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I am currently applying for a postdoc, after a 2.5 year period of illness during my PhD. For most of that time I wasn't really able to work at all. In the last 6-months or so I have been able to work roughly part-time, and I've completed my thesis and been working on a new research project. I am now well enough to work on a postdoc, but I'm not yet completely recovered from my illness, and I'm still disabled in a number of different ways.

I've seen a position listed which I'm planning to apply for. They're looking for someone to start away, which is great for me because most positions in my field won't start until next academic year. I currently live in the UK, and the position I'm applying for is in Germany. I've not yet recovered enough to move to another country; I think I would be strong enough to do this in about 6 months time.

So, I need to explain to the group I'm applying to that as a disabled access requirement I would need to work remotely from the UK for the first 6 months of the position. I also have some other additional disabled access requirements, such as I have difficulty typing and benefit from support with typesetting and editing.

I've been thinking about the best way to bring this up with the group before I apply, and I'm interested to hear people's opinions on how to do this. Here are some things I thought of that I could do;

  • explain in an email to the group secretary
  • explain in an email to the head of the group
  • ask to chat with the head of the group on zoom
  • add a paragraph about this in my cover letter when I apply

I also had a suggestion from a friend to wait and see if I'm offered a position, and only discuss my additional needs at that point. I'm not very comfortable with this idea, I feel like it's better to be upfront straight away. I am concerned that my additonal needs might make me less likely to get the position though, so I'm open to hear what people say about waiting to see if I'm offered a position before bringing anything up.

Some relevant points: I've spoken to the head of the group a few times at conferences so I know him a bit. The job listing has a sentence about encouraging applications from disabled people.

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  • German law may protect you a bit, or a lot, from making it less likely to hire you.
    – Buffy
    Sep 13, 2021 at 15:06
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    You should discuss this with the university's disability or diversity office relevant to job applicants. I do not think the opinions of people who do not work at the university will have much validity. Sep 13, 2021 at 16:46
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    Note that there are legal/tax difficulties around being employed in one country but physically located in another. You may find that the university is unwilling to countenance such an arrangement. In the process, you may spark a small war involving the disability office, the HR office and the legal office. Take popcorn!
    – avid
    Sep 13, 2021 at 23:16
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    concerning the mentioning in the application: in an effort of equalization ("Gleichstellung"), many jobs listings (especially those by official institutions, like universities) are required by law to have a clause stating that if they are equally qualified, disabled persons will be preferentially employed. This often does not mean that they really intend on preferentially hiring disabled people. They are just required by the law to put this sentence. In the end, no two people are ever really "equally qualified" and there is some wiggle room to allows for not hiring the disabled person. Sep 14, 2021 at 6:53
  • To complement @Sursula's comment, to quality as "disabled" in that sense, you most likely need your disability officially recognized ("Schwerbehindertenausweis"). A key choice you will have to make is whether you want to take this official route, or discuss accommodations with the PI, especially if the disability is only temporary (unclear from your post).
    – user151413
    Sep 15, 2021 at 21:04

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Since the job listing explicitly mentions it, I would include your situation in your cover letter. Note that, in my experience, your disability will not be part of the selection process per se. Instead it should be dealt with by professionals at the institution who would determine what accommodations can be provided so you can do the work assigned. Note that I would expect this to occur only after you were to be selected. This may take some back-and-forth, and they may not fully agree with your desires.

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    "your disability will not be part of the selection process per se." In Germany, actually, the opposite would be true, at least as far as the law is concerned. Public institutions in Germany are legally obliged to prefer applicants that have a severe disability, assuming equal qualifications. I don't know how this is handled in practice, though. Sep 13, 2021 at 15:47
  • Thanks for your comments. I think I expect that the university would be obliged by law to make some 'reasonable adjustments' for me, and I'm wondering who's going to assess how reasonable my additional needs are. @Jon it sounds like you think this would be done by administrative staff and not by the academics in the group?
    – Joe
    Sep 13, 2021 at 16:29
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    @Joe A German university should have an elected representative of disabled employees (Schwerbehindertenvertretung). If you claim a disability on your application, this person should be involved in the selection and hiring process of all applicants for the position. Their job is to ensure that legal obligations are fulfilled (and generally they would try to lobby for you).
    – Roland
    Sep 14, 2021 at 6:18
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    @Joe, First, I would verify if Jon has experience with German universities. On his profile, he says he's located in the United States. Now, he could have experience with German Universities for all I know, but if he doesn't, what he has to say about this topic should be considered very suspect. Sep 14, 2021 at 6:18
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    That being said, if you are not able to move to Germany, that could be a deal breaker because I don't think letting you work in another country is considered a reasonable accommodation by the relevant laws.
    – Roland
    Sep 14, 2021 at 6:20

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