Monday, January 3, 2011

Job Interviews with a Service Dog

Since being partnered with Shilo my work situation has consisted of multiple part time positions. My main position with the University Center For Excellence in Developmental Disabilities began two months after Shilo and I were partnered, so we interviewed for the job as a packaged deal. The job began with  .3 time or 12 hours a week and within six months I was bumped up to.5 or 20 hours a week. It is hard to meet all of one's financial obligations on half time, I continued to look for other part time work and found a job as a facilitator/ data collection specialist for a research project out of OHSU for the Healing Pathways project testing and facilitating a peer facilitated strengths-based curriculum for women with physical disabilities who are also dealing with depression. This job was contract work for a set amount of hours and pay with the average being ten hours a week for the last year and a half. As this contract comes to a close, I need to fill the gap that it creates in my income so it's back to the job hunt!
Job hunting for a person with a disability can be daunting even in the best of times, though the current economic woes in the US (9.8% according to the Bureau of Labor statistics in Nov. 2010) as a whole and the even more dismal picture of employment in my home state of Oregon  (10.6% for Nov 2010 according to Oregon Labor Market Information System) can make it feel like a gladiator fight to the finish.   I have been working and interviewing with a service dog or service dog in training in tow for over a decade. I know for some people the question arises whether or no they should go to the interview with their service dog, because it brands them as a person with a disability especially when their disability is not readily apparent. The decision of how and when to disclose details about a disability is a deeply person one often with far reaching implications. My disability just happens to be very apparent so any employer or potential employer knows there is something. Therefore, I put my service dog in the same category as my wheelchair, where I am it is.

Preparing for a Job Interview:
When I am preparing for a job interview I have a routine:
  • Research the company and identify points of interest, questions I have, skills I feel based on my research I can contribute
  • Prepare my professional portfolio
  • Pack any requested application materials in my bag
  • Look up directions
  • Pick out my clothes
  • Wash my wheelchair upholstery
  • Wash Shilo's Gear
  • Brush/Groom Shilo
It is very important when going on a job interview with your service dog that your dog be just as dressed and groomed to impress as you are. It is also very important that your service dog be on it's very best behavior--All Business. In the space of an interview you and your service dog can show an interview that you and your service dog can work quickly, quietly and unobtrusively.  You should also be prepared to answer the three questions per the DOJ Business Brief: 1) Is that a Service Dog? 2) Are you a Person with a disability(as defined under the ADA)? 3) What Tasks does your dog perform?  Nowhere do questions 2 or 3 require a person to disclose what their disability is; however, some handlers may have to think carefully about how they describe the work their dog is trained to do to avoid disclosing their disability. 

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