Despite increasing work opportunities for disabled people, there are still several things to bear in mind when looking for work with a disability. In this guide we will unpick the key things to consider - from your legal rights to interview and resume tips - to help you land your dream job.
Nowadays, more and more businesses are taking corporate social responsibility seriously and part of that means trying to make more jobs available for those with disabilities. In the new world of remote working created by COVID-19, businesses have begun to realize how many jobs can be performed just as well by people who are unable to leave their homes.
In fact, most traditionally office-based businesses are encouraging their staff to work from home where possible. With this change towards working remotely we can also expect more job opportunities for disabled people, now that companies are more likely to accept new employees who may struggle to get to the office five days a week.
Know your rights
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, jobseekers with disabilities are granted certain rights and companies with 15+ employees are forbidden from the following:
- Discrimination or harassment due to any physical or mental disability.
- Asking applicants about their past or current medical conditions.
- Requiring job seekers to undertake medical exams before employment.
- Discussing your disability with another employee without your permission.
- Giving you anything but equal access to health insurance offered to other employees without additional costs or restrictions.However, please keep in mind that depending on the package the medical requirements that come with having a disability may or may not be covered by a businesses insurance policy.
The act also allows disabled jobseekers and employees to do the following:
- Withhold information about their disabilities for as long as they like. In fact, you are only required to disclose your disability when it will keep you from performing a necessary duty in your role.
- Bring a service animal to work only if the animal is properly trained and does not disrupt the world place. This does not include emotional support animals which are not considered necessary under the ADA.
- Request ‘reasonable accommodations’ or changes to help them work with their disability, either during the hiring process or when they have started the job. Usually employers must accept these new conditions except in extreme cases when these allowances will cause undue hardship for employers. What exactly qualifies as ‘undue hardship’ is ultimately for the courts to decide (see our section below explaining reasonable accommodations in more detail).
Who does the ADA cover?
In order to be covered by the ADA, you must follow a certain criteria:
- Have a disability defined by the ADA: A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life requirement e.g. hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, walking, breathing or performing manual tasks.
- Be able to do the job you want or were hired to do with or without reasonable accommodations from your employer.
Please note: people with substance abuse and alcoholism are not covered by the ADA and an employer has the right to perform a drug test on any employees.
Reasonable accommodation: explained
Reasonable accommodations are changes to a job role, working environment or existing processes that allow a disabled person to apply and perform a job equally as well as individuals without disabilities.
Some of the most common reasonable accommodations include:
- Physical accommodations: installing wheelchair ramps and a disabled bathroom.
- Sign language interpreters or readers: for those who are deaf or blind.
- Accessibility of training, written materials and computers: In Braille, audiotape, screen readers and other platforms for those who are deaf, blind or have difficulty using their hands.
- TTYs: Special devices to help those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired use a telephone. The device allows them to type messages back and forth to each other instead of talking and listening.
- Quieter workspaces and additional changes to help reduce distractions and over-stimulation for those with mental disabilities.
- Additional time off work for employees who need treatment for their disability.
Requesting a reasonable accommodation
If you think you need reasonable accommodation from your employer, or potential employer, you can request one at any time during your application, before your start date or when after you start the job. Just be honest with your employer and explain the adjustment you feel is required due to your disability.
This can be a simple email telling your supervisor that your wheelchair does not fit under your desk, or as formal as a note from your doctor explaining that you will need time off work or that you will have certain restrictions that need to be recognized and may require additional support.
After your request has been made your employer will, most likely, discuss possible options with you. They may also ask you for documents that prove or demonstrate your disability and explain why you need the reasonable accommodation.
Job seeking with a disability
Resumes, cover letters, job applications and interviews are tricky to get right for any job seeker. The best strategy for a disabled person is mostly the same as anyone else: use a simple format in your resume, focus on your key strengths at all times and describe all relevant experience and key achievements in detail. But for a disabled person, it is also essential that you consider the following.
When to disclose your disability
If it is likely to have a major impact on your work and require the company you join to make allowances for you, you may think that it is wise to disclose your disability early on. However, depending on the employer, this can put you as a disadvantage against other applicants. It is therefore wiser to wait to disclose your disability until after you have made it over the first couple of hurdles when applying for jobs.
The most appropriate time to declare a disability depends on the type of disability, job role and employer. But, whatever you decide, try to be confident, unimpaired, unapologetic and positive about your situation.
If you have a visible disability, like those who are wheelchair-bound or with another obvious physical disability, we recommend notifying your interviewers about your disability only after the first interview has been set during a call to confirm the arrangements.
You can be as casual as you like, in order to get the point across that your disability will not hinder your work. For example, asking about which entrance is best for your wheelchair could be a good way to drop your disability into the conversation. However, it is also within your rights to wait until the interview to let them know about your disability.
For those with disabilities that are not obviously visible, for example a mental illness like epilepsy, you are not required or advised to disclose this on your resume or in a call before the interview - unless you feel special accommodations are necessary. Many disabled people decide to hold off telling potential employers about a disability like this until they have already received a job offer and are in the negotiation stage prior to acceptance. Or, if you do not need any accommodations from your employer you could avoid telling them completely.
Focus on your strengths
The ideal would be to find a job that you find fun and is possible to perform well with your disability. However, low self-confidence is often a problem for people with disabilities so it;s important not to underestimate your abilities. Play to your strengths and focus on what you can bring to the role that other candidates cannot.
If you need help in this introspective area, it is often a good idea to speak to your previous managers, or family and friends, about what they feel your strengths are. Having a good understanding of your strengths, as well as the areas you may need help with, will go a long way to giving you the confidence to excel in your career.
Select appropriate jobs for your strengths and ability
When considering what roles to apply for, it is important that you stick within the limits of your disability. For example, most office jobs should be fine accommodating someone in a wheelchair; whereas, a blind person could not expect to find work in a visual field like graphic design. Before applying to any jobs ask yourself the following:
- Is the job likely to aggravate your condition?
- Will your disability will inhibit you from performing the job properly?
- What do you want out of the role and is it in line with the career you are interested in starting?
- Does the job suit your personality, strengths or interests?
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone, 20 million people in America’s working population have at least one impairment - and if they found gainful employment, so can you. Below are some job ideas for people with different types of disability.
Sensory disabilities, like blindness or deafness, will mean you still have a long list of jobs to choose from, especially if employers are ready to make reasonable accommodations. Office jobs in sales, marketing, administration, planning, finance and more are all often great fits for people with sensory disabilities.
Like those with sensory disabilities, people with physical disabilities should have little trouble landing an office job in sales, marketing and administration. However, they will have even more doors open to them if they have normal sight and hearing abilities. Creative jobs like interior design, graphic design, video editing, animation, and roles involving programming, maths and analytics, are all lucrative career options for those with a physical disability who are still able to use a computer.
Chronic illnesses, such as heart diseases or cancer, can be more difficult to work around and may require a flexible schedule if you will need to make regular trips to the hospital. Carefully consider if your condition will be worsened by exposure to certain substances, movements or environments and find a role where this won’t be a problem. Just remember you are not alone, there are many people living and working successfully with chronic illnesses.
Mental disabilities, like dyscalculia, dyslexia, ADHD or down syndrome, may require an extra supportive workplace depending on the severity of the condition. Often, people with mental disabilities prefer more manual jobs rather than those with lots of reading and writing in an office, but this really depends on the specifics of the disability.
There are plenty of supermarkets, bicycle shops, jobs in the social sector, car mechanic jobs and other retail-based roles that are often good choices, and many are partnered with schemes or have a special focus on helping those with mental disabilities excel.
Although many sufferers of mental disabilities may struggle in one area like writing or social interactions; they often excel in other areas, like mathematics for example. This means that there are still plenty of analytics, finance and programming roles that would be suitable for them. In the Netherlands, for example, the national police hired several people with an autistic disorder to analyze large volumes of surveilance video footage.
Another example would be someone with ADD or ADHD who, despite the concentration issues they may have, will be unbelievable at face-to-face and telephone sales due to their natural quickness, enthusiasm and likeability.
Using the resources at your disposal
In the US, there are a wide range of disability employment services at your disposal. Designed to help people with disabilities find and keep a job, they are a mix of various for-profit and not-for-profit organizations with experience working with people with disabilities and providing assistance to employers supporting disabled employees.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) serves as the government’s chief HR agency and personnel policy manager. Amongst its many duties - supporting federal agencies and their workforce, managing insurance and healthcare programs, administrating retirement benefits and employee management services - the office leads inclusive hiring into the civil service.
