Jobs and Employment Resources for People With Cognitive Disabilities

According to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, around  7-8 million Americans have cognitive disabilities, and these intellectual disabilities affect 1 in 10 families in the U.S. The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines an intellectual impairment, or a cognitive disability, as a disability that limits intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior such as problem-solving, communication skills, and awareness of personal responsibility or safety. 

There are varying degrees and types of cognitive disabilities that can affect an individual’s ability to perform certain job functions. The severity of a cognitive disability and the specific intellectual functions it affects can determine the type of jobs suitable for an individual. 

Some job seekers with disabilities may face significant barriers to employment while others may only face isolated struggles with discrimination or exclusion. The types of jobs for individuals with mental illnesses will vary depending on the individual’s abilities, interests, and experience. The information below provides a general overview of potential jobs for individuals with mental illnesses and resources available, but the opportunities available may vary.

Requesting Accommodations at Work

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to prevent workplace discrimination and ensure equal job opportunities for all Americans, regardless of disabilities. The ADA prohibits against discrimination of a potential or current employee with cognitive disabilities. 

The legislation also makes it clear that an employer can’t refuse to hire a qualified job candidate simply because he or she has a mental illness. Employers must be willing to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with cognitive disabilities when requested. However, employees aren’t required to disclose their conditions unless they need to make these requests.

Disclosing a Condition

You are not required to disclose information on your mental disability to an employer unless you feel it will prohibit you from performing a specific job function. You are required to disclose your condition if you need to make requests for reasonable accommodations to perform job functions. 

If you know you’ll need accommodations during the job application process, consider disclosing information about your cognitive disability in your cover letter or during your first contact with a potential employer. This allows the employer to ensure the accommodation is provided when you attend the job interview. If you’re currently employed and need to ask for an accommodation, your employer is permitted to ask for medical documentation of your condition.

Reasonable Accommodations for Cognitive Disabilities

Your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations upon request, as long as it’s proven that these accommodations are required for you to perform your job functions properly. For example, if your cognitive disability makes it hard for you to focus, you may request to work in a quiet office with a closed door. Your employer may ask you for medical documentation or additional information on your condition before granting your accommodation request.

Your employer can refuse a request if it’s unreasonable or will cause the company undue hardship. For example, if you request to take a two-hour lunch break each day because you need to clear your head, your employer may refuse since it would decrease your productivity and result in lost profits for the company.

Best Jobs for Individuals With Cognitive Disabilities

There are many good jobs for individuals with mental illnesses in different industries. Before choosing a potential career, it’s important to review specific job functions to ensure you feel you can perform these duties properly. Analyze your abilities and disabilities and determine the right environment for you. 

You may decide you work best in an environment that isn’t fast-paced or stressful. You may also conclude that you don’t enjoy working with customers and prefer to perform administrative tasks instead. The specific jobs you’re qualified for and will excel in may vary depending on your condition. Reviewing potential job opportunities and their characteristics can help you choose a successful career path.

Head Chef or Cook

  • Benefits: With a job as a head cook or chef, you’ll stay behind-the-scenes in the kitchen, using your skills and imagination to create culinary masterpieces. This job can be fast-paced but usually isn’t customer-facing.
  • Average Salary: A head chef earns a median annual salary of $48,460.
  • Education and Skills Required: In most cases, you must have your high school diploma and may start in the kitchen as an assistant or sous chef. After you gain experience, you may be promoted to a head chef or cook.
  • Outlook: Chefs and head cooks are in high demand and the field is growing by 10%.

Data Entry Clerk

  • Benefits: Also often referred to as information clerks, data entry clerks are responsible for inputting information into computer systems. In some cases, they may also be tasked with reading and analyzing this data. To succeed in this role, you must be organized, analytical, and willing to learn how to navigate new technologies.
  • Average Salary: Data entry clerks make an average annual salary of $34,520.
  • Education and Skills Required: A high school diploma and on-the-job training may be all that’s required. However, some employers may require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
  • Outlook: This field is growing by 3%, which is slower than average.

Graphic Designer

  • Benefits: As a graphic designer, you’re responsible for using computer programs to design graphics, including logos and advertisements, for a brand or company. Internal designers work directly for the company, but some graphic designers are hired by external clients to complete projects.
  • Average Salary: Graphic designers earn an average annual salary of $50,370.
  • Education and Skills Required: You must hold a bachelor’s degree, and you may be required to have certain computer program skills to be hired as a graphic designer.
  • Outlook: This field is growing by about 4%, which is slower than average.

Animal Care Associate

  • Benefits: Animal care workers are tasked with feeding, bathing, grooming, and caring for animals. They may work in kennels, shelters, zoos, pet stores, or vet clinics. To enjoy this career, you must love animals and be dedicated to caring for them.
  • Average Salary: Animal care associates make a median salary of $23,950 per year.
  • Education and Skills Required: Most employers require animal care associates to at least hold high school diplomas and have prior experience caring for animals.

Outlook: The animal care field is growing by 22%, which is much faster than average growth in other industries.

Job Search Tips for Individuals With Cognitive Disabilities

When you begin searching for jobs for people with mental illness, it’s important to first identify your strengths and weaknesses. Once you identify job opportunities that suit you, decide if you need to disclose your cognitive disability during the application process. Being honest about yourself, including your skills and experience, is the best way to land a job you’ll love.

Take the time to research the company and position before meeting with a potential employer. It’s also important to practice interviewing for the position you want with a friend or family member. This can build your confidence before you attend a job interview. Create a statement you want to close the interview with that lets the potential employer know you’re excited about the opportunity and would be a good fit for the company. Lastly, send a follow-up email or thank you letter to the interviewer so he or she knows you’re interested and committed.

Job Boards for Individuals Who Are Mentally Disabled

There are several online job boards specifically designed to assist with mental illness employment. The following job boards were created to help disabled individuals find job opportunities that match their skill levels and abilities:

  • abilityJOBS: This job board provides thousands of open job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Users can post resumes on the site for free and attend periodic online career fairs.
  • disABLEDperson: This website exclusively works with employers that want to provide jobs for individuals with mental illnesses or other disabilities. Visitors can review informative blog posts and job listings to find suitable employment opportunities. 
  • Getting Hired: Dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities find inclusive employers, this website offers employer spotlights, information on trending jobs, and other resources for disabled job seekers.
  • Recruit Disability: Featured articles, career guidance tips, and career news are available on this job board. It’s primary goal is to connect individuals with disabilities to employment programs and potential employers.

Organizations for Individuals Who Are Mentally Disabled

  • American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Provides information on intellectual disabilities, including advocacy programs.
  • The Arc: An organization that supports the rights of individuals with cognitive disabilities and their equality and inclusion in society. 
  • National Autism Center: Provides evidence-based information on the disorder, as well as treatment options for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Mental Health America: U.S. mental health organization that provides assistance and information for individuals with mental health issues.
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