“Being a lawyer is a very responsible job. I am responsible for preparing and reviewing contracts, performing legal research, advising on regulatory obligations [...] Making sure to have the proper accommodations, materials in an accessible format, having access to a screen reader, it really comes down to between being able to do the job or not being able to do the job at all in many cases”, Michal Nowicki states. As a completely blind lawyer at Marashlian & Donahue in Chicago, he has first hand experience with the difference the right accommodations make. Both in his professional life and as a student at the University of Illinois, Michal has received great support; “I had excellent support services at all those stages that have gotten me the accommodations that I needed, and that's how I was able to get where I'm at now”, he explains.
But even with the support, Michal has often found himself in situations where he had to deal with websites or apps that were inaccessible with a screen reader, or he was provided materials in print. Because he had to find alternative ways to receive the information, Michal has strong problem solving skills - a skill that he shares with many other people with disabilities who have similar experiences. “One of the skills that people with disabilities are really good at is problem solving, because especially for people who were born with a disability or at least had a disability for a long time, they've constantly had to adapt to living in an able-bodied world”, he says. “Those problem solving skills transfer over to other areas too, those are transformative skills.” According to Michal, strong problem solving skills is not the only advantage that employers get from hiring people with disabilities: “Because many of us have had to work harder to get to where we are at, many of us are strongly committed and dedicated to the type of work that we do and that we want to do”, he states.
There are many well-qualified people with disabilities, and unfortunately too many employers don't know or understand that.
Michal believes that having a diverse team can be a huge benefit to the company - “Diverse workforce means diverse perspectives”, he says. With diverse inputs come creative ideas that ultimately lead to better solutions. On top of that, working with people with disabilities gets employers and employees to think about accessibility in a whole new way, when they can directly see the effect it has on people with a disability. “For example, if you work on site and you constantly see that person interacting with a screen reader reading content at high speed, that's when you really appreciate the value that making software and websites accessible can really add”, he explains.
If Michal could give one piece of advice to employers, it would be to not be afraid to open up a conversation about the questions and concerns about hiring an employee with a disability, so that the employee has a chance to address them. These concerns can often be based on assumptions about what people with disabilities can do. “Not surprisingly, that assumption can often be highly inaccurate and could steer the employer away from seriously considering that employee for a position”, Michal concludes.