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Career and Employment Resources for People With Disabilities

Getting a job can be an intimidating process. There are a wide variety of disabilities that can impact an individual’s career opportunities, and many necessitate specific considerations and accommodations from employers. This can make finding work even more daunting.

In truth, everyone has certain requirements and expectations that employers must fulfill so that individuals can achieve professional growth. For those who are disabled, finding the perfect career means finding the one that accommodates their needs while giving them opportunities to advance.

Thankfully, there are resources to help those with disabilities find a job that works for them. Let’s take a look at employment among Americans with disabilities, as well as what you can do to find an employer who will accommodate your needs.

How Many People in America Are Disabled?

About 61 million Americans, or 25% of the U.S. population, have a disability that impacts their ability to take part in major life activities. Mobility issues are the most common type, with mental disabilities being the second most common.

Certain demographics are more likely to have a disability than others. Statistics show that:

  • Older segments of the population are more likely to live with a disability. Only 6% of people ages 18 to 34 have a disability, but this statistic jumps to 13% for individuals between the ages 35 and 64. Almost half (49.8%) of all people 75 years or older have a disability.
  • There are racial and ethnic differences in these numbers as well. For instance, 6.9% of Asian Americans have a disability, while approximately 14% of white and black people do.
  • Regional differences in these rates also exist. In Utah, for example, only 9.9% of the population has a disability. West Virginia has the highest rate at 19.4%. There are clear differences across state, county, and city lines.

Perhaps most relevant to employment, however, is the fact that the median income of people with disabilities ($21,572) is 70% of the national average for those without a disability diagnosis ($31,872). This discrepancy can be compounded by the costs of accommodations to complete day-to-day tasks, often leaving people with disabilities — and potentially their families — in tough financial situations.

Employment Among Americans With Disabilities

This earnings discrepancy can be explained by taking a look at employment trends for Americans with disabilities. Despite the potential for growth in employment for people with disabilities due to advancing technology, employment growth for this demographic is very slow, and such individuals are substantially less likely to be employed than their peers without disabilities.

This problem is worse for minorities with disabilities. Among the population of people with disabilities, only 28.6% of African Americans and 38.6% of Hispanic Americans were employed in 2017. There are many resources available for people with disabilities who are seeking work, but these statistics indicate that there may be broad cultural issues to contend with in America when it comes to disability.

What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA seeks to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the act prohibits private and public organizations from subjecting candidates and employees with disabilities to unfair treatment. There are five sections, or “titles,” in the ADA:

  1. Equal Employment Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities: This section is designed to ensure that people with disabilities have equal employment opportunities. It also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees to ensure that they can perform work duties.
  2. Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services: Title II prohibits public entities from discriminating against people on the basis of their disability. From public transportation to many social services, such individuals must be given equal access.
  3. Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities: This section is similar to Title II, except it applies to commercial facilities providing goods and services to the public. This includes retail stores, hotels, and restaurants, among many other types of facilities.
  4. Telecommunications: Regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, Title IV requires internet and telephone companies to provide “a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services that allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone.”
  5. Miscellaneous Provisions: The final Title of the ADA discusses a variety of issues, including the act’s relationship to other laws, insurance implications, and conditions that are not legally considered to be disabilities.

As Title I relates to employment rights, it’s important to take a close look at what rights it grants people with disabilities.

Title I: Equal Employment Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities

Title I requires that employers provide equal employment opportunities and reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Physical changes to the workspace to improve accessibility, including wider walking paths and wheelchair ramps.
  • Assistive technology, such as screen reader software or specialized equipment.
  • Communication accommodations, like providing written material in large-print or Braille.
  • Policy changes, such as allowing service animals into the workplace.

The act does not require an employer to provide accommodations that will cause undue financial or operational hardship on their business. If you have questions about specific accommodation requests, your local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a great resource for preventing discrimination against employees with disabilities.

Disclosing Your Disability to Employers

Note that, in order for an employee to receive accommodations, they must disclose their disability to the employer. First, remember that you do not have to disclose your disability if you do not want to receive accommodations. Weigh the benefits and costs of disclosing your disability. If you decide to not disclose, consider seeking out alternative resources (see below) for help.

Choosing to disclose a disability can be a sensitive topic, especially for qualified job applicants. A good rule of thumb is to disclose your disability if you believe it is (or will) affect your productivity at work. If you feel uncomfortable letting an employer know about it, do some research on the employer to determine how they’ve handled accommodation requests in the past.

Next, consider what specific accommodations you’ll need. When you disclose your disability, you should request a change that will help you take part in the job interview or perform your duties. For instance, if you use a wheelchair, the employer may be able to add wheelchair ramps or relocate an interview to an area on the first floor.

