Hiring People With Disabilities Is Good Business

LinkedIn

By: Ted Kennedy Jr.

Microsoft, Bank of America and CVS are just a few big companies that profit from their proactive employment practices.

For years, companies have maintained low expectations about hiring people with disabilities. Most of these companies believed that employees with disabilities could not perform well in the workplace and that actively hiring them would drag company performance and profits down.

Thankfully, over time, many employers have come to understand that these perceptions are untrue. And new research strongly suggests that the opposite — that hiring people with disabilities is good for business.

A recent study has shown, for the first time, that companies that championed people with disabilities actually outperformed others — driving profitability and shareholder returns. Revenues were 28 percent higher, net income 200 percent higher, and profit margins 30 percent higher. Companies that improved internal practices for disability inclusion were also four times more likely to see higher total shareholder returns.

These findings, presented in a report from Accenture, in partnership with Disability: IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities, give companies a new reason to hire people with disabilities. The results are based on an analysis of the financial performance of 140 companies that averaged annual revenues of $43 billion and participated in the Disability Equality Index, an annual benchmarking tool that objectively rates company disability policies and practices.

What exactly are these exemplary companies doing?

Well, Bank of America brought together 300 people with intellectual disabilities to create a support services team to manage fulfillment services and external client engagement. Microsoft built a successful disability hiring program specifically for people on the autism spectrum. The program, designed to attract talent, is a multiday, hands-on academy that gives candidates an opportunity to meet hiring managers and learn about the company as an employer of choice. And CVS Health refocused its training programs to capitalize on characteristics — creativity, problem-solving ability and loyalty — that people with disabilities often demonstrate.

The new research identifies five common denominators among such organizations. First, they hire people with disabilities, ensuring that they’re represented in the workplace. Second, they carry out practices that encourage and advance those employees. Third, they provide accessible tools and technologies, paired with a formal accommodations program. Fourth, they generate awareness through recruitment efforts, disability education programs and grass-roots-led initiatives. Fifth, they create empowering environments through mentoring and coaching initiatives.

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.

Meet Grace Hopper Celebration 2019’s Honoree Jhillika Kumar

LinkedIn
Jhillika Kumar poses outside smiling wearing a white blouse and smiling

The Student of Vision Abie Award honors young women dedicated to creating a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build. This year’s winner is Georgia Tech student Jhillika Kumar.

When Jhillika’s parents brought home an iPad for the first time, they could not have predicted how much it would improve their family’s lives. Accessible technology, for the first time ever, allowed her autistic and nonverbal brother to enjoy his passion for music. It distracted his mind from the physical world of disability. She watched her brother instantly swipe and tap swiftly across the interface. The smile that it brought him is the smile she wants to bring to millions of others with disabilities.

Jhillika’s family experience ignited her passion to advocate for disability rights and a career driven by a mission to create an inclusive world. She is a UX/UI designer, aspiring entrepreneur, and a third-year Georgia Tech student with a desire to improve the lives of the differently abled. She advocates to lift the barriers that exist within technology, design, and even policy, and empowers the largest underserved group by bringing attention to the importance of empathy and mutuality in design.

Knowing the impact that UX Design could make on someone who once couldn’t communicate, Jhillika decided to pursue a focus in computer science and interaction design through Georgia Tech’s undergraduate Computational Media program and Digital Media master’s program. Over the summer of her sophomore year of college, she interned at Disney where she created a short film to raise awareness to the product teams on the capacity that their technology had to empower entire communities of untapped potential, purely through improved accessibility. Expanding on this, Jhillika presented a talk at TEDxGeorgiaTech last fall, where she spoke about the importance of accessibility in the industry.

All of Jhillika’s efforts in this space have come together in her current initiative: an on-campus organization she founded called AxisAbility. In order to augment the capabilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, AxisAbility is creating a virtual platform to understand family needs and match them with the technology engineered to directly generate physiological changes in the brain to improve cognitive function.

At the School of Interactive Computing, Jhillika currently works in academia, collaborating with Dr. Gregory Abowd and Ivan Riobo to study how non-speaking autistic individuals could use technology-led therapies and assistive technologies to communicate. The study looks at evaluating cognitive competency through eye-gaze tracking software (retinal movement). This could provide vast insight into their cognitive abilities. Jhillika returned to school to her junior year of college engulfed with the spirit of empathy for the differently abled, and was invited as a speaker at World Information Architecture Day and FutureX Live, as well as Women in XR. Her initiatives won her the Alvin M. Ferst Leadership and Entrepreneur Award for 2019 awarded by Georgia Tech.

