Job Seekers With Disabilities: How To Snag Your Dream Job

Amanda PosthumaAuthor
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Having a disability may make you hesitate to apply for a job. We’re here to tell you to go for it! Today’s job market supports people with a wide range of abilities and qualifications, so you shouldn’t have to put your dream job on hold.

Since about 1 in 3 families have someone who has a disability, it’s important to know what job hunting resources are available. This guide has everything from how to find a job to perfecting your resume and how to prepare for an interview.

Finding a Job

When it comes to finding a job, or even the perfect job, everyone has mountains they have to overcome. But it comes with a bit more difficulty when it comes to having a disability. So we’ve compiled a few tips that should make the process at least a little, if not lots, easier.

  • Use Your Skills to Your Advantage: You may want to find a job based on your experience and the skills you have gained along the way. This is where those great communication skills come into play. Or maybe you’re really great at managing your time. Either way, take some time to review what you’re really good at.
  • You Should Be Happy:Probably the most important tip on here is to find a career that plays on your interests and passions. Just because you have a disability, doesn’t mean you should be limited career-wise. That’s why it’s important that you make sure the job is going to make you happy. Once you figure out what type of career you could see yourself being happy in, look over the skills and experience needed for it. Maybe you already have those skills, or maybe you now have a list of skills that you can improve upon.
  • You CAN Do it!:Whatever you do, don’t focus on what you can’t do. If the job responsibilities require you to do something that seems impossible due to your disability, figure out what would be needed to make it possible.
  • Network, Network, Network: We can’t stress this one enough. Networking plays a big part in finding a career in general, but for workers with disabilities, this is a great opportunity for you to figure out which companies are the best fit. If you’re not sure where to start, the ADA National Network has a calendar of networking events that’s updated each year.
  • Finding the Right Company: There’s a huge difference between finding a job with a company and finding a job with the right company. The right company will offer accessibility, flexible hours, on-site health care, disability networks and affinity groups, and will have non-discrimination policies in effect. Most of this you’ll be able to find online, but if you can’t find the information you should consider calling the company to find out. Trust us, it’ll be worth your time.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: If at any point during the job search you need help (this includes filling out an application), don’t be afraid to ask. The potential employer can provide accommodations during the application, interview and hiring process. A great way to apply for accommodations is by using the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN has a sample accommodation form letter that you may find very helpful.

Job Seeking Resources

  • DES:While scouring job sites for listings can be helpful in finding jobs to apply for, the DES is a really great resource for individuals with disabilities. The service is dedicated to helping you find a job, prepare for it and keep the job.
  • U.S. Department of Labor: Another great site that is helpful for job seekers with disabilities is the U.S. Department of Labor. On top of providing job-seeking resources, the DOL has lots of helpful information regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • EARN: The Employer Assistance & Resource Network (EARN) provides a list of organizations that assists job seekers with disabilities.
  • USA Jobs Resource Center: The USA Jobs Resource Center has a list of federal jobs that are actively recruiting candidates with disabilities.
  • Disabled Person: Disabled Person is a job board for people with disabilities that has been available since 2002.
  • AbilityJOBS: AbilityJOBS is a job board for people with disABILITIES that’s been around since 1995. The site also hosts accessible online career fairs every year.
  • Getting Hired: The social networking job search site, Getting Hired was created specifically for individuals with disabilities.
  • Recruit Disability: Recruit Disability is a free job board that helps connect job seekers, employment programs, and employers.
  • Think Beyond the Label: The Think Beyond the Label job board provides job seekers with disabilities access to a job bank, blog and newsletter so they can find meaningful work in their chosen field.
  • Equal Opportunity Publications: Equal Opportunity Publications serves as a resource for career guidance and provides a recruitment magazine for people with disabilities. Job seekers can find articles, job postings, and a list of companies that are recruiting.
  • NTI: NTI is a really great resource for those interested in pursuing a work-at-home career. The National Telecommuting Institute is dedicated to helping people with severe disabilities find employment at home.
  • Workforce Recruitment Program: The Workforce Recruitment Program connects college students and recent graduates with disabilities with federal and private-sector employers for summer or permanent employment opportunities.
  • And, of course, the Job Accommodation Network should be on your list of resources for finding a job. I mean the reason is on the front page. Ask JAN. Whatever questions you have regarding workplace accommodations, they’ve got you covered.