If you need help making the request or determining what kind of accommodation you require, know that you can ask your therapist or a mental health agency for assistance.

Help Finding a Job

If you’re an adult with disabilities or special needs, finding a job might not be easy. For that reason, there are a number of resources and strategies to aid people with disabilities in finding a job that will work for them.

Job-Finding Strategies

The nature of the job market has been transformed in the digital era. It can be difficult to navigate these changes, and doing so can be an even larger obstacle for people with disabilities. The following resources will help you through every step of the job-finding process:

Find a Mentor or Coach

Need some one-on-one guidance in your search? A mentor, peer support specialist, or coach can help you improve your skills and navigate the process of finding a job. Many can help you find a job that best suits your needs:

  • American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) – Disability Mentoring Day: While this initiative by the AAPD started as an event on the third Wednesday of October, it has grown into a year-long national effort to provide resources to individuals with disabilities to find employment.
  • disABILITY LINK: True to their name, this organization links people with disabilities to resources and programs. These are designed to help individuals seek accommodations, transportation, and peer support, among other considerations.
  • Job Accommodation Network (JAN): This service is dedicated to providing “free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.” Funded through the U.S. Department of Labor, JAN’s consultants are dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities enhance their employability.
  • MENTOR: Interested in finding a mentor near you? MENTOR connects young people with nearby mentors so that they can promote academic achievement and navigate the modern job market.
  • The MENTOR Network: A nationwide network of local services designed to help people with disabilities, The MENTOR Network offers a wide range of services. These include vocational services to help individuals develop the skills needed to further their careers.

Identify Your Skills and Limitations

Where do your strengths lie? How about your weaknesses? Knowing your skills and limitations will help you understand which jobs are right or wrong for you. These guides can help you do so in an efficient and constructive manner:

  • Job Seeking Skills for People with Disabilities – A Guide to Success: Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services, this handbook provides readers with information on issues related to disability and furthering one’s career. In addition to providing a guide on assessing your skills, personality traits, interests, and values, it offers advice for dispelling common misconceptions about disabilities.
  • My Job Readiness Workbook: This workbook was created by the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation Vocational Rehabilitation Program Transition Services. It is a useful tool when it comes to reviewing workplace/interview best practices, as well as reflecting on your strengths and areas in need of improvement.
  • Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA) – Handbook for Skill Development: This is another useful resource for assessing your skills and needs. Young adults looking for guidance in regards to independent living skills, education, finding work, and maintaining a job should take a look at this booklet provided by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.
  • Skills to Pay the Bills – Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success: This document contains many activities to spur conversation and thought among young people when it comes to the topic of employment. Teachers and parents can use these activities to prepare younger generations for the future.

Look for Jobs Where You Can Use Your Skills

After assessing your skills, search through job descriptions to find positions that match your strengths. Your greatest chances of success will be those opportunities that closely match your skillset.

There are different types of skills to consider. These include soft skills and hard or occupational skills. The former, also called foundational skills, include communicating effectively, innovative thinking, and professionalism. Occupational skills are often acquired through hands-on experience from schools, internships, or past jobs.

Hone Your Resume

Of course, finding an ideal job opportunity is only the start. Refining your resume for each position is the best course of action. To maximize your chances of success, you’ll need to hone your resume before applying; be sure to optimize the skills section for best results.

These sites will help you create, update, and refine your resume:

  • Building a Resume – Tips for Youth with Disabilities: Applying for work can be a stressful endeavor, but doing so without any work experience and with physical or mental disabilities can be downright daunting. This brief guide, created by the PACER Center, gives some useful information regarding job resources, provides an example resume, and offers useful checklists to ensure users are sticking to best practices throughout the process.
  • Disability Job Exchange: How should you address your disability in your resume or cover letter? Disability Job Exchange provides some tips for individuals with disabilities when applying for work. For instance, they advise that when you discuss your condition and needs in your cover letter, you should also provide ideas for accommodations.
  • Free Resume Template for People with Disabilities: If you are looking for a more detailed resume template, this site could be of value to you. It explains what information you should include, as well as how you should format your resume to appeal to both humans and applicant tracking systems.

Practice Your Interview Performance

Once you’ve grabbed the attention of recruiters, you’ll need to follow up with a strong interview. There are many job interview tips you should review, but be sure to also take a look at some specific tips for people with disabilities in order to be best prepared.

It’s no secret that people with disabilities often face prejudice. However, know that questions about your disability are not permitted under ADA regulations. If you believe your disability may lead the interviewer to believe that your job performance will be affected, you may choose to discuss it. Should you do so, confidently address your disability and be sure to name the accommodations you’ll need. Remember that you are advocating for yourself — a positive, can-do attitude can make all the difference.