Here you can find information about federal agencies, many of which have a Selective Placement Program Coordinator or Special Emphasis Program Manager (SEPM) for helping to recruit and accommodate adults with disabilities. It is worth mentioning that the U.S.’s biggest employer, the Federal Government, has a duty to lead by example in terms of inclusive recruitment of people with disabilities.
Where to look for work online
USA JOBS: The official job listing site for employment opportunities in federal agencies across the U.S. and around the world, many of which have a special focus on inclusive recruitment.
AbilityLinks: Designed for people with disabilities (aged 7 to 64) and their families, this site offers a disability employment community where you can find job boards, resume banks, job fairs and more. Simply post your resume or search for relevant jobs - it’s simple, quick and completely free.
Disabled Person: This well-organized, efficient and user-friendly site is a fantastically easy way to find work in a company that is dedicated to employing and supporting people with disabilities. Simply search by state, city or keywords to get started. Plus, check out their blog for more advice on finding work.
Getting Hired: Part of the Allegis Group, Getting Hired is a recruitment site designed specifically to help inclusive employers hire professionals and veterans with disabilities. It’s job board is easily navigated through the keyword search, industry, and company categories.
LandAJob: With a focus on helping those with disabilities get cash reimbursements for work expenses of up to $13,000 over 3-5 years, LandAjob makes it easier for people with disabilities to keep working with self-sufficiency and independence. It also offers counselors and online courses on employment, all for free.
Recruit Disability: By searching via keyword or location, Recruit Disability provides a wide range of job options for those with disabilities. Create an account to access all the features which include job alerts and a salary comparison tool.
Equal Opportunity Publications: This info site and jobs board is designed to help minorities find employment. For those with disabilities, the jobs board has some excellent work opportunities in organizations dedicated to inclusivity.
Writing your resume
We have mentioned before that by rights you are not required to disclose your disability. So, when writing your resume it is not advisable to mention it. Afterall, the point is to secure your first interview so there is no need to mention anything that may hold you back. That being said, it’s still sometimes possible for more thorough employers to figure out your disability from your resume...
Explaining gaps in work history
Previously, it was simple enough for a jobseeker to cover gaps in employment on their CV. However, these days new databases make it easier for employees to uncover your medical history and, with increasing health insurance costs it pays for employees, to be paranoid about health and do their research on new starters. For those with some employment gaps we suggest that you write simply ‘Illness and Recovery’ to explain yourself - it's honest and it looks a lot better than leaving these work breaks left unexplained.
The first step to success in your job interview is to do your research, ensure you fully understand what is expected in the role and think of ways this matches your strengths and previous experience.
Look up the company online, on the company website and social media channels, and make a note of any recent and relevant news stories or new developments to bring up with your employer. While doing your research think of a few interesting, intelligent questions you can use to show your engagement in the businesses work.
If you have not already disclosed your disability, think about how to mention it to your employer. Remember, being positive in your explanation of your condition will help show the confidence you have in yourself. If you feel it is the right time, bring up any areas that may require reasonable accommodation from your potential new employer; alternatively, wait until you have a solid job offer.
Keep in mind that your employer does not legally have the right to ask about your disability and, if possible, it is always better to avoid portraying your disability as a weakness. When asked about your weaknesses you could, for example, choose a common weakness like public speaking - one that is relatively unimportant in most professions.
Whatever your disability, making a good first impression is important in any interview. Getting a smart suit or a similar professionally looking outfit for interviews will pay for itself when it helps you secure a great job. If possible, try and come across as relaxed, confident and give a strong handshake when you greet your interviewer. Take your time over your responses, maintain eye-contact when in conversation, and ensure you appear happy and positive throughout.
Although your disability may hold you up in life, having a career is something that nobody should miss and with so much support on your side you don’t have to. With the resources at your disposal building a fun career that develops your skills and confidence is always possible. Keep all of the above in mind and you will soon land a great job that matches your strengths and where your disability won’t hold you back.
As a professional recruiter, I have over 10 years of experience helping candidates find work with businesses that match their skills, personalities and goals. Here on Resume Supply, I share some of the key things I have learned over my career to help job seekers with resumes, applications and interviews.