Asking People About their Disability

Curiosity is Not the Problem

Asking People About Their Disabilities

Have you ever wondered:

How a wheelchair user drives a car?
– What it’s like to experience a panic attack?
– How a diabetic knows how to regulate their blood sugar?

It’s natural to have questions. Having a disability means that you adapt to the world and this makes your experiences different and interesting! Any one of these questions are not inherently problematic, and many people with disabilities will gladly tell you about their lived experience. However, what can be problematic is the WAY we ask these questions.

Advice for Asking Better Questions

1 – Consider the Intention of your Questions

If you’re asking a question with the intention of confirming your biases or to validate your judgement of a person, your question is not going to be received well. On the other side of the coin, while we may want to help, they might not need your help–don’t ask questions with the intention of “rescuing” them.

2 – Set Your Tone Carefully

Asking someone “what’s wrong with you?” is not a great tone to set. Be polite.

3 – Consider Your Timing

Would you walk up to a stranger and immediately ask them personal questions? Or would you ask a co-worker personal questions in a public space or in front of others? Carefully consider when you ask someone these kinds of questions and in what environment.

4 – Ask Permission

Disability can be a guarded topic that we may not want to talk about, or a person with a disability may get asked about their condition so often they’re sick of talking about it! It’s important to realize that someone may not want to talk about their disability with you–so give them space to opt out. To start a conversation, I recommend starting with “Do you mind if I ask you about XXXX?”

Let’s Talk About It

If you have questions, we’re happy to talk about it! Also, did you know we recruit people with disabilities?

Peak Spotlight: Spinal Cord Injury Awareness

Peak Spotlight: Spinal Cord Injury Awareness

Life Altering, Not Life Defining

Like Jack in the video, many adults come by their disability later in life.  It could be the result of an accident (like in Jack’s case), genetics, or the byproduct of a another illness or condition.  What really resonates to us at Peak about Jack’s story is the sort of fearlessness that he expresses and the desire to find his next big thing.  He may not be able to windsurf any more but he can find another passion, another outlet for his drive and figure out his unique way to change the world.


This September we wanted to focus on spinal chord injury (SCI) awareness.  Did you know that 12,500 new cases are reported each year? Fortunately, SCI does not usually affect cognitive function; however, you may need certain accommodations at work to help you on your new path.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury

There are two types of SCIs, complete and incomplete.  Range of motion and mobility will often vary significantly under both categories.

SCIs are typically categorized as follows: Anterior Cord Syndrome (damages to motor and sensory passageways), Central Cord Syndrome (damages to the central cord that carries signals to the brain), and Brown Sequard Syndrome (damage to one side of the spinal cord).

They may also be called: Tetraplegia (loss of control of all limbs), Paraplegia (loss of lower half of limbs), and Triplegia (loss of movement in one arm and both legs, typically caused by an incomplete SCI).

Back to Work

SCIs seldom affect the mind but it can still sometimes be difficult to find work.  Fortunately, the rise of office professional and IT roles (such as the ones we staff) and work from home opportunities make it increasingly realistic to find a career after a life altering SCI.  

Do you have a question about getting a job with an SCI?  Do you know someone who’s looking for work?  You can reach us here at Peak via email or call us at 512-453-8833

Celebrating 27 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

A Historic Piece of Civil Rights Legislation

Passed by Congress in 1990, and eventually signed by President George H.W. Bush, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, transportation, telecommunications, and many other spheres of civil society.

George Bush signs Americans with Disabilities ActThe legislation provided many of the civil liberties and protections of the Civil Rights Act to people with chronic medical conditions. Prior to the ADA, job seekers with noticeable disabilities were very often dismissed for certain positions due to the erroneous perception that they could not perform the tasks at hand. It would be naive to say that workplace discrimination no longer exists, but it would also be remiss to discount the significance of the ADA.

Of all the obscure national days to celebrate, this is certainly one not to miss. And in honor of the landmark legislation, we created this infographic to highlight the impact it’s had on all of us.

Peak Performers is Austin’s preferred staffing and recruiting firm for contract work with State of Texas government agencies and other organizations. As a non-profit, we also give job placement priority to candidates with a disability. To learn more about our company, please visit our website.

Invisible Disabilities

Invisible Disabilities

Recently, I was reading through a comment section below an article about what it’s like living with a disability. One contributor offered this example scenario:

Scenario 1: A blind person is in a store. Through an mistake in their cane technique, they accidentally break a piece of merchandise

Scenario 2:A person suffering from PTSD is in a store. They smell a cologne that was the same their attacker wore. They become very upset and accidentally break a piece of merchandise

Who do you think the store owner will be more sympathetic toward?

It might sound pessimistic, but my bet is that 9 out of 10 times, the person with PTSD will end up paying for the broken merchandise, while the blind person probably will not. Why is this?

Inclusion of People with Invisible Disabilities

Many would argue that it’s the difference between a visible disability and an “invisible” one. Invisible disabilities are the ones you might not even know someone has. A longer list can be found on our Disability Defined page, but I’ll name a few here:

  • anxiety/depression
  • heart disease
  • sleep disorders
  • digestive disorders (such as Crohn’s Disease or IBS)
  • bipolar disorder
  • cancer

Often, the applicants we see here at Peak Performers who have “invisible” disabilities also have this in common: they’re more likely to protest, “Oh, but I’m not really disabled.”

Disability Defined

The legal definition of “disability” was originally set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in 1990, this Act offered a fairly limited definition, covering mostly the physical conditions we traditionally think of as “disabling.”

In 2008, however, this definition was broadened considerably, under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Most notably, the ADAAA now includes individuals who have been diagnosed with the “invisible” disabilities.

Traditionally, these are the conditions that, because they were not protected (either under the ADA, or pre-dating regulations), were not only invisible, but were also hidden. These are also the “newest” disabling conditions, in the sense that it hasn’t been until recently that scientists and therapists have begun to understand them. Today, in spite of laws meant to protect disabled individuals from discrimination, I’ve seen plenty of career advice articles extolling the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In other words: unless your disability is hard not to see, it’s best not to say anything.

To me, this is a sign that there is still something wrong with the system. Individuals still expect to encounter disability discrimination in the workplace.

Recently, to the tune of $7 million, a Missouri judge successfully sued the state for firing him due to his disability, a very difficult form of muscular dystrophy. His lawyer called the success “vindictive” for her client, adding that: “He felt like he was heard and somebody listened to him and believed him and saw him for the first time on these issues.”

The Need for Change

Visible disabilities, such as the Missouri judge’s muscular dystrophy or blindness, have often been documented for many years. And yet, they are still discriminated against. Invisible disabilities, such as PTSD or Crohn’s disease, are easier to hide, less understood by your average person, and tend to have a shorter history of documentation. They’re also harder to “prove,” and someone could be accused of simply “faking it.”

I’ll leave you by returning to my first example, and ask: Who would you ask to pay for the broken merchandise in your store?

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Learn more here, and follow Peak Performers as we work to grow awareness.