When searching for a job with a disability, you may find there’s a stigma working against you – even if your disability doesn’t affect your ability to perform a job’s duties. It can be discouraging, but the good news is that plenty of employers understand that people with disabilities represent a viable, untapped talent pool. According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities dropped nearly two percentage points from August 2020 to August 2021, meaning companies are hiring with an inclusive workplace in mind.
Still, looking for a job can be overwhelming. If that’s the case for you, taking the right steps and using available resources will make searching less stressful. Here are seven actionable job search tips for people with disabilities:
It’s important to understand that laws exist to protect job seekers with disabilities. If you’re familiar with your protections in the workplace, you can apply to jobs and go into interviews with confidence.
Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities and ensures they have equal opportunity in the workplace. This piece of legislation, and its amendment in 2008, says you can’t be denied employment, harassed, demoted, fired, or paid less because you have a disability, or have a history of a disability. It also mandates that employers create “reasonable accommodations” for disabilities and makes it illegal for employers to ask specific questions about your disability or require medical examinations, among other things. This means you can decline to answer certain protected questions during an interview (or while on the job), but keep in mind that if you do respond, do so politely and professionally.
Before beginning your job search, identify which accommodations you’ll need to succeed in a particular role. Remember, under the ADA, the employer must make reasonable accommodations to enable an employee with a disability to perform essential job functions.
For example, will you require speech recognition software or video relay service (VRS) technology at your workstation? Communicating the accommodations you’ll need to an employer will ease your concerns before accepting a job. There's no shame in asking for what you need to succeed, so don't be afraid to make your needs clear, whether it's for an interview or the job.
One way to know if a position is right for you is to check if the company is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE). Federal regulations define an EOE as: “An employer that pledges to not discriminate against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.”
Many job postings or company websites will have a section detailing the company’s EOE pledge. If the company mentions an inclusive workplace culture in their job posting, or on their “About” or “Careers” web pages, that’s a good sign, too. You can ask about the company’s culture and any inclusivity initiatives during your interview. The interviewer’s response will let you know if you’d be a good fit.
The point of the job application process is to convince the hiring manager that you’re the best person for the job, so focus on your strengths and your capabilities. Use your resume and cover letter to sell yourself by mentioning successes at prior jobs. Include quantifiable results you accomplished like revenue growth or customer satisfaction improvements, and add relevant skills from the job posting to your skill section. Not only will this demonstrate your abilities, but it will also get you past the employer’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS). If you’ve never had a job, volunteer work and hobbies provide valid experience and skills, mention those in your job search.
If your disability might be a factor in your ability to perform tasks in a new role, during the interview that you’re prepared to handle the potential situations, and reframe them in a practical way. For example, mention that as long as your phone can be connected to your hearing aid via Bluetooth, you’ll have no problem answering calls. Being specific and coming in with a detailed plan shows confidence, an important trait to highlight in any interview.
Talking about your disability in an interview or otherwise is entirely a personal choice – it’s illegal for an interviewer to ask about your disability or its nature/severity under the ADA. However, an interviewer can ask questions about your ability to perform job functions and require you to describe how you would perform those functions. Being open and honest in these situations is best, and doing so will demonstrate that you are capable.
If you need to bring an interpreter, guide dog, or another assistive device to the interview, let the interviewer know so they can prepare accordingly.
If you’re still honing your skillset or just starting your career, consider searching for job training programs specifically for people with disabilities. Job training programs prepare you for the type of work you’ll see in your chosen field. They can be as broad or as specific to the field as needed in order to overcome barriers to employment.
Apprenticeships offer more extensive on-the-job training and prepare job seekers to enter a specialized field. They combine a full-time job with training so you can start your career with the knowledge you need to succeed. The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy has guides to obtaining an apprenticeship for many occupations.
Internships, volunteering, gig work, freelance jobs, and part-time roles are other types of employment worth investigating during your search – especially if you’re unsure of the career path you’d like to pursue, want to determine how to best use your abilities, or gain more experience for your resume.
Local agencies and disability employment services can help job seekers with disabilities. For example, American Job Centers is a network of nearly 3,000 centers across the country that provide computers to search for jobs, career counselors, and job training. In addition, Independent Living Centers (ILCs) provide job coaching to help people with disabilities maintain their independence.
Your state’s Department of Labor can also help you with your job search, and many state governors’ offices will connect you to other government agencies or disability employment services. And resources like your state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies provide job training for free if you qualify.
Similarly, look for work in places specifically for job seekers with disabilities, including job boards and social networking sites. The benefit of these disability-specific resources is that they focus on jobs from employers specifically looking to hire people with disabilities, or they provide programs and opportunities to connect with employers.
Along with the disability employment services mentioned above, the following resources are beneficial for job seekers with disabilities:
A disability doesn’t have to get in the way of finding a job – and it shouldn’t. Follow these job search tips, and you’ll be ready for whatever your job search brings.