Job-hunting and interviewing when you have a disability

by Holly Lipschultz, Head Editor, INALJ Illinois

Job-hunting and interviewing when you have a disability

hollyphotosmallJob hunting is nerve-wracking, but it is even more anxiety-inducing if you have a disability. There’s so many questions involved in addition to the usual ones: When should I disclose my disability? What if the interviewer asks? What jobs can I do with my disability?

First, know your rights. Second, be honest, but provide only the necessary details. Third, put a positive spin on it. There’s so much that can be written on this subject, but for this post I distilled the basics down to nine tips.

Know your rights

1. Employers are not allowed to ask people if they have a disability, or about the nature of their disability (especially if it is an obvious one). They are not allowed to require a medical exam before offering a job to you. If interviewers ask, you do not have to answer the questions. Deflect it tactfully and turn the focus back to your abilities. Cite the EEOC if you wish. (If an employer asks that question, it should raise red flags.)

2. Employers can ask whether you are able to perform the essential functions of a job. Can you lift 50 lbs on a regular basis? Can you reach the top shelf in the bookstacks? Can you sit for an extended period of time?

3. You can ask for reasonable accommodations for the interview. This could be a sign language interpreter, or a screen reader, or other type of assistance. Reasonable accommodations is a vague term, but generally speaking, employers will do what they can to help you as long as it doesn’t cost too much money or involve extensive changes to operations.

Be honest

4. Even though we prattle on about accommodation and empowerment, not all jobs are suited for your particular disability. Hard of hearing persons may be able to use the phone with or without accommodations, but a job that requires extensive phone usage might not be right for them. Individuals with physical limitations may not be able to do a job that frequently involves moving heavy boxes around. Be honest with yourself about what the job requires.

5. That said, if the job can be done with reasonable accommodations, by all means, apply!

6. Honesty is good, but there is a place and time for everything. In general, an interview is not the place or time to talk about the particulars of your disability. If you’re receiving reasonable accommodations for the interview or have an obvious disability (eg, in a wheelchair), you may talk about it if you wish, but focus on your abilities and the job itself.

Put a positive spin on it

7. Phrase things positively. Instead of, “I need to use an iPad to help me with my ADD,” say, “I use my iPad to help me take notes and record things. It helps me to stay on top of all the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day.”

8. Show setbacks as opportunities. “While I was on medical leave last year from a car accident, I used that time to learn Spanish, which will help me better serve the Spanish-speaking population in this neighborhood.”

9.  Have a plan for how you will accomplish work with accommodations. While this is more suited for after you get the job, but it is good to be mentally prepared to emphasize your ability to do the work. It will help you keep confident during the interview. “I understand that in a quiet environment I have to use headphones for my screen-reading software; I stay aware of my surroundings by simply using an earbud in one ear to keep my other ear open.” “I find my CapTel very useful for providing phone reference assistance.”

Bonus Tip

10. Check in with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation office (or similar organization in your area). They provide many forms of assistance to help individuals with disabilities gain and keep employment, especially if you have limited means. I was able to get a hearing aid some years ago with the NE Voc Rehab’s help when my old one bit the dust. It was absolutely critical for me so I could keep my two part time jobs and finish out my undergraduate program. There was a lot of paperwork involved, to be sure, but it was very much worth it.



United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.) “Disability discrimination.” Retrieved from:


Holly Lipschultz lives in Chicago with her husband and three cats, and currently works at an academic library. She writes about disabilities services and other library-related things on her blog,



Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.