Practicing your interview performance with a mentor or peer can help you refine your approach, ultimately improving your chances of snagging the job. Take some time to review common interview questions and be ready to answer them. If you’d like to find a mentor to practice with, take a look at the mentorship resources listed above.

Government Resources

As you’ve seen in some of the resources above, the government offers many resources to help people with disabilities find work, thanks to efforts by advocates and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Let’s take a look at some key government resources you should explore:

Transitional Programs

For young people with disabilities, being prepared for what comes after public education is key to early career success. Transitional programs provide vocational rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and other services to help those with disabilities smoothly transition into the work world. Some examples include:

Where to Find Jobs

There are many resources online to help job seekers with disabilities locate and apply for work. Employment agencies and job sites can help users connect with many different opportunities.

Employment Agencies

Employment agencies are services that can connect individuals with employers and vice versa. Many are dedicated to helping people with mental or physical disabilities find work. Employers may use such services to widen their potential talent pool and improve workplace diversity. Examples of employment agencies include:

  • Bender Consulting Services: This consulting service is dedicated to global disability inclusion. To further support candidates, they hold the Bender Virtual Career Fairs for People with Disabilities twice a year. This event, held in March and November, offers job seekers a plethora of information and job opportunities to explore.
  • Center for Disability Rights (CDR): An independent living center dedicated to helping people with disabilities understand and maintain their civil rights, find adequate housing, and locate resources and services. As stated by CDR, their “services and advocacy are controlled by people with disabilities. CDR’s Board of Directors and management staff are primarily people who themselves have disabilities.”
  • Enable America: This organization seeks to remove barriers preventing people with disabilities — particularly veterans — from gaining meaningful employment. They do this through both nationwide and local advocacy efforts and task forces.
  • Ticket to Work: The Ticket to Work Program enables job seekers with disabilities to access resources and special hiring programs intended to improve their chances of finding work. Read more about the program to determine if you qualify.
  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Most federal agencies have designated Selective Placement Program Coordinators (SPPCs). These individuals are responsible for helping employers facilitate employees with disabilities and determine reasonable accommodations. At this site, users can locate SPPCs in their area.

Job Sites for People With Disabilities

There are many job sites on the web that can help connect qualified applicants with disabilities with employers looking to improve their workforce diversity. Some of these sites are targeted towards job seekers with disabilities, while others are designed for inclusive employers.

  • Ability Jobs: This is the largest job site for people with disabilities, where both job seekers and employers can post to find the right jobs or employees for them.
  • Ability Links: Ability Links is a site for persons with disabilities and inclusive employers
  • Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD): COSD is an organization specific to students with disabilities. They provide job search opportunities for those searching for work and posting opportunities for employers seeking employees.
  • Disability Job Exchange: Operated by America’s Job Exchange, this site aims to connect job seekers with disabilities to employers. They also provide resume and career advice to those interested.
  • Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): Looking to spread knowledge about the benefits of neurodiverse workforces, EARN provides free information, resources, online support, and outreach activities to both individuals and organizations.
  • Enable America: Enable America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing employment for those with disabilities, including wounded warriors and disabled veterans. They provide job boards and workshops.
  • Equal Opportunity Publication (EOP): This group looks to help women, minorities, and people with disabilities by providing career guidance and support. EOP created the Diversity Resume Database, a resource for employers to find diverse job candidates.
  • Getting Hired: Aware of the untapped talent pool of people with disabilities, Getting Hired aims to help employers facilitate inclusive workplaces. They are interested in helping individuals and veterans with disabilities by connecting them with employers.
  • USAJobs: This is a resource for hiring people with disabilities into federal positions. There are job boards, accommodation information, and information on the Selective Placement Program Coordinators who help the process for recruiting, hiring, and accommodating people with disabilities.
  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management: This resource focuses on federal jobs for disabled Americans. There are resources for job seeking, accommodation, and hiring.

Individuals With Disabilities: Employment Resources

If you are a veteran, a student, or have a specific type of disability, you can access many resources to help you enhance your employability, locate job opportunities, and maintain your job. Check below to learn more about organizations that may be able to provide assistance to you.

Veterans With Disabilities

In addition to the hardships associated with reacclimating to civilian life, veterans often face additional challenges with finding gainful employment as a result of disabilities after service. While the ADA’s Title I mandate should grant veterans with disabilities the same employment opportunities as those without, certain conditions can preclude a veteran from qualifying for some jobs.