Continue on to “How Our College Startup’s Autism App Is Flowering Into Fruition – Enlighten Mentors to read Jhillika’s personal story and how you can help her mission.

Headed to Disability:IN 2019? Discover The Magnificent Mile!

LinkedIn
Picture of the Marriott Hotel on Chicago's Magnificent Mile with a sunset background and other tall buildings

While you’re in town for the 2019 Disability:IN 22nd Annual National Conference & Expo July 15–18, 2019, check out some of the fine food that Chicago is so well known for. We’ve assembled a list of several accessible restaurants, as well as shopping, other necessities, and the transportation to get you there.

All these businesses are within easy reach of the Disability:IN host hotel, the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, located on downtown Michigan Avenue. This popular area of Michigan Avenue offers much to see and do, with fine hotels, restaurants, shopping, art, music, architecture, museums and parks.

Restaurants

312 Chicago

Italian

136 N. La Salle St

(312) 696-2420

Elevator use, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Spiaggia

Italian

980 North Michigan Ave

(312) 280-3300

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Chicago Cut Steakhouse

Steaks

300 N LaSalle

312.389.1800

Elevator use, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Cocoro

Japanese

668 N Wells St

(312) 943-2220

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Coco Pazzo Café

Italian

636 N Saint Clair St

(312) 664-2777

WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Epic Restaurant

Contemporary American

112 West Hubbard Street

(312) 222-4940

Private dining not accessible, WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Frankie’s Pizzeria & Scaloppine

Italian

900 N Michigan Ave

(312) 266-2500

No steps, WC-accessible seating, accessible bar area, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Big Bowl

Chinese

60 E Ohio St

(312) 951-1888

WC-accessible seating, accessible restroom, lobby entry fully accessible

Accessible Transportation

Open Taxis

Centralized dispatch service for all Chicago wheelchair-accessible vehicles

(855) 928-1010 or (773) 657-3006 (direct line for pickup)

Special Needs Chicago

Wheelchair-accessible nonemergency transportation provider

(630) 668-9999

Shopping, Pharmacy & Dry Cleaning

The Shops at North Bridge

520 N Michigan Ave

(312) 327-2300

Walgreens Pharmacy

757 N Michigan Ave

(312) 664-8686

Randolph Cleaners

100 W Randolph St #209

(312) 357-6433

Register for the 2019 Disability:IN Conference at Disability:IN.org

Sources: wheelchairjimmy.com, choosechicago.com

Stronger Together: Salesforce, Abilityforce & Sunday Parker

LinkedIn
Sunday Parker of Salesforce sitting with her team members in a conference area

By Jaeson Parsons

Sunday Parker’s experiences with a mobility-based disability since birth has given her unique insight into the struggles that those with disabilities face. We wanted to get a better understanding of Sunday’s career journey as well as her insight into the creation and success of Abilityforce at Salesforce.

Sunday, pictured far left, has succeeded, and now she is the Global President of Abilityforce, the Employee Resource Group at Salesforce.

DiversityComm asked Sunday to give us some background into her experiences growing up with her disability.

“I grew up in a very small town in Oklahoma that didn’t have a stop light, let alone many accessibility considerations,” she stated. “As a wheelchair user since age 9, I was often lifted into shops and restaurants that didn’t have ramp access. Overcoming challenges was my ‘normal’—I faced barriers going to school, spending time with friends, and even lived in a house that had multiple steps getting in the front door.”

After graduating high school in 2009 and moving to San Francisco to attend university, her experiences were eye-opening.

“For the first time, I could take buses and trains, easily go along sidewalks, and the majority of businesses were accessible. This shift from living in a small town that had barriers at every turn to one of the most accessible cities in America was life-changing.”

Sunday graduated in 2013 with a degree in interior architecture and design; however, she felt more suited to the tech industry.

“After graduation, I wasn’t sure where my career journey would take me, but I knew I wanted to be part of an organization where I felt valued and could explore my interests,” she said.

It was Salesforces’ philanthropic method that attracted her to apply.

“[Their] commitment to donate 1 percent of earnings, 1 percent of products, and 1 percent of employee time to charitable causes is an organization I was excited to be a part of, and felt I could bring value to.”

