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This thought hit me the other day: How would an employer look at a one-handed programmer being interviewed? I wouldn't be surprised if the person behind the desk were thinking:

Hm, he/she only has one hand. One hand is half of two hands, hence he/she can type half as fast as a two-hander. Programmers type code, thus he/she will produce half as much code. To wit, a one-hander is half as productive as a two-handed coder.

But good programmers do so much more than write code: they device algorithms and solutions to nitty problems; they do code-reviews and upkeep a high standard; they detect and fix bugs; and so much more. Most importantly, they think! If you want typing power, hire an orangutang!

But maybe I'm barking at a non-existant problem. Maybe employers don't think a physical disability affects their programming skills. How would I know - I've never met a physically handicapped programmer, let alone a one-handed one, to confirm it. What's your experience? Have you, for example, witnessed a physically disabled programmer not be hired because it was thought he or she wouldn't be able to do the job because of the handicap?

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closed as off topic by Mark Trapp, bigown Dec 26 '10 at 17:57

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I would have no problem with handicap programmers just as long as they let me pass them in the hallway. My freakish height makes it painful for me to walk slowly. –  ChaosPandion Oct 5 '10 at 18:49
I worked with a great guy back in the day, he had no arms at all. His work station was modified so he could use his feet with the computer (reclined char, trackball mouse, Velcro pads in random places for putting on the phone headset), and he worked faster and was magnitudes more competent than a LOT of people who all had full function both arms, and had been in that job longer. Blew my 18 year old mind when I saw it. –  Incognito Oct 5 '10 at 19:37
I don't know about one-handed guys specifically, but I've read that in the decades since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employment of Americans with disabilities has declined dramatically (probably because it opened up a wide variety of avenues for them to be sued for having a rail in the bathroom 1" too high/low and nonsense like that.) –  fennec Oct 6 '10 at 2:08
You hire a programmer for his/her mind, a brilliant program isn't relative to how they look, move or act. –  Nickz Oct 6 '10 at 3:46
If I managed a small company and interviewed a handicapped programmer I have to say I'd be worried about hidden expenses where I'd have to accommodate him. I still think I'd hire him (assuming competence), but I can see why others wouldn't. –  configurator Oct 6 '10 at 6:03

11 Answers 11

I am a programmer (web developer) with a phyiscal disability. I have full use of my hands but I use a wheelchair to get around.

In my experience, I have never been discriminated against when applying for or working at a programming-related job.

One of the biggest stigmas that a physically disabled person has to overcome when interviewing for a job is the assumption that their outward appearance automatically means they have some sort of mental dificiency as well.

However, any sane employer will be able to see past the disability and note that person's work experience / skill assuming they have a strong portfolio and resume.

Sadly, you won't often see many physically disabled programmers due to their compounded lack of social skills / confidence that prevent them from being across the interview table in the first place :(

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At my last job I worked with a programmer who had no hands, only prosthetic hooks... I admit in the beginning I was very skeptical, but he was incredibly impressive and capable. –  Fosco Oct 6 '10 at 18:55

I can see an interviewer believing that typing is a integral part of programming, but it would be an unbelievably large mistake (as most of us know).

For example, one of the brightest members of a programming forum I frequent is disabled, yet he is constantly available to (and often the only one who can) assist others with advanced-programming or discuss high-level topics.

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Why was this answer downvoted? –  gablin Oct 5 '10 at 19:58
Ya I'm not too sure on that myself? I figured pointing out that judging someone's worth based off of the state of their body is ridiculous. There are people with great minds who have disabled bodies, and a company would only miss out by not acknowledging this. But, whatever; everyone is entitled to their vote. –  machuga Oct 5 '10 at 20:00
In the end it just depends on whether you value someone's expertise enough to pay them to answer questions for your other workers, as opposed to writing code. It can be really valuable. –  Jonathan Sterling Oct 6 '10 at 1:05
Of course, if you are hiring someone not to write code, but to clarify things for less amazing developers, you may have a broader personell issue. –  Jonathan Sterling Oct 6 '10 at 1:06

During my undergraduate studies, a few friends and myself went to the recreation center to play basketball, one of which after a childhood accident was paralyzed in one arm. My initial reaction was that he would be merely a hindrance to the game. It was the opposite, he was quite capable as a player and held his own impressively well.