There are many resources for veterans looking for work, and many organizations are interested in helping those with disabilities. Some of these can be found below:

  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – National Employment Program: Transitioning from military to civilian life is no small task. DAV seeks to ensure that veterans have access to the resources and tools they need to do so smoothly. They also facilitate job fairs for veterans seeking employment.
  • FedsHireVets.org – Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans: There are a number of special hiring authorities for veterans that can streamline your job search for federal work. While these don’t entitle veterans to positions, they can greatly improve your chances of being hired. Check here to learn more and determine your eligibility.
  • Hire Heroes USA: This nonprofit organization has partnered with major organizations like Boeing, Walmart, and USAA to provide personalized advice and mentorship to veterans looking to gain or maintain employment.
  • My Next Move for Veterans: Here, veterans can use keywords or industry categories to browse for positions. They can also search for positions that have work similar to their military classification.
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA): Dedicated to helping veterans with physical disabilities, PVA’s Paving Access for Veterans Employment program provides free counseling and job placement services. You can find more information, including the location of the program’s six national offices, here.
  • Veteran Employment Services Office (VESO): VESO provides federal employment readiness assistance to Americans transitioning from military to civilian life. They also promote federal employment programs and virtual tools that can help veterans discover work and advancement opportunities.
  • Veterans.gov: Created by the U.S. Department of Labor, this site provides comprehensive information for veterans on job openings, employment programs, starting your own business, and veteran benefits.

College Students and Recent Grads with Disabilities

Graduates often struggle to find work after earning their degree. While this can be dispiriting, there are many programs that provide assistance for college students and recent graduates with disabilities:

  • Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD): COSD can work in tandem with your college’s disability services and career services offices to help students with disabilities. Their aim is to help college graduates become more competitive candidates in the current job market.
  • U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) – Students and Recent Grad Opportunities: There are many federal employment and internship opportunities to explore. Examples include the Recent Graduates Program, the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program, the Presidential Management Fellows Program. At this page, you can learn more about each.
  • USAJOBS: While this was also included above in the list of federal resources for employment, students should be aware that there are many student-specific internships and opportunities available.
  • Workforce Recruitment Program: This program connects both federal and private-sector employers with recent graduates of all majors. If your college is a participant in this program, you can reach out to your school coordinator to apply. Contact your school’s disability services or career services coordinator to get started.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Among the most common disabilities, ADHD and ADD affect many job seekers. About 4.4% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with ADHD, and this statistic continues to grow. Around 40% of these cases are considered severe. While less evident due to the lack of hyperactivity, ADD has an impact on many individuals as well.

Both of these disorders can make it difficult to achieve success with certain work duties or environments. Both can have negative effects on work performance, resulting in discriminatory treatment, an inability to advance in one’s career, or termination. As a result, many individuals with these disorders are unable to maintain steady employment. The resources below seek to help such people:

  • ADD Resource Center Coaching Programs: Coaches from these programs work with high-functioning individuals of all ages to help them succeed in both career and personal development. While these programs are not free, receiving coaching may qualify as professional education for tax purposes — be sure to research the costs and potential tax deductions.
  • Apps for Organization and Job Readiness: Assistive software can help people with ADHD or ADD stay organized. If you have either, trying out these apps could improve your work performance.
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): In this guide, CHADD lists common workplace issues for people with ADHD, outlines the rights that people with the condition have under the ADA, and offers advice to such individuals who are making a career change.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Similarly, statistics are not promising for people with ASD. As noted by Autism Speaks (see below), up to 90% of people with autism are unemployed or underemployed. Almost half of 25-year-olds with autism have never had a paying job.

There is proof, however, that job duties that require or encourage autonomy can improve an individual’s ability to live independently. While people with autism may need support in regards to social expectations or episodes of decompression, they can advance their careers with the right employment opportunities and accommodations. This is why many companies are hiring adults with autism.

The following organizations aim to provide resources and tools to help people with ASD find career success:

  • Autism Speaks – Employment: This page lists resources and tools for people with ASD who need assistance searching for or maintaining employment. The Employment Tool Kit and Autism Empowerment Kit are especially insightful and helpful documents.
  • Integrate Autism Employment Advisors: This organization is involved with helping improve neurodiversity in workplaces across the nation by informing employers about the benefits of hiring candidates with ASD and facilitating their inclusion. This page allows job seekers with autism to find local resources.

Cognitive Disabilities (Memory Impairment, Parkinson’s, Down’s, or Brain Injury)

People with cognitive disabilities, such as memory disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Down syndrome, or brain injuries, are less likely to find and retain work. When they do, they are often underemployed. Given that 10.8% of U.S. adults have a cognitive disability according to the CDC, this is a major problem that must be addressed.

