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I am a software developer. Unfortunately, many years ago I started to develop carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand. I have successfully combated this by wearing a wrist brace any time that I am typing, by using ergonomic keyboards and by using a thumb-ball style pointer device instead of a mouse. By taking these steps, my carpal tunnel has not progressed or gotten any worse for many years. Interestingly enough, despite this, I can type faster and navigate around a computer much better than most people can - even other software developers.

However, I am now job hunting. For any future job that I get, I would want to be allowed to use the prior mentioned items while working - even If I had to purchase them myself. At the very least, I need to wear my wrist brace. I know I need to mention these things to a future employer. However, how can I do this during an interview, or otherwise, without it messing up my chances of getting hired?

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Thanks for all the wonderful Answers! Very good advice thanks! –  user16983 Feb 27 '13 at 19:25
    
I can't imagine a work environment where they wouldn't let you use an ergonomic keyboard and thumb-ball, especially if you were willing to provide them yourself. –  Kevin Feb 27 '13 at 21:36
    
You shouldn't disclose this information as it can place the company in a weird situation if it doesn't choose you. Once you get hired then they are by law ( at least in the US ) to not discriminate against your disability ( if carpal tunnel actually is one thats a whole another story ). You wearing a wrist strap wouldn't be a problem at any company in the US ( at least with a doctor's note ). –  Ramhound Feb 28 '13 at 13:19
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3 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Honestly - I wouldn't bring it up on the first couple of meetings. At least in the US, employers are prohibited from discriminating from disabilities, and I have no clue whether carpal tunnel fits into that category. But it can be really difficult to handle this one up front, and the first steps in interviewing should really be about the bigger job questions of whether you have the right skills, work habits and personality for the team that needs you.

After a job offer is underway, it may be a good time to mention it to HR in line with other work/family questions like benefits, absence policiies, work hours, etc. - the modifications to a standard work environment that you mention are not expensive, and not likely to be a huge issue, so I think you are safe enough bringing up them up AFTER you've been offered a position.

Bring them up too soon in the process, and you will present an image of someone more concerned with small details that the work at hand. I doubt that's your intent - and it's fair to want your needs covered - but mentioning it too early is putting the cart before the horse.

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I'm on the other side of the fence, I say bring it up in the interview - when dealing with any disability that could potentially impact your work in the future it's something they should be aware of. While it is illegal to discriminate, they don't necessarily need to accommodate, so its nice to know up front if they'll allow you to use special equipment. It couldn't hurt to bring it up, but working outside of your comfort zone will. –  Gallen Feb 26 '13 at 18:45
    
I can see that there's no one right answer, but if the first words out of your mouth are "I have this problem... " you set a tone for what you will be like to work with. If you wait a bit and clarify before accepting the offer - you risk nothing besides your time in the interview process. –  bethlakshmi Feb 27 '13 at 4:21
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+1: I'd think the sweet spot would be that point after they've agreed in principle to hire you, but before you've signed the contract. That way, if it's impossible for them to accommodate you, you can walk away amicably, but they've already decided you're worth spending money on, and have spent enough time that they'd rather make it work than sink the costs. –  deworde Feb 27 '13 at 10:36
    
@dworde Exactly! –  bethlakshmi Feb 27 '13 at 15:41
    
Agreed. This is something to talk with HR about after the offer has been made. Treat it as the small thing that it ought to be to them; this is not a big-time disability that people will tend to assume will interfere with your job. (If, say, you were blind, you might want to be more pro-active in explaining how you work with computers, because more people would wonder "how do you write code?". But carpel tunnel really shouldn't be an issue.) –  Monica Cellio Feb 27 '13 at 16:40
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bethlakshmi is right on target. I'm also a software developer who used to have a repetitive stress injury, so I'm in almost exactly your situation. I use an ergonomic keyboard and a keyboard tray; without them I'd feel it by the end of a single work day. When I recently changed jobs, I only mentioned this when I called the hiring manager to accept the offer, as I had done with the previous two jobs.

Any employer that's hiring you as a software developer will be spending a ton of money on you, paying salary and benefits, as well as the cost of your computer. An ergonomic keyboard and a trackball won't cost more than a few hundred dollars at the very most, so it's really not going to be an issue for an employer. (It so happens that I own an extra keyboard of the kind that I prefer, so I brought it in and use it at work.)

I like saying it when I accept an offer, because at that point I can tell them that I need a keyboard tray, and here's what kind, and I need this kind of ergonomic keyboard, and they can order them and have them ready for my first day at work. The right attitude for this is "I need some inexpensive equipment to do my job effectively, and I'm going to be a great new employee."

(It shouldn't be relevant to any halfway-decent employer, but this blog post notes that carpal tunnel syndrome "may be a disability under the ADA." If you're in the US and are going to work for a really big company with a bureaucratic HR department and they give you any hassle, just use the phrase "reasonable accomodation" and mention the ADA, and they'll be very much inclined to do what you request.)

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I would (and do) simply mention that I'm particular about some of the tools I use and ask whether I'm allowed to choose (or purchase and replace) my keyboard/mouse and related items if I don't like the standard issue ones. (I'm a sysadmin.) I purchased a keyboard/mouse combo for work to match the one I use at home a few jobs back, and have taken it with me to subsequent employers. Not that it's something to mention during the first interview, but when you get further along in the process, it's definitely a fair question in relation to the type of working environment at your potential employer.

Probably no need to bring up the fact that it's for carpal tunnel.

As for "messing up [your] chances of getting hired," would you really want to work somewhere that's so inflexible they won't let you bring in your own keyboard?

(And for what it's worth, I've yet to have anyone have a problem with it, and have even had my last couple of bosses ask why I didn't have the company pay for my desired keyboard and mouse, instead of supplying it myself, so I think you're probably worrying a lot over nothing.)

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Dunno why you were downvoted but +1 for a perfectly valid answer. –  Gallen Feb 27 '13 at 19:54
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