Sure anyone with a disability is subject to discrimination, this is the nature of society we live in. I for one though from my college experiences have learned to "never judge a book by its cover" and someone with reasonable programming experience relevant to a potential job we might be hiring for would be given a chance just as anyone else would.

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I worked with a physically-disabled programmer and the only problem we had was with evacuation during fire drills. We had a special chair-type unit designed to work on stairs. During a drill someone would act as stand-in for the guy and get in the chair and another person would handle wheeling this person to stairs and negotiating 3 flights. The reason we didn't actually take the guy during a drill was the risk of injuring him in just a drill - going down the stairs was a bit rough on a person's back.

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Hm, he/she only has one hand.

In most countries around the world, this sort of "criteria" is actually ILLEGAL (it's in the same basket as discriminating based on race, eye-color, religion, etc.), and person who suspected that he/she wasn't hired merely because of their physical disability could go to an employment tribunal and press charges against the employer.

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Programming is one of the jobs were most of the physical impairments don't affect productivity at all. I worked with people on wheelchair and people with hearing impairment, and they were among the best programmers I ever met (I don't know if there's some kind of correlation).

It is true that disabilities still draw discrimination, but in my experience working with disabled people will soon let you forget about the impairments and deal with them just as with any other coworker.

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There is always a risk. I have heard backroom chats where candidate characteristics are discussed "off the record" (might get married/pregnant). Like someone else mentioned, most likely a blessing to be skipped by such places.

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Recenty I read a blog from a well-known blogger where he stated he couldnt take a programmer seriously if he wasnt a good typist. Now I dont recall his exact words and I guess he probably meant, if you type code a lot it's a given you also learn to type fast and well. But I would be interested to see his answer to this one.

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I'm a fortunately 2 handed developer and can type around 50-60wpm with one hand. I'm sure there are many single handed typists/developers that could complete beat even my two handed typing abilities! Beyond around 30-40wpm, there isn't going to be a great deal of difference in productivity, considering most of our time is spent staring confusedly at stack traces, sitting in meetings and helping the junior members of the team! –  adamk Dec 25 '10 at 0:31
Could be Steve Yegge - steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2008/09/… –  Don Roby Dec 25 '10 at 2:26
Or Jeff Atwood - codinghorror.com/blog/2008/11/… –  Don Roby Dec 25 '10 at 2:30
Like a typical great programmer, Jeff Attwod is pretty dumb when it comes to health-related stuff. How about the fact that you are more likely to strain your wrists to the point of gaining tendinitis / carpal tunnel. If you are typing very fast, then you are not really forced to think (IMO). There are compact languages out there. Clojure, anyone? –  Job Dec 25 '10 at 3:25

I have been on the receiving end of this once before. I am disabled, but not in a way that affects my programming ability. I was openly discriminated against at an interview for a programmer position when the disability was brought to light. It really shouldn't have been an issue, but it was made into a blocker. I was sent on my way without even having had the interview.

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If you could prove it, I hope you sued. –  Don Roby Dec 25 '10 at 2:38

Of course there is a risk but it is probably a blessing in disguise if they don't give you the job. The kind of companies that would discriminate based upon perceived disability you probably don't want to work at. They probably don't treat any of their employees well.

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Thus spake someone who has never been unable to get a job due to discrimination. –  Vicky Oct 6 '10 at 9:55
I have on a number of occasions not got a job I thought I should have. Whether due to discrimination, who knows. Their loss. –  Craig Oct 6 '10 at 11:16
I'm sorry but I had to downvote you here. Companies who don't hire you based on something like this are BREAKING THE WORK REGULATIONS, not to mention the constitution in most of the democratic countries (and some undemocratic as well). If you were discriminated on any ground (race, religion, nationality, phys.disability) you had every right to take the company in question to court. –  Jas Dec 25 '10 at 0:18
But surely a company that is breaking these laws is somewhere you don't want to work. I don't think there is such thing as a great company, except it just has this discrimination problem it needs to get rid of. I would say that is an indication the culture of the company is pretty bad. –  Craig Dec 26 '10 at 0:52

When I was at university, there was a girl on my course (Computing) who had deformity in her arms from thalidomide, and only had short protrusions from her shoulders with I think two fingers on each.

She could type, not overly fast, and in an odd manner, but she got by. Very bright girl, definitely an accomplished programmer, made no odds to her, or anyone else really. Once you get over the initial double-take, which is inevitable, you forget about it. Think she works for some major international now, IBM, or such like.

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