Problem Solving Strategies: Cerebral Palsy Career Builder for High School

By Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, Disability Employment Expert

Problem solving strategies for countering the misconceptions your high school student with cerebral palsy (CP) will soon encounter in the job market need to be based on this reality:

Law often does little to change perception.

That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn after looking at two studies about the attitudes of people who are making most of the hiring decisions in today’s workplaces.

I think it has implications for the kind of problem solving strategies your high school student with CP needs to consider as she or he prepares for obtaining part-time work while still in school and for eventually making the school-to-work transition.

It’s a time to acknowledge that, although many employers are fully committed to hiring, retaining and advancing qualified individuals with disabilities, the perceptions of some employers about a variety of important disability employment issues haven’t changed much since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Graphic showing magnifying glass that highlights the word, "solution" in Problem Solving backgroundPhoto courtesy of

Problem solving strategies: The good news

But, the good news is this: Your high school student is in a unique position to change perception one person at a time. You can help him or her prepare for the role of an educator during job searches.

The task: Show prospective hiring managers he or she does not fit their preconceived notions of a person with a disability -- that your mentee is indeed the “exception” to sometimes long-held beliefs.

That means your youngster must begin to learn how to actively position oneself as the exception to those misconceptions, which are usually based on lack of knowledge. Those false impressions may have roots in misunderstandings picked up during the hiring manager’s childhood. They have never been challenged in the hiring manager’s mind -- until the individual you’re mentoring appears as a job candidate.

Here’s another bit of good news. Getting hired is not crucial at this point. As a career coach, you have time to counsel your high school student, and he or she has time to learn these basic problem solving strategies for addressing misconceptions about disability.

Since misconceptions usually stem from lack of information, you have an opportunity to counsel your high school student in showing he or she doesn’t fit the hiring manager’s preconceived notions. That tends to “unfreeze” job interview situations so your “now-grown-up kid” can go on to explain why he or she is the best candidate for the job at hand.

Those problem solving strategies of selling yourself as a job candidate who is the “exception” and the best candidate in terms of qualifications came back to me as I recently reviewed two important studies of the attitudes, beliefs and practices of U.S. employers.

I believe those studies show why you need to help your high school student with CP take the time now to practice the lone “educator” role as part of the future task of finding full-time employment.

What opportunities are currently open
for your high school student
to practice self-advocacy skills?
Join PACER’s
Facebook discussion.

U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Employer Attitudes Survey (2008)

According to the National Council on Disability’s “Achieving Independence: The Challenge of the Century,” the most commonly cited reason for not hiring people with disabilities is a “lack of qualified applicants.” That’s closely tied to another reason I commonly hear: “the inability to locate or find qualified job applicants with disabilities.”

See “Attitudes of Employers: Findings From the Most Extensive Survey in History of Employers' Actions and Attitudes Toward Employing People With Disabilities.”

Here are some clues from that survey that you may find helpful in career coaching your high school student with CP about problem solving strategies.

  • Larger companies are more likely to actively recruit people with disabilities (33.8 percent) than smaller companies (7.8 percent).

  • In absolute numbers, there are more mid-sized companies (164,460) recruiting people with disabilities than small (96,052) and large companies (66,209).

  • Information on satisfactory job performance and how hiring people with disabilities can increase a company’s productivity are cited by small and medium-sized company as most persuasive. Large companies are more likely to be persuaded by information that is supported by statistics or research.

  • The nature of the work being such that it cannot be effectively performed by a person with a disability is cited as a hiring challenge by 72.6 percent of all companies. Attitudes of co-workers or supervisors are the least frequently cited challenges.

  • Health care costs, workers compensation costs and fear of litigation are more challenging for small and medium companies than for large companies.

  • The cost of employing people with disabilities and the belief that workers with disabilities lack the skills and experience necessary are the most often cited concerns for small and mid-sized companies, while supervisor uncertainty about how to take disciplinary action is cited most often for large companies.

