me uneasy—I’m charming as hell—it’s the knowledge that at a majority of the time, interviewers will dismiss me the instant they see me. Being big, black and disabled has never been openly welcome in America, let alone in the offices, companies and organizations around the country—and world.

There’s really no universally acceptable advice available about job hunting while disabled that any one entity can agree on. Most accounts are anecdotal, including my own, but based on my own experiences, I have decided not to disclose my disability on Equal Opportunity Disclosure forms. I was naïve enough to want to believe the best in potential employers, but like a wet towel on naked flesh, that optimism has been beaten out of me leaving me bruised.

I began searching for work in the United States while I was still completing my degree, led by flashbacks from my first post-college job hunt. I has hoped that I could get a jump start and perhaps transition from the classroom to the conference with a bit more ease, but that hasn’t been the case. I estimate that between January and just a week ago, I completed nearly 300 applications and received just two inquiries seeking an information or further information. Last week, I stopped disclosing and was able to schedule 5 interviews within 3 days.

For all of the talk about disabled people “overcoming” disability, a majority of society has no problem with being the obstacle in a disabled person’s life. Ableism isn’t always blatant and can often take the form of throwing out an application of a disabled person who rightly disclosed their status. It looks like tying healthcare to employment so that hiring managers see higher premiums because of you. It looks like capping the amount of assets a disabled person can possess so that they can remain in poverty. It looks like paying disabled people less so that “they have something to do with their days.” Ableism looks like the face of an interviewer’s face that’s gone blank upon seeing you.

Ableism is rampant in the United States, but often goes unaddressed because despite the amount of disabled characters in the Oscar nominations, there is a lack of serious discussion about the lives of disabled people. And, because of inspiration porn prevalent on every corner of the internet, television and film, disabled people that speak up and voice their concerns about mistreatment are labeled bitter, lazy and told they’re not trying hard enough to “overcome.”

I have given thought to going into business for myself, but the thought of being an army of one in the workforce exhausts me. It’s hard to always be forging ahead alone because the ableism faced forces you to into a box where emotional labor is constantly demanded from you in order to be taken seriously. I want to work on a team and be forced on a corporate retreat with people I only tolerate.

I always encourage disabled people to be proud of who they are and to not make themselves smaller in the face of those who believe we take up so much space. It feels like a betrayal to myself and my own words to try to make my personality distract from my disability and revert back to the person that tries to out-smile or out-perform my disability. I’m going to continue on this job search until I find the place where I am welcome. For now, though, I won’t be wearing my medical alert bracelet to any interviews.


  1. I know that much of what you say is true, & it angers me for you, me, and every other disabled person dying to work. I’m curious about what you want to do and where, in hopes that I might be able to forward your information (even just a link to your blog). This is personal though, and I don’t want to be intrusive. As I read your post, I felt myself reliving some of my experiences from a few years ago, & all the anxiety, frustration, and anger came flooding back. People (the able-bodied ones) have no idea. But don’t give up!

  2. I hope you get better luck on your job search. I can relate to the dread and fear that comes along with being disabled and jobless. Have you looked into Vocational Rehab? There job is to help you find a job as a disabled person. They helped me immensely over the years, they may be able to help you too!

  3. it’s a catch22. if you disclose you’re either going to get support or nothing, but if you don’t disclose employers can ping you for not disclosing simply because if you don’t disclose they may not know how to assist you in the long run. employment agencies can be so heartless. I know because I went through an agency for 4 years and I ended up going to another agency because they were trying to intimidate me into going to as many employers as possible within a monthly period and that if I didn’t comply I would be exited from the job search system. Even though I’ve gone to an agency that supports me and understands if I can’t always go round to employers my fear still stands even though I’ve been advised to move away from that fear but it’s difficult to get employment these days whether one has a disability or not and on my job plans and stuff it says voluntary and the fact I’m on a disability pention=blind and that what the previous employment agency were using scare tactics (not that the lator was ever on that stuff by the way)

  4. I know this may not work and help everyone but Vocational Rehabilitation may be a help. It actually helped me find a job as a disabled woman. Basically, they offer employers tax-incentives to hire you on and use their connections to get your foot in the door.

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