What it’s really like to be openly disabled in an interview process:

Mal
6 min readFeb 15, 2023

A week after I accepted my current job (weeks before my start date), I saw another job posting come up that I was interested in. I was sick of applying for jobs but this one specifically caught my eye. So, y’know… what the heck. Sent the resume into the abyss, didn’t hear much for a few weeks but it was the holidays, then I was out of town, and then I was sick. To be honest, I kinda forgot about it. I started my current job around mid January, it was going okay, and I found the people to be pretty nice.

I finally heard back from that job I applied to just after Christmas, I did a quick little assessment screening (fairly easy—and I was told I killed it), and then a week or so later they contacted me to say they wanted to do a formal interview with me.

They sent me the interview outline.

Oh no, a brick ton of behavioural questions — you know, the type of questions where I’m expected to describe very specific scenarios in a very specific way.

Selfie of me sitting at my desk with a frightened expression. I am wearing a sleeveless black high neck tank top, black thick glasses, and my hair is down and framing my face. I am in the centre of the photo but a little to the left and the corner of my desk is on the right. My desk is black, the wall behind me is brown.
My autistic face when I see that the interview I’m about to do is in this absolutely horrifying format.

I know from experience that I do not do well in these types of interviews—especially if I don’t know the questions in advance or can’t write them out in a written format. If I can? I’m good. I can process the questions, think about my 10+ year career to dig up some good stories, and then tell those stories. I’m a storyteller, I’m good at these types of questions — I just need a little support.

I know this because I’ve experienced it all from both ends. I had the questions in advance for an interview back in September for another job and aced it. I ultimately didn’t get that job, but the interview went well, I said exactly the stories I wanted to say to each question, and was only a normal level of anxious the whole time.

The interview for my current job that I had in December was also this way but for this I didn’t ask for the questions in advance — perhaps I was too confident. I didn’t think I needed the accommodation but then, sure enough, I couldn’t process a damn thing. About half way through the Zoom interview I told them what was happening and asked to follow up and answer the rest of the questions in an email that day. An hour or two later, I sent off my responses. Needless to say, I got the job so I guess my written responses were good. One thing I thought about when deciding whether or not to accept this job? Yup, that’s right: The interview process was inclusive and accessible and made me feel like a human so surely working there would be similar.

Back to the interview in question. My disabled self knew I needed accommodations for this if I wanted any sort of chance to do okay so I fired off an email to the hiring manager and asked for accommodations as an autistic person without a second thought. To be blunt, I’m tired of stigmas and I know what I need. I even gave them two options because I know either would work for me:

  1. The questions a day or two in advance, or
  2. The option to submit written responses with a follow up virtual meeting to at least meet face to face.

Receiving at least one of these accommodations was non-negotiable. They passed my email onto the HR person. The HR person calls me out of the blue (not an email) and asks me if I have anything official to send her to prove my autism.

“I guess I could send you my diagnosis’ assessment from the psychologist. It’s a 4 page PDF document explaining all about how I’m autistic, how I was as a child, etc. This might not explain how I am at work or why I need the accommodations I do but it’s all I have to prove I’m autistic,” I say.

Again, I am tired of stigmas. I’m disabled. It’s who I am and I don’t have much to hide. I email the personal health assessment doc into the abyss.

Later that same week, the HR person responds and says, “this is okay but we actually need you to to get your doctor to fill out this accommodation form, too.” I open the doc, which is a basic workplace accommodation form (the kind you’d have to fill out once you have a job) with a note that says I’m responsible for any fee. Of course — every doctor always charges a fee (usually $100) for them to fill out a form.

This is where I stopped in my tracks.

Well actually, I cried. I cried a lot that day. I cried because I was pissed off that this is how it’s done; that such policies exist only to make accessing accommodations even harder for those who need them.

The more I looked at the form and thought about it, the more I was certain I didn’t want to do it. I quickly responded and said I didn’t really feel like I should have to do that just for simple interview accommodations.

Not only did it feel wrong, but it would have been a pretty big burden to do and would take a lot of extra executive functioning spoons that I don’t have. It’s not just about the form. It’s finding a way to print the form when you don’t own a printer (arrangement and travel time), make the appointment (30+ minutes on hold), schedule the appointment to somehow fit within your full time work schedule without missing hours because you’re new and paranoid, go to the appointment, explain to the GP what you need after you thought about it all night and hope she fills it out exactly as you tell her to for this specific need because she knows nothing about how your autism presents itself at work or in job interviews and of course you’re always misunderstood, pay for a form you will likely only use once because it’s so specific, submit form to the company.

All to participate in the interview process.

That same day the HR person follows up to my email with another surprise phone call (seriously, I’m autistic and I really do prefer emails!) to try to explain the need for the form for accommodations.

“This is us trying to be accessible and inclusive.”

I wanted to say “well it’s not, so keep trying,” and hang up immediately but I said I’d get back to her — even though I was 95% sure where I stood right then and there. The fact that I had been crying and expending all of my emotional energy all day over this made it pretty clear.

I pulled myself out of the interview process this week with a brief but to the point email explaining why and I really hope they regret losing a damn good candidate over this.

And me? I’m not really sad about it. I actually felt good standing up for myself and my own rights for once and I kinda want to do it more. I also realized I didn’t even want this job anymore due to the interview accommodation process alone.

I shouldn’t need to jump through hoops to get accommodations just for an interview for a job that I may not even get.

I shouldn’t need to do this when I have also gotten it easily and for free numerous times in the past.

A better way is possible and places are doing it — companies who don’t do better for their employees or future employees will not have better employees.

I think that a lot of people say they’re humble and are trying to be more inclusive, accessible, and diverse but they’re not at all. Those are the folks I want to avoid at all costs moving forward as much as I can.

Instead, I want to focus on the ones who are humble, honest, real, and actively trying to be better. Perfect is a myth — you’ve just gotta try and trying is really not that hard.

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Mal

multi-disciplinary designer, artist, storyteller; autistic + adhd