Before accepting the position, Sunday requested to speak with an accommodations manager to discuss her disability needs for the position. She was encouraged by their reaction.

“My initial conversation started with them assuring me, ‘My job is to make sure your first day is the best first day you’ve ever had, so let’s talk about how we’re going to do that.’” A company switch is tough for anyone, but there is added complexity as a disabled person like myself who requires accommodations. But I left that conversation not just excited, but confident to start my journey at a company that was mutually invested in my success.”

Once at Salesforce, Sunday became involved in a grassroots group called Abilityforce. Founded in 2016, this was Salesforce’s first resource group for employees with disabilities.

Through her career development, Sunday has experienced many challenges and missed opportunities related to accessibility in the workplace, as well as the lack of resources, and this was something she wanted to see improved drastically for future generations. Sunday has seen firsthand the benefits of employee resource groups as it relates to the team environment at the company.

“Having employee resource groups helps to build a culture where everyone, regardless of their identity, can feel empowered to bring their full and authentic selves to work. People want to work at companies that reflect the communities they live in.”

We asked Sunday to outline the future for Abilityforce.

“We have a long-range plan to become a best place to work for people with disabilities. We continue to strive to have our physical and technological environments accessible and designed with everyone in mind by developing innovative best practices.”

Companies like Sunday’s that create employee resource groups allow for a deeper connection within the company and across the globe, as colleagues around the world provide their unique insight for development. Sunday said something that was very powerful—that we are stronger together. Finding ways to connect and break down the chains of isolation through human connection is a powerful tool. In her final remarks, Sunday stated that business can be a powerful platform for social change. Creating employee resource groups can increase solidarity and become a driving force for equal opportunity and accessibility within the workplace.

Ryan Niemiller From ‘America’s Got Talent’ Is Spreading Disability Awareness With His Comedy

LinkedIn
Ryan Niemiller standing on stage in front of audience at America's Got Talent

Instead of allowing his disability to inhibit him, Ryan Niemiller from America’s Got Talent capitalized on it. The comedian — who, according to his website, was born with a disability in both arms — calls himself the “Cripple Threat of Comedy” and uses his stand-up to share his unique perspective in hilarious ways.

He tours the country year-round “covering topics such as dating, trying to find employment, and attempting to find acceptance in a world not designed for him,” his website reads. He’s spreading crucial awareness for people with disabilities — but he’s also making a lot of people laugh.

Much of Niemiller’s material recounts actual experiences he’s had while navigating life with his disability — and how others tend to react to it. The bits are funny, but they also bring awareness to how people with disabilities should and shouldn’t be treated.

In a comedy world that has long been dominated by non-disabled people, Niemiller is providing much-needed representation and perspective.

His YouTube channel, although thin in inventory, features a few of his acts ranging from 2014 to 2018, and upon clicking play on any of them, his tone and purpose are clear. In his most recent upload, a set from December, he tells the story of the time a new job required him to document his fingerprints as part of a background check.

Due to his disability, Niemiller doesn’t have all five fingers on either hand, which, he said, sent the fingerprint specialist at the police station into a panic. “I should’ve called ahead,” he told the crowd. He went on to explain how he followed a woman to the backroom to take his prints, and upon taking one of his fingers, she asked, “So, which one is that?” Fingerprint cards are usually separated by index, middle, ring, pinky and thumb boxes. “I don’t know,” he told the woman. “I was hoping you could tell me.”

Niemiller said the woman then enlisted a more experienced employee who completed the job, and he left the station with a picture of his print card. “It looks like the saddest bingo card there ever was,” he joked. Everyone laughed.

Continue on to Bustle.com to read the complete article.

This Woman’s 37-Year Wait For A Barbie That Looks Like Her Is Finally Over

LinkedIn
Barbie sittin in a wheelchair is with her group of doll friends

You’re never too old to play with Barbie—especially when you’ve been waiting 37 years for one you can see yourself in.

Jessica Jewett is a Georgia-based author and artist who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and uses a wheelchair. When she learned through Instagram that the iconic doll brand is expanding and diversifying its offerings to include a Barbie with a prosthetic limb and a Barbie who uses a wheelchair, she had an emotional reaction.

“It just took me back to being 5, 6, 7 years old, asking my mom and grandma why there aren’t dolls that look like me,” she told HuffPost. “I used to ask all the time why Barbie’s parent company Mattel couldn’t make a wheelchair for the doll.”