  • The services of Job Accommodation Network (JAN) are familiar to only 7.4 percent of companies. Large companies are much more likely to be familiar with JAN services than are small and medium-sized companies (21.6 percent compared to 6 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively). Public administration employers are more likely to be familiar with JAN (19.2 percent) than are employers in service (7.3 percent) or goods-producing industries (6.2 percent).

  • Information about satisfactory job performance, increases to the company’s productivity, and benefits to the company’s bottom line were the three most persuasive reasons for hiring people with disabilities. But small and medium companies find information about satisfactory job performance most persuasive, while large companies are most persuaded by information supported by statistics or research.

  • Large companies ranked inability to find qualified people with disabilities as their number one challenge.

  • Not knowing how much accommodations will cost and the actual cost of accommodating disability are major concerns associated with hiring people with disabilities.

  • Public administration organizations tend to actively recruit and hire people with disabilities more than their private sector counterparts.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) sponsored this survey, which included a nationally representative sample of senior executives from 12 industries represented by company size: small (5-14 employees), medium (15-249 employees), and large companies (250 or more employees). Interviews were completed with 3,797 respondents.

SHRM Survey About Veterans with Disabilities (2010)

This 2010 survey, Beyond Yellow Ribbons: Research on Employer Preparedness to Include Veterans with Disabilities in the Workplace, was sponsored by the DBTAC-Northeast ADA Center, the Employment & Disability Institute at Cornell University, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Results, based on more than 1,000 completed surveys by HR professionals, were reported by Hannah Rudstam, Ph.D., Cornell University, on October 6, 2011.

Ms. Rudstam’s summary of the employer findings included these observations, which again can give your high school student some leads to problem solving strategies:

  • 41 percent did not know where to find resources to help with accommodations.

  • 61 percent had not heard of the Wounded Warrior Program.

  • 58 percent incorrectly believed applicants must disclose a disability (even if hidden) during the hiring process.

  • Over 70 percent agreed or strongly agreed that they would benefit by hiring veterans with disabilities and that it would be good for customer relations.

  • 61 percent agreed or strongly agreed that accommodating veterans with disabilities would take more of manager’s time or effort.

  • 70 percent included disability in their diversity plans.
    Only two to three percent actually used specific recruiting resources for veterans with disabilities. Only 17 percent had hired a veteran with a known disability.

Ms. Rudstam asked, “Is the current surge of good will enough to ensure that workplaces are geared up to provide support for veterans with disabilities?”

She noted that, for the most part, employers are not using the extensive resources that are now available for that support and doubted that more dissemination of information would lead to more changes in practice.

Ms. Rudstam has that doubt, she says, because too many resources tend to be confusing and because providing that support is not a priority for many employers.

Examine Ms. Rudstam's observation above. It includes two problems which cry out for problem solving strategies: too many resources and a lack of priority.

What you can do

What I have learned from both of these studies is this: As a job seeker with CP, your youngster needs to learn how to effectively become a self-advocate and to successfully launch a job marketing campaign as a solution and information provider.

There’s no better time to practice those problem solving strategies than in high school, while obtaining part-time jobs. Coach your youngster in becoming an expert at providing or getting the supports that may well be lacking in a targeted company or organization. He or she needs to learn how to develop problem solving strategies.

Five to 10 years from now when your youngster enters the full-time job market, he or she will also likely need to address the general perception that hiring a person with a disability is an added responsibility for the supervisor involved. How will your son or daughter counter the perception that hiring him or her will cost the “boss” extra time, money and effort?

Those problem solving strategies (all of which call for an educational role) are in addition to the “normal” selling chore of showing why your son or daughter will be the best candidate for the job in terms of performance and productivity (contributions to the potential employer’s bottom line).

What opportunities are currently open
for your high school student
to practice self-advocacy skills?
Join PACER’s
Facebook discussion.

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Go to Cerebral Palsy Career Builders

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Originally written and illustrated by Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, who, as a person with cerebral palsy, served for 10 years as a vice president in a Fortune 500 company during his 29-year career in corporate communication. He’s an Accredited Business Communicator, certified as a Global Career Development Facilitator and author of 14 Amazon books about disability awareness and disability employment issues.