Success in STEM

Becoming a Self-Advocate

by Ileana Brito, Jobpostings Magazine

“You’re hired for your strengths not for your deficits or challenges. Your focus should be on what you can do and on articulating that to the potential employer”
Julie Ouellette, Disabilities Counsellor, Paul Menton Centre, Carlton University

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is essentially about knowing yourself, being able to promote yourself and your skills while speaking to any challenges you may face because of your disability, and being able to request the accommodations you need.

How to become a successful self-advocate

Self-advocacy is a skill that is developed. It takes practice. It’s not just enough to know what skills you bring to the job market and what accommodations, if any, you need to help you succeed, you need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate this to a potential employer. Self-promotion can feel a little awkward or uncomfortable so practicing this skill is key. You want it to feel and sound natural.

Tip: If you want help practicing this skill or just want some feedback, be sure to check with your

campus’ disability services office or career services. The advisors are there to help you.

Identify your disability

To promote your strengths and skills and to know whether a position will pose any challenges for you means you need to understand your disability. What is it? How does it impact you?

Know what you want to promote. Take stock of your skills and your strengths:

  • What do you have to offer an employer?
  • What are your best strengths?
  • Why would you be a good fit for the position?
  • Why would you be a good fit with the company?

Again, if you need help determining what your strengths are, there are a number of resources you can turn to:

  • Career Services – an employment advisor can help you take stock of your work, volunteer, recreational and educational experiences to determine what skills you’ve been honing. They can also help you communicate these skills effectively in written form (résumés and cover letters) and in person (interviewing skills).
  • Previous Employers – if you have a good relationship with a previous employer (whether it was paid or unpaid work), talk with them and find out what they see as your greatest strengths.
  • Friends & Family – ask them what they see as your greatest strengths.

Do your homework. Know what types of accommodations are helpful to you

Know what accommodations you need. If your accommodation requires the employer purchasing something, do your research and find out what the cost is and where the accommodation can be purchased. And, advises Ouellette, “Try to have alternatives. Giving employers options often makes it easier to implement the accommodation.”

Be able to articulate your needs clearly

When it comes to requesting accommodation, know that it is your RIGHT to ask for the accommodations you need. And, remember that you do NOT ever have to disclose the nature of your disability to request an accommodation; all the employer needs to know is what accommodation you require.

“It’s important to be able to look at the job description and know that you can perform the essential requirements of the job. If you can perform those key requirements, then know that it’s your RIGHT to request the accommodation,” adds Ouellette.

Cons of not asking for a necessary accommodation

Ultimately, the decision as to whether or not you request an accommodation lies with you. It is important to consider that not requesting an accommodation you need could lead to failure on-thejob.

“If you neglect to make that disclosure and there is a health concern that potentially endangers yourself and your coworkers, you would be in a difficult situation,” says Charlie Matjanec, Employment Advisor, Disability Services at Conestoga College’s Kitchener campus. He adds, “If you’re not asking for the accommodation, you’re giving away an advantage that you are legally entitled to and that you worked hard to give yourself. But, you always have the right to not say anything.”

Deciding when to request an accommodation

Deciding when to request accommodation depends on a variety of factors and is completely up to you. But, there are some things you should take into consideration:

1. Will you need accommodation during the interview process? I.e. Do you need to ensure appropriate access to the interview location? If so, it is advisable to request the accommodation up front so neither you nor the employer is put in a difficult situation.

2. Do you need accommodation during written tests? The recruitment process can involve written tests, especially if you’re interviewing for a government position, so if you need extra time to complete a written test or require adaptive technology to do so, you might want to seriously consider requesting the accommodation beforehand. If you don’t, your poor performance will likely be attributed to weak skills.

What if I don’t need accommodations during the interview?

“If the offer has been made, this is a really good time to consider making the request,” says Matjanec. “You have already proven that you have the qualities that they’re looking for. The employer has a legal obligation to accommodate if the candidate chooses to accept the job. If an employer offers you the job, what has changed when you say, ‘That’s great. I’m going to ask you for some adaptive technology on my computer because that is how I’m best able to do my job.’? This is where advocacy comes in, the more that you are able to project that you have faith in yourself, the more the recruiter will believe you. If you’re hesitant, it will come across in the same hesitant way.”

Ouellette adds, “You don’t need to tell everyone. You may be able to just tell your direct supervisor. ‘Okay, this employee needs a desk that is three inches lower.’ Not a big deal.”

For more tips on how to communicate your needs within the workplace and strategies for how to educate your employers and coworkers about physical and social accommodations within the workplace, check out the Jobpostings magazine article at the end of this section, which can also be found at:

For individuals who want to ensure that the workplace they enter is inclusive, one can also apply for jobs in the science and technology fields through organizations that match individuals with disabilities within these sectors. Utilizing local disability service providers may be an effective way to be certain of applying for jobs that are inclusive.

Lastly, remember: all employees and job seekers have legal rights. Knowledge is power, so knowing what rights employees have is crucial. If discrimination within the workforce occurs at the interview stage or during the time of employment, there are organizations across Canada that assist in helping individuals build cases to fight against inequality.

For more information on the rights of people with disabilies in the workplace, please consult: