Jobs for People With Physical Disabilities: Finding Accessible Work and Career Options

FT Contributor  | 

According to Forbes, as of September 2014, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.3%, compared to 5.9% for the general population. However, outdated 1973 legislation designed to protect people with disabilities from job discrimination was recently updated to include additional regulations. The new laws added to this legislation require government agencies, companies with federal contracts, and companies participating in business relationships with other companies that obtain money from the federal government to hire a workforce consisting of at least 7% disabled employees. If an employer fails to comply with this new legislation, it must increase its efforts to advertise open positions to people with disabilities.

legislation require government agencies, companies with federal contracts, and companies participating in business relationships with other companies that obtain money from the federal government to hire a workforce consisting of at least 7% disabled employees. If an employer fails to comply with this new legislation, it must increase its efforts to advertise open positions to people with disabilities.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect in 1992 and it prohibits employers from discriminating against potential and current workers with disabilities. The passing of this act also made it illegal for potential employers to ask about a job candidate’s disability status during the interview process. This helps to create a level field for all job candidates, regardless of their disabilities, and allows employers to focus on candidates’ skills, experience, and qualifications when hiring.

The general public may assume that jobs for people with disabilities are limited and confined to only certain industries or employers. However, there are many types of jobs for people with disabilities and the number of companies that are open to hiring them is also growing. The increasing popularity of remote work and diligent efforts by employers to provide accommodations for disabled workers has contributed to the rise in the number of jobs available for persons with disabilities.

Fighting Discrimination and Requesting Accommodation

If you’re searching for a job as a person with a disability, it’s important to know your rights and be able to identify when an employer is illegally discriminating against you. The ADA was passed to ensure you are provided with adequate accommodations so you can complete the job candidate screening process or perform your job tasks successfully. Keep in mind, the ADA only applies to “covered entities,” which are:

  • Employers with 15 or more employees.
  • Employment agencies.
  • Labor organizations.
  • Joint labor-management committees.
  • State and local governments.

Qualifying Individuals

To be covered under the ADA, you must be a “qualified employee with a disability.” You are considered a “person with a disability” under this act if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits you when attempting to perform one or more of life’s major activities. You are considered “qualified” if you possess the job-related requirements to perform the position in question.

Reasonable Accommodations

You can only request reasonable accommodations that are needed to complete a job candidacy task or perform your job function satisfactorily. Your employer can refuse your accommodation request if it will put “undue hardship” on the establishment. When you make an accommodation request, your employer can decide how to effectively meet your request.

For example, if you’re a cashier and you have a spinal condition that requires you to sit, your employer may solve your request by providing you with a stool during your shift. If you are wheelchair-bound but your wheelchair doesn’t fit under your desk, your employer may provide you with a higher desk. Lastly, if you need three weeks off for the treatment of a medical condition, your employer should also accommodate this reasonable request.

How to Make a Request

You don’t have to make an official accommodation request or cite any legislation from the ADA. To make a request, simply provide information about your medical condition or disability and the accommodations you need. If you aren’t sure how your employer can accommodate your disability, present information on your needs and you and your employer can work together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

When to Request Accommodation

You can request an accommodation at any time during the job application process or during your employment period. If you identify a workplace barrier before attending a job interview or before your first day of work, notify your employer that you will need an accommodation.

If your condition changes, your job tasks are altered, or you develop a disability, you can speak with your employer about an accommodation. At any time during your employment, you can request a reasonable accommodation if you feel you cannot perform your job properly.

Working From Home

Work from home jobs for people with disabilites are becoming increasingly available due to the popularity of remote work. Many companies are taking advantage of technological advancements and hiring workers from around the globe who can work from home. This has expanded career options for people with disabilities who may have viewed commuting and reporting to an office job as a daunting and impossible commitment. By eliminating the barriers of physical office environments, remote jobs have made it possible for people with disabilities to perform jobs in the comfort of their own homes.

Some of the most common work from home jobs for people with disabilities include:

  • Graphic designers.
  • Medical transcriptionists.
  • Writers.
  • Web developers.
  • Customer support specialists.

Employers still expect job candidates to meet certain qualifications for remote jobs, such as education, skills, and experience. Additionally, many remote positions also require employees to have access to the internet, a dedicated home office space, and sufficient technology, such as a computer and printer.