Many employers do so by offering supported employment opportunities. In these positions, service provisions grant individuals with cognitive disabilities support in order to complete work duties. Accommodations may include limited work duties, fewer hours, and assistive technology, though hirees are paid wages, just as with competitive employment.

In order to find supported employment in your area, look up your state’s department of workforce development, health and welfare, or developmental services for more information.

The resources below offer information to assist people with cognitive disabilities in pursuing a fulfilling career:

Deaf or Hearing Impaired

About 14% of American adults ages 20 to 69 report some level of hearing loss, and this statistic worsens as people get older. In addition to having an impact on daily living, a hearing condition can inhibit work performance and limit job opportunities. Collaborating with coworkers and responding promptly to auditory cues can be problematic for people with hearing impairments.

Supportive employers are seeking out people with such impairments in order to embrace more diverse workforces. Some positions can be particularly fruitful for people with hearing impairments. Further, accommodations like assistive technology can help people who are deaf or hearing impaired perform work duties. To learn more about resources and job opportunities for people with deafness or hearing impairments, check out the following links:

  • Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) – Employees: The HLAA’s site offers this guide to people with hearing disabilities who are seeking work. It provides an employment tool kit, answers some common questions, and provides links to other useful resources.
  • Dealing With Work and Being Deaf: This article covers what people with hearing impairments should do prior to looking for work, how to find work, what to do after being hired, and how to apply for benefits should they lose employment.

Learning Disabilities

One in 10 people have a learning disability. Having such a condition can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s employability. In addition to affecting an individual’s ability to perform job duties involving recalling, reading, communicating, and reasoning, there are many stigmas associated with learning disabilities that can lead to unfair treatment.

As a result, people with learning disabilities are too often under- or unemployed. While 71% of adults without a learning disability report being employed, only 46% of those with learning disabilities are employed. Of those employed, only 5% have workplace accommodations.

On a positive note, many employers looking for a more neurodiverse workforce are seeking out candidates with learning disabilities. Furthermore, there are many jobs suited to people with specific conditions of this type. More information on resources for job seekers with learning disabilities can be found at these sites:

Physical Mobility Impairment

According to the CDC, physical mobility impairments are the most common type of disability, impacting 13.7% of American adults. Such disabilities can impact work performance or limit job opportunities.

Depending on the specific disability, individuals with mobile impairments may be unable to perform specific work duties. Workplaces with insufficient accessibility in terms of design may also present obstacles to people who use assistive technology, such as wheelchairs.

Universal design has fortunately become standard in the modern workplace, but many employers still do not design workspaces with accessibility in mind. Some companies have begun to embrace flexible work options, such as flexible hours and remote work opportunities, to alleviate some of these concerns. These sites provide more information for employees and job seekers with mobility impairments:

Mental Illness and Psychiatric Disabilities

Mental illness impacts the lives of almost 20% of the U.S. population, with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder being the most common conditions. Mental illness and psychiatric disabilities can make it hard to find and keep a job. Negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness can lead to unfair treatment, necessitating protection against discrimination.

This often results in people with such disabilities experiencing homelessness and worsened mental health. With these dire consequences, it’s clear that assistance must be offered to people who have been diagnosed with such conditions. Further, workplace accommodations may be made to improve career outcomes. The following resources provide information and tools for job seekers with mental illness or psychiatric disabilities:

Speech and Language Impairment

About 7.5 million people in America have speech or language impairments. Some of the most common conditions are apraxia of speech, stuttering, lisping, dysarthria, and mutism. These disabilities can impact an individual’s ability to communicate in the workplace, impairing their ability to perform specific tasks or exposing them to unfair treatment.

Certain careers are conducive to success for people with speech and language impairments. Assistive technology can also improve work productivity for people with such conditions. The following organizations provide more information about job opportunities and accommodations for people with these impairments:

Visual Impairment or Blindness

About 2.4% of U.S. adults have a visual impairment, a number that is expected to double over the next 30 years. Visual impairments or blindness can preclude individuals from performing certain tasks at work, and they can present challenges when it comes to nonverbal communication or visual cues.

Accommodations like modified training, accessible web design, guide dogs, and assistive technology can help. With accommodations, individuals with visual disabilities can be just as productive as their nondisabled counterparts. Further, there are resources to help people with such conditions find and maintain work. Here are some useful sources of information:

  • American Foundation for the Blind (AFB): Learn about AFB’s employment summits, development programs, and other initiatives here. You can also access research about employment for people with blindness.
  • National Industries for the Blind (NIB): NIB offers career opportunities and training programs to job seekers with blindness. You can also use this page to locate a nearby associated agency in order to receive local assistance.