It’s a long time coming for Jewett, who wrote on Twitter that this was the toy she “needed as a little girl.” Growing up in the ’80s, she has no memory of seeing herself represented in dolls and toys like her friends did.

“I would just start making up my own thing instead, which is probably why I became a writer,” she said. “I ended up having to make up my own stories that had nothing to do with me, because there was nothing like me out there.”

That lack of representation and accessibility followed Jewett into other aspects of her life, as well. At her elementary school, the special education classrooms were in a back room, where she said the teachers were more like babysitters than actual teachers.

“I used to sort of have this feeling from a really young age that I was different, but not understanding why that difference was something to be hidden,” she said. She went from shy kid to child advocate at just 12 years old, when her middle school refused to build an entrance ramp for her to use.

Accessibility remains a pressing issue in many parts of the U.S. ― which is one reason Jewett was so excited to see that Mattel will now also offer a ramp that is compatible with the doll’s famous DreamHouse set.

Continue on to Huff Post to read the complete article.

Online Recruitment Platform to Connect Workers with Disabilities to Rewarding Careers

LinkedIn

The ISABLED Virtual Career Fair platform makes it easier to connect recruiters from leading companies and high-impact professionals with disabilities. They are are a fun and easy way to connect recruiters and job seekers with disabilities. There are currently more jobs in the U.S than available workers to fill them, and companies are forced to explore more options to find talent to hire to help them grow their business.

Workers with different abilities (often referred to as workers with disabilities) are just one example of highly-skilled, but untapped segments of the population that more and more leading companies are seeking to recruit.

ISABLED, an online recruiting platform connects workers that identify as having a disability, with recruiters from leading companies who value inclusion and diversity in their workforce. The ISABLED platform allows job seekers and recruiters to connect and chat in real-time, from anywhere, and from the comfort and convenience of their home or office.

” The ISABLED Virtual Career Fairs are a fun and easy way to connect recruiters and job seekers with disabilities. Instead of asking both sides to attend a job fair at a physical location, we bring the career fair to them. The ISABLED platform allows our employer partners to recruit nationwide in just a few hours, and job seekers have instant access to the very recruiters who are seeking to fill the open positions” Stated Kevin O’Brien, Managing Partner, ISABLED.

The ISABLED website will include content to connect workers with disabilities to job opportunities from a wide range of companies and industries. The website will include a job board and a virtual career fair platform. ISABLED will host 4 virtual career fairs each year, and companies can host standalone virtual career fairs for their company as often as they like.

The first ISABLED virtual career fair is set for July 25, 2019, and open now for registration.

About ISABLED:

ISABLED, a division of Astound Virtual has a laser-focus on connecting industry-leading companies with workers people with disabilities who seek employment. Through the ISABLED Recruitment Center (IRC), job seekers and recruiters meet and interact, in real-time, but from the comfort and convenience of their home or office.

Meet the first openly autistic woman elected to political office

LinkedIn
Sarah Hernandez sitting at her desk smiling wearing a flowery green and yellow dress

By Kathleen Wroblewski, Director of Communications, Bay Path University

It’s difficult for many people to approach a stranger’s house and knock on their door. It’s quite another matter if you are knocking on doors and running for public office.

Within minutes, you need to introduce yourself and connect with the person on the other side of the threshold. We call it being face to face—a fundamental form of human communication.

When Assistant Professor Sarah Hernandez, ’14 G’15, of the occupational therapy department decided to run for the school board in her local town, the process of canvassing in the community and meeting strangers was absolutely terrifying. “At first, I had to watch how people did it. And, slowly, I learned to pick up certain cues and how to handle myself in different situations. People were very patient with me. It was a big step when I knocked on that first door.”

Sarah’s success is all the more remarkable because she is neurodiverse: she is on the autism spectrum. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a development condition defined by social and communication difficulties and repetitive, inflexible patterns of behavior.

When you first meet Sarah, a mother of three with a friendly and welcoming smile, she appears to be the opposite of society’s profile of being autistic. But appearances can be deceiving. Sarah, along with many other young girls and women, has mastered what is known as “social camouflaging,” or hiding in plain sight. In many ways, this coping technique has led to women of all ages to be misdiagnosed, or in some cases, not diagnosed with autism at all. And that gets to the heart of Sarah’s story:

“I was diagnosed in my thirties, and that is not unusual for women. I knew that I was different somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There were times that I just had to shut down and not communicate. I was lucky to learn it was a form of autism because most women fly under the radar and never find out. They live in a world of inner turmoil. It’s only recently that researchers are looking at the gender differences in autism. In fact, the criteria for diagnosing ASD are based on data gathered from the studies of boys.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disorder is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls. As awareness of autism grows, new protocols are being developed that indicate the gap may not be as wide as once thought. In the meantime, there are discernable shifts in society’s perceptions of autism.