Best Jobs For People With Physical Disabilities

There are many types of work for people with disabilities, but some jobs may be more accommodating than others. The types of job opportunities for people with disabilities also depend specifically on the candidate’s experience, background, education, skills, and ability to perform certain job functions. By reviewing job descriptions, benefits, skill requirements, and growth outlook for specific opportunities and fields, people with disabilities can choose employment opportunities that suit their needs.

Actuaries

  • Benefits: The main focus is working with mathematics and calculations. There is minimal movement required and work is usually performed in a team setting.
  • Average Salary: $101,560.
  • Education and Skills Required: A bachelor’s degree, experience in math and science, and a passing score on an exam to earn credentials.
  • Outlook: Projected growth at 22.5%, increasing much faster than other professions.

Accountants

  • Benefits: Minimal physical movement needed to perform job tasks. Job tasks are focused on engaging in math and finances and is usually performed in a fast-paced environment.
  • Average Salary: $69,350.
  • Education and Skills Required: Most accountants have bachelor’s degrees in accounting or a similar mathematical/business field.
  • Outlook: Projected growth at 10%, since accountants are needed at small businesses, large corporations, and in the federal government.

Pharmacy Services

  • Benefits: Workers perform tasks in small spaces without a lot of movement required. They assist with providing medications and counseling to customers.
  • Average Salary: $123,670 for pharmacists; $34,020 for pharmacy technicians.
  • Education and Skills Required: Pharmacists must have professional or doctoral degrees with licensure, while pharmacy technicians must have high school diplomas, with experience. Both must have adequate customer service skills and knowledge of medications and prescriptions.
  • Outlook: Pharmacists have projected growth at 6% while pharmacy technicians have projected growth at 9%.

Government Work

  • Benefits: Working for the federal government affords all rights under the ADA and many opportunities, including file clerk, computer support, or city planner.
  • Average Salary: Salary earned differs by job title. The median government worker salary is $51,340.
  • Education and Skills Required: Government file clerks must have high school diplomas while other advanced careers in government may require bachelor’s degrees and experience in city planning or other fields.
  • Outlook: Government workers are always needed and the average projected growth for federal workers is growing steadily at 10%.

Legal Services

  • Benefits: Mostly desk work, requiring minimal movement. There are various positions within law firms, including secretary, paralegal, or lawyer.
  • Average Salary: $38,610 for secretaries; $51,890 for paralegals; $147,950 for lawyers.
  • Education and Skills Required: Secretaries are generally entry-level and may only require high school diplomas. Paralegals must have bachelor’s degrees and may be required to pass an exam to receive a credential. Lawyers are required to have undergraduate degrees, juris doctorate (J.D.) degrees, and must pass the bar examination to practice law.
  • Outlook: Secretary positions are expected to decline by about 5%, while paralegal positions are expected to grow by 15%. The number of available lawyer positions is expected to increase by 8%, but competition over the next 10 years is expected to be strong due to students graduating.

Job Search Tips

Work for people with disabilities is available through common job-hunting sources and online job boards. However, since the ADA only applies to employers with over 15 employees, disabled job searchers may need to search for open positions with larger companies and corporations. Federal agencies and companies that engage in business with these agencies are also required to adhere to the ADA, so government job boards are also good resources.

Career One Stop is a job placement program specifically designed to assist people with disabilities in finding jobs. There are over 2,000 American Job Centers staffed with career experts to assist people with disabilities in finding employment they’re qualified for.

People with disabilities searching for jobs can also use the abilityJOBS website throughout their job-seeking process. The site provides information on disability-friendly companies and work opportunities that may suit people with disabilities. Over 90,000 disabled job seekers are currently registered on the site, which offers virtual job fairs and a resume bank.

Resume and Interview Tips

Let your resume speak for itself by providing important information on your skills, experience, education, and volunteer work. As a person with a disability looking for work, it’s important to be upfront and honest about your needs with employers, starting with the job application process. If a potential employer asks for an in-person interview, discuss the accommodations you may need. There may be alternative options to the interview process, as well as your work environment, such as a virtual meeting or remote work.

By providing details on your disability up front, you can make the interview process easier on yourself and the potential employer. In many cases, employers can easily make accommodations for you, such as a handicap parking space or wheelchair ramp. If you display the qualities and experience they’re looking for in an employee, your disability won’t be a factor in the hiring process.

Organizations For People With Physical Disabilities


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This post was updated September 19, 2019. It was originally published August 30, 2019.