Tip (slide-out note): The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and is the most comprehensive disability legislation in the U.S with its 5 titles: Employment, State and Local Government Activities, Public Transportation, Public Accommodations and Miscellaneous.

Once you’ve found a job to apply for, then it’ll be time to start preparing your resume! We have lots of guides to help you through that pain in the keister:

And just to get you started, we reached out to JAN Associate Director Anne Hirsh about what to include if you don’t have a lot of experience. She suggested looking back on what you have done. That includes volunteer work, any training you’ve completed, involvement in a church group or a club, and every role you’ve held in different organizations.

Tip (call-out): Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was updated in 2014 to prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against people with disabilities in employment. It also strengthened affirmative action to recruit, hire, retain and promote people with disabilities.

Networking Properly

Attending networking events is sometimes a necessary part of finding a job. With more networking contacts, you may have an easier time finding that perfect job. So we’ve come up with a list of tips for networking successfully.

  • You Should Be Comfortable: Some events require individuals to show up in person and socialize, which may be challenging for some individuals with disabilities. That’s why you should research lots of events to find the one where you’ll be most comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the more confident you’ll be.
  • What Do You Want to Learn?: Before you even attend the event, you should be thinking about what you’re wanting to take away from it. For instance, you could go in with the mindset of looking for a great company to work for and then you can focus your questions based on that. Or you might go in just looking for a support system, which will change the conversation to being more personal.
  • Make Sure Your Socials Are Updated: Before you attend the event, you’ll want to make sure your social media accounts are up to date, especially your LinkedIn account. You’ll want to feature your current contact info, a professional photo and any relevant experience you would like to showcase. This way, networking contacts can find you easily and when a job pops up that fits your skills and experience, then they’ll know how to contact you.
  • Dress Appropriately: When you attend a networking event (even if it’s online) you want to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. And that includes dressing professionally.
  • Thank You Goes a Long Way: Aside from thanking them for their time at the event, make sure you find out how to get in touch with them so that you can follow up with a thank-you note. The thank-you note can be emailed or mailed to them; just make sure you send it within 48 hours of meeting them.
  • Connect Online: This goes without saying, but make sure you’re keeping in touch with the contacts you gather from the networking event. Invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn or other social media accounts that you have so that you can keep up with them. This is an important part of maintaining a strong network.

Gaining Experience

As Anne discussed if you don’t have any experience on your resume it might be helpful to find other ways to show you have experience. Volunteering and internships are a great place to start. But before we get into it, let’s make sure you understand the difference between the two.

Volunteering is generally unpaid work, but it provides lots of great opportunities for you to finetune your skills. Meanwhile, an internship can be either paid or unpaid and is generally short-term. Internships are perfect for expanding your network of contacts, as well as developing specific skills.

Now that you have an idea of which one would make a better fit for you, it’s time to look into how to find internships or volunteer opportunities.

  • AmeriCorps: This is a national service program designed specifically for adults who are 18 and older. Through Americorps, you may be able to earn a small stipend depending on the position. But the best part is the work experience you’ll gain from this resource.
  • SeniorCorps: The SeniorCorps resource reaches anyone who is 55 and older looking for volunteer service opportunities.
  • Emerging Leaders: Emerging Leaders helps college and graduate students with disabilities find and secure summer internships.

These resources will help you find the work experience you’re looking for so that you can make your resume the best it can be.

Requesting Accommodations

Once you have scheduled an interview, you may need to reach out to the employer about providing certain accommodations.

You have the option to request accommodations for your interview and for the job in general. Once you request an accommodation, you’re required to disclose your disability.

It’s up to you when or if you disclose your disability. But what does that mean exactly?

JAN explains disclosure as “Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability.”

Sometimes it’s best to disclose so you have accommodations, as that may help you be more successful in your career or even interview (especially since you’ll be more comfortable, and thus more confident!).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines reasonable accommodations and provides an explanation for when the accommodations may be necessary. Some reasonable accommodations include:

  