Expanding the Definition of a Diverse Workplace

Sarah, like many others on the spectrum, has learned to live with her autism. She is a role model for her occupational therapy students, sharing her experiences to make them more sensitive to the differences and contributions of the members of her “tribe.”

“I let my students know right up front that I am autistic. And I share my knowledge of the strengths of autism—our ability to think in patterns, to visualize, and to be problem solvers,” she says.

In fact, this skill set is prompting companies and organizations to expand their definitions of a diverse workplace. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage, by Robert Austin and Gary Pisano, reports that the neurodiverse population remains a largely untapped talent pool. With a vast number of IT and IT-related positions going unfilled, HR departments are re-examining their recruitment practices and working environments to accommodate neurodiverse employees. In companies with active neurodiverse hiring programs, such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Ford, and others, they have already realized productivity gains and a high number of innovations. They have found that diversity does deliver.

Standing Shoulder to Shoulder

“I know I am incredibly lucky to be working at Bay Path,” states Sarah. “I am doing what I love, and I can be honest about who I am.”

Sarah’s generosity of spirit does not stop at Bay Path. She and her husband have one biological child, have adopted two children, and are therapeutic foster parents. When one of Sarah’s children experienced difficulties in school because she is darker in complexion, she knew she had to step forward to give voice to her daughter and others. She decided to run for the school board.

“I can hide my disability, but my daughter can’t turn her skin color off. I decided that I needed to stand shoulder to shoulder with others on the spectrum, as well as represent all those who need a spokesperson.”

So, Sarah left her comfort zone and began knocking on doors, participating in debates, and attending meetings. She never hid her autism. And she won.

But her victory wasn’t just for the schoolchildren in her town. Through social media, her election gained broad attention. NBC Hartford did a profile on her, and at a national conference on autism, she shared the stage with former Senator Tom Harkin, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into the Senate.

For Sarah, the attention was sometimes hard to believe: “As a person on the spectrum, I believe we live in a world that wasn’t made for us. But we have to keep participating, and we have to work to represent ourselves. I like to say, ‘We have to put our pants on in the morning.’ We just need to show up.”

Sarah certainly has.

Source: baypath.edu

Pizzability is serving up a slice of community right alongside its hand-tossed pizzas and craft beer

LinkedIn
Tiffany Fixter pictured with employees at the brewery in Pizzability Restaurant

Owner Tiffany Fixter’s mission for the restaurant, which opened in December, is not only to create employment opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD); she also wants to give Denver area families with special needs children or adults an inclusive restaurant option that accepts and supports people of all abilities.

After teaching special education for 11 years, Fixter knew she could do more to help an often-overlooked population gain skills training that can lead to meaningful work.

“I realized there’s an employment crisis for adults with developmental disabilities,” she says. “I wanted to try to solve that, so I started the brewery.”

In 2016, she opened Brewability Lab, Denver’s first and only brewery focused on employing and training adults with IDD for job opportunities in the beer business. Then last spring, she heard a local pizzeria was closing, so she jumped at the opportunity to grow the business.

“I just thought, (pizza) goes with beer really well,” she says. “I just see so many job applications. It can be difficult trying to fit everyone in and make sure they’re getting what they need, but the only way to solve that was to expand.”

Pizzability employees have a wide range of differing abilities. Between the brewery and the pizzeria, Fixter says many of her employees have autism spectrum disorders. She also has one who is deaf, one who is blind, and others with Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Aside from some funding from the Rocky Mountain Human Services’ mill levy program that was put toward the initial renovation of the space, Pizzability is funded entirely by customers. And at such affordable prices (during happy hour, which runs 2-5pm Tuesday through Saturday, pizza is $2 a slice and a glass of Brewability beer or wine is $5), keeping afloat is a challenge, but one Fixter believes is well worth it.

“So many people (with IDD) need jobs,” she says. “I just have to make sure we have the customer base to support it.”

Five days per week, Chef Bryce Love is in the kitchen giving employees hands-on support, making sure everyone understands everything from how to get ready for work to the importance of following processes to ensure food safety.

