How to Reenter the Workforce after 5 years, with Disability?
August 30, 2016 8:49 PM   Subscribe

I stopped working just about 5 years ago due to a medical condition. Much to my surprise, I'm actually starting to physically do better, and I want to go back to work. But I do still have some limitations. I'm not sure how one navigates going back to work in a fast moving field after a prolonged absence. Add difficulty level of not sure how to navigate the disability and physical limitations part of it. Field Web/UX.

A few years ago, stopped working due to a bunch of health issues that sort of piled up until I couldn't work anymore. What was supposed to be a short medical leave ended up being multiple years. Over the past year, some major things got figured out and I have been steadily improving. So much so that I am planning on looking for work when I'm back from a trip next month.

There are a few things I don't know how to deal with.

1. How to address the gap in terms of lost time and lack of current work? I'll be honest, I haven't really kept up in my field after the first 6 months to a year. I do have friends in the field and I hear about things from them, but it's not the same as being in the weeds. I've always picked things up pretty quickly and I'm working now to try and get caught up on the knowledge side. But it's not like I'm going to have that body of work to fall back on.

I considered trying to do some personal or freelance projects as a way of building my portfolio and getting some recent real experience. But I want to get back to work as soon as I'm able and I think being in an office will be the most beneficial to my mental health and continued recovery.

2. I want to go back part time, at least to start. I want to be sure I overdo it. But there really aren't a lot of people working part time that I know of. The ones that I do know that have done it are more doing reduced work weeks after maternity leave, like 30-32 hours a week. I'm hoping to start with 16-20 hours. Suggestions of how to find (or convince companies to create) these positions?

And I don't know if I'll be able to increase the hours I work. That would be my goal. But I don't know if I should tell potential employers that is what I want to do or if that will lead to an expectation to do that. So I could use some tips on how to look for part time work in a field that doesn't typically have a lot of part time work. IS that even feasible?

3. I'm not sure how to approach the issue of physical limitations and reasonable accommodations. There are a few things I'm expecting I'll need. A standing desk or convertible desk. They're all the rage, so I don't know that will be a big deal. But also I'll likely have to dictate some things, as my wrists have problems with prolonged writing, so I may need a place where I can talk without bothering people to answer longer emails and dictate reports. I will probably need some ergonomic equipment, more so than most people. I've been at jobs where getting ergonomic equipment was easy, and ones where it was like pulling teeth.

All these likely fall under reasonable accommodations and are protected by the ADA. My therapist used to do disability work and still works with many clients in that have disabilities and he's also pretty sure they are. But how do I broach the subject? And do I tell employers before I'm hired or after? I worry specifically about bias and prejudice in the hiring process. I know it's illegal to discriminate but that doesn't mean people/companies don't do exactly that.

4. How do I account for that time I wasn't working? I don't want to necessarily give a detailed medical break down. I'm not sure I even want to say it was a medical issue period (i'm not sure that I don't. I'm weighing my options.) I don't have kids, so I can't say I was a SAHM during that time which is the reason many women in my age group are going back to work.

5. Finally, I'm a woman who will be 40 very soon, in a field that values the young and well, women generally aren't treated too kindly as they get older in the workforce. I don't have a degree, up until I stopped working, I was hired because I was fucking awesome at my job and a lack degree didn't hinder me much. I am strongly considering going back to school to finish my degree, but like everything else, I don't want to wait until I've done that to reenter the workforce. So how do I make myself marketable with these handicaps in addition to the ones specific to my health and disability?

Advice, experience, strategies and reading material and anything else on the topic would be greatly appreciated.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Work & Money (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you were/are on official disability, you should check into the Ticket To Work program. It matches employers who get tax breaks for re-introducing disabled people into the workforce and provides a safety net for your disability payments, allowing you to get back on full disability if things don't work out. It's been awhile since I looked into the program, but the last time I checked into it you were given full and then partial disability while re-integrating into the workforce. It seems like a reasonable way to get recent experience on the CV that can be leveraged for jobs that aren't part of the program.
posted by xyzzy at 10:20 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not to threads it, but because it might be relivant, I do not have ssdi.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:45 PM on August 30, 2016

I was also going to say contract work. At least here in Atlanta, good UX people (for the web, and I was in Advertising) are FREAKING HARD TO FIND. Like, thin on the ground, thin in the trees. Ain't nobody. So contract gigs seem like they'd be a good fit for a slow come back as a prelude to getting a regular 40 hours/week job.

If you can go to some conferences, read up, be well-versed in best practices I think you will be okay. One of the things about good UX people is that they know what good UX is, and they know what is the best UX we can do right now . . .and right now has progressed from five years ago, but I have no doubt you can tell where that progress has been.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:10 AM on August 31, 2016

For number 4, "I had a medical issue that has since been resolved" should be good enough for any employer you'd actually want to work for.
posted by Automocar at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thirding the suggestions for contract work. This would give you the most level of control over your equipment, the hours you work, the order in which you work on things to give yourself physical breaks, and control over ambient noise/privacy for dictation. Reach out to your friends in the field and let them know you're looking.

If you must work around other people to avoid going stir-crazy, look for coworking spaces near you and work there some of the time. I'm guessing those types of places have some standing/convertible desks, since those are the new office furniture hotness. You'd probably need to bring your own ergonomic keyboard, mouse, etc.

If you really really just want a part-time office job, I don't think you need to disclose your disability during the hiring process. There's usually no good reason to give an interviewer information that isn't about how your skills and personality are great for the job. However, if you're hired, it is unlikely that a typical company will track down a custom work station and a private room for a new employee working half-time or less. I don't think you'd be punished for making those requests, but I suspect you'd hear "We're looking into it" for an indefinite amount of time while you suffered physically. You would probably be the one ordering (and paying for) most of your equipment and finding a private place to dictate.

I really think contract work is the best way to protect the recovery gains you've made, test the waters about whether you can increase your hours, and get some meaningful recent experience in your portfolio.
posted by Owlcat at 9:31 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions - those talking about contract work - are you referring to freelance type work? Or are you talking about short term contacts with an employer where you work in an office? It sounds like freelance is being described but I'm not sure.

I've previously done freelance on and off for years. I'm frankly trying to avoid it because I want something I won't be tempted to work far too many hours (bad habit of mine). There is something good about needing to be in a place and working with people on a regular basis. Coworking spaces aren't terrible, but it's a different creature than working with coworkers who are working towards the same goals and even on the same projects.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2016

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