“It’s important to me that everyone learns the right way the first time,” Fixter explains. “We got very lucky with Chef Love.”

Recently, ESPN featured the pizzeria in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics, recognizing Pizzability as one of 50 “game changers” that is changing the way the world views disability.

To continue her mission to change the game, Fixter is working on setting up delivery and catering services within Cherry Creek. She’s also looking forward to summer, as she plans to open up the restaurant’s garage door to allow guests to enjoy the outdoor seating.

“We’ll also be adding gelato and we’ll be creating a sorbet out of our beer.”

When guests step up to Pizzability’s counter, they are greeted with a visual menu, which is also available in braille. The restaurant offers mostly classic toppings like pepperoni, supreme and Hawaiian, which are also available on gluten-sensitive crust.

Fixter says they’re happy to blend the pizzas for anyone who has trouble swallowing or chewing. She also stocks adaptive utensils, cups and plates—there’s a visual menu board that includes all of these items at the counter, and guests can request whatever they need.

A sensory corner with noise-cancelling headphones, board games, and an interactive light up wall was created with help from PIMA Medical Institute students.

“It’s for anybody that needs to move and fidget,” she explains.

There’s also a quiet room in the back that allows employees to take a break away from the noise, which helps reduce any stress and anxiety that can be overwhelming for people with certain disabilities. Even the bathroom is stocked with personal care items to ensure accidents won’t disrupt a pizza party.

Continue on to Cherry Creek North to read the complete article.

7 Tips to Help Mentally Overcome an Employment Gap

LinkedIn
woking working on her resume attached to a clipboard

Here’s advice on overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create before they sabotage your job search, from those who’ve been there.

William Childs loves his new job. He is Marketing Director at Kitchen Magic, a growing national kitchen remodeling and cabinet refacing company. “This job is a creative person’s dream. The product, the people, the collaborative ideas we are generating, it’s totally amazing,” Childs says. “This is what I spent my 14-month employment gap searching for, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on my career goals.”

Employment gaps do not define you

According to a recent Randstad U.S. study, the average job search today takes about five months. When Childs was laid off late in 2017 from an executive-level marketing job, he did not anticipate a longer-than-average employment gap. He explained: “When my old job was eliminated, it was the first time in many years that I had no specific job to go to next. I had always benefited from people just knowing me and my work, so starting from scratch while unemployed felt pretty weird.” When a few leads at the beginning of his job search didn’t materialize, he felt a bit demoralized.

According to a 2019 Monster survey, 59 percent of Americans have had an unexpected gap in their career. For a lot of people looking for jobs with a gap on their resume, there can be internalized feelings of shame, says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist, CEC-certified executive coach, and author of “The YOU Plan.” “Shame puts on a lot of added pressure to an already stressful time, which can lead to obsession,” Dr. Woody explains. “Don’t victimize yourself over a lost job or a failure in the past. It can be debilitating.” He advises readers to recognize their setback as just that, a setback — then deal with it and move on to better things.

Childs did keep moving forward. He designed an online portfolio and kept adding to it during his hiatus by taking on freelance work. He wrote for an online magazine and volunteered his talents to local non-profit groups. A year into his search, he took an advertising sales job as he continued to apply for positions. “The sales job was what I needed to do financially, and what I needed to do for my own piece of mind,” he reflects. “I was earning income, learning, and connecting with people. It helped me a lot.”

While he did not give up on finding an innovative executive marketing position, Childs needed ways to stay focused and positive on his continued career search. When it comes to overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create, the following advice can help keep you more focused, motivated, and confident.

1. Honesty really is the best policy

Susan is happily employed in Reno, Nevada at The Slumber Yard, a specialty online clearinghouse of reviews, comparisons, and deals for mattresses and bedding products. Prior to taking the job last year, this mattress review specialist (whose name has been changed for this piece) had left the workforce to care for her young son after he was injured in a serious accident. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, Susan crafted a very targeted resume and cover letter that succinctly addressed her employment gap. Still, the two-year pause in her career had her a little nervous. “I wasn’t exactly sure what the job market would be like for me,” she remembers.

“Her resume had everything we were looking for, and when she told me why she had a gap in her employment history, her honesty really impressed me,” says Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard’s Co-Founder and COO. Ross immediately called Susan in for an interview. “Her experience and knowledge of our industry are what got her the job. But, the way that she explained her employment gap really showed her character, both as a person and as a professional.”

You can explain your employment gap without oversharing, says Dick Lively, Partner and HR Consulting Director at RAI Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “On a resume or in a cover letter, saying you took time to care for a family member who was ill or that you relocated across the country for your spouse’s job should be enough detail. Keep it professional but not too personal,” he says. It is also OK to exclude a gap explanation from the resume altogether, so long as you are prepared to address it during the interview if you are asked. Just don’t make something up. “At the end of the day, the truth always comes out, explains Lively. “You don’t want to face a potential employer or a new boss and try to explain why you lied.”

2. Don’t stop networking

Your first instinct may be to hide away until you have a new job, but that will not help your efforts. In fact, it might even hurt them. Keeping your name and face out there can help you get an introduction to a hiring manager. Plus, it’s great practice for interviews. “For me, I talked about the creative process and exchanged ideas; it helped me formulate how to best present myself as a job candidate,” says Childs.

Lively suggests that you don’t wait too long after your last job ends to start networking: “It is not only important to get your name out there and to hear about jobs that may be coming up through the grapevine,” he explains. “You also need to talk shop and connect with people. The longer you wait, the less confident you may feel. Interpersonal skills need to be kept sharp, just like any other skill.” That said, it is OK to take a few days or even a couple of weeks after your last job ends to regain your composure before you start networking. The last thing you want to do is get emotional about your job loss in front of your professional connections.

3. Expand your network

As valuable as your tried-and-true network of professional connections is, Dr. Woody cautions that you shouldn’t always drink from the same well when you are trying to find a new job. “Always networking with the same group of people can put blinders on your job search or create an echo chamber where you keep repeating the same steps that aren’t working anymore.”

Expanding his network definitely helped Childs. “Learning about new businesses and how they do things and connecting with new people is very inspiring,” he says. Telling new people a bit about yourself helps remind you about your talents and experience. You don’t know what else is out there if you don’t ever mix things up.

4. Own your truth

“You can, and should, use a positive spin when talking about your experiences,” says Childs. During an interview or a phone screening, don’t try to hide what caused your employment gap. Don’t complain or point fingers either. Tell your story concisely and truthfully, ending with what you learned or what you have gained since. When Childs interviewed with his new employer, he was prepared to lay his cards on the table when the question came up about his resume gap. His honest, three-sentence elevator speech consisted of:

  1. I was laid off when my department was eliminated.
  2. I am now doing advertising sales. It’s not me, but it’s a job, and I am proud of the quality of work I do.
  3. I have learned a lot about customer service through this sales experience, and I can apply that knowledge to my next marketing and creative position.

Dr. Woody believes this kind of planning is invaluable: “Preparation builds confidence. Working on your narrative reminds you that you have talent and have a lot to offer an employer. Taking time to boil it down to a concise summary instills it in your mind. This is who you are.”

5. Keep up a motivating routine

For years, Childs has emailed daily “Thought Bombs” to colleagues and friends. These are quotes he has collected on creativity, inspiration, and business integrity. Throughout his 14-month job search, he committed himself to continuing this morning ritual. “It got me up and thinking, ready for the day,” he says. “On my worst days, I would tell myself, ‘All I gotta do is get out of bed and deliver the Thought Bomb,’ and it really helped me get moving.”

“I really love this,” says Dr. Woody. “He used this routine to get himself into the right mindset each day. He had a purpose that was of value to his mailing list, and the discipline it took to do this daily task set his whole day in positive motion.” For other people, the routine could be mediation, exercise, journaling, or some other daily ritual.

6. Concentrate on the connection

Childs kept himself well-versed in the current ideas and trends in his field. His knowledge and passion for his work inevitably crept into his cover letters and interviews. “People are much more engaged with stories that are filled with excitement, passion, and personality,” says Childs. “Bragging and standard-issue talking points get stale quickly, but if you can connect with someone about what truly motivates and inspires you, they won’t forget you.”

Coming across as arrogant or whiny is a red flag for employers, notes Dr. Woody. But sharing insights and understanding about your field is a way to help them envision working with you. It also helps them put your employment gap into perspective in relation to your qualifications and talent. He explains: “People remember more about how you made them feel than about the specifics of what you said.”

Continue on to Top Resume to read the complete article.

What It’s Like Living and Working With a Chronic Illness

LinkedIn
woman writing in journal about managing chronic illness and work

By Alex Haagaard

It’s 6 AM and your alarm is going off. You hit the snooze button, hoping for a few more minutes of sleep before you drag yourself out of bed. This is a morning routine most people are familiar with. But for workers with chronic illness, it can look very different.

Five years ago, I was working as a research assistant at a design school. I was also struggling with several undiagnosed illnesses, including narcolepsy, an immune condition, and a painful connective tissue disorder. Every night I’d set twelve alarms, turn the volume up, and plug my phone in on the other side of my bedroom. And every morning I’d sleep through them all. I started every day feeling like I’d already run a marathon and been hit by a truck as I crossed the finish line.

Why It’s So Hard to Work With Chronic Illness

In many cases, chronic illness limits how much you can get done in a day. You start with limited energy levels, and when you add in things like chronic pain and immune problems, everyday tasks can drain your batteries before you even get to work. (Not to mention that doctors’ appointments and endless phone calls chasing after prescriptions and referrals can take hours out of your day.)

Learning to manage your energy levels is essential when living with chronic illness. You get used to checking in with your body, assessing how much any activity will cost you, and creating a kind of energy budget to figure out exactly what you can get done without pushing your body past its breaking point. But what happens when there’s just no way to balance the budget?

This is a huge challenge in workplace cultures that place a premium on constant productivity. Chronically ill employees often end up going into energy debt trying to keep up with what’s expected of them. Pushing your limits is often seen as a way of committing to your own personal development, but it can have a serious negative impact on your personal life and health, especially if you have a chronic illness.

Caitlin has fibromyalgia and currently works from home, but she used to work in retail. “My quality of life at the time was non-existent,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything except lie in bed or on the couch when I wasn’t at work. I couldn’t even job hunt because the pain and fatigue were so severe that I couldn’t think straight. I ended up quitting with nothing lined up.”

Chronic illness is also unpredictable. It’s one thing to manage your finances when you know how much money is coming in every month, but as any freelancer will tell you, making long-term plans becomes a lot more difficult without that certainty. Similarly, when you’re working with chronic illness, you often find yourself in a position of having to create weekly or monthly energy budgets without knowing what resources you’ll have at your disposal from one day to the next.

No, We’re Not Just Lazy and Incompetent

When your illness is invisible, you often face doubt from colleagues. Laura, a middle school teacher with an immune disorder, also struggles with PTSD because of harassment she faced at her previous job.

“I was told I was being ridiculous and overdramatic, that I was ‘letting kids down and setting a bad example’ by not pushing myself,” she says. Even after leaving that job, that experience continued to impact her work relationships. “It took probably five years in my current position before I didn’t have anxiety attacks if my boss needed to speak to me or I needed to speak to my boss about something.”

When you’re chronically ill, it often feels like doubt rules your life. People doubt that you’re sick. They doubt how hard you’re trying. They doubt that you’ll follow through on your commitments. And eventually, you begin to doubt yourself.

“To be uncomfortably honest, I am probably more disappointed in myself than [others] are,” says Kristina, a designer and digital modeler who has epilepsy. Struggling with even the most basic adulting tasks can leave her riddled with self-doubt, she explains: “One day I am fully capable of a task while the next day I struggle with generally simple things like brushing my teeth or getting dressed.”

When your abilities change so dramatically from one day to the next, you can end up questioning your own grip on reality. You know none of this is your fault, but deep down you can’t help but wonder if maybe, somehow, it is.

How I’ve Made Working, Work For Me

Three years ago, I had to stop working in my chosen field so that I could begin working full-time as a patient. And it was work, even though I wasn’t getting paid for any of it. My weekdays were suddenly filled with doctors’ appointments, lab tests, and phone calls to social services. I essentially had to become an administrative assistant to the six clinics I was dealing with, a biomedical researcher, and a health justice advocate. Just like my previous jobs, I often felt like I was just barely treading water, trying not to drown.

Last spring, I finally received the diagnoses I was fighting for and this fall, I went back to work as a consultant with a disability-led design group. Although I expected to feel overjoyed about returning to paid work, I’d become so used to struggling and failing that for weeks all I felt was terror.

But I’m still there, loving the work and starting feel more confident that I can actually do this. I’m also realizing that my experiences with chronic illness can be an asset. They’ve made me conscientious about time management, connected me to an amazing community of disabled creatives, and given me insights into how public systems and services are designed—for better and for worse.

Here are three key things that have helped me succeed in my new job:

Continue on to The Muse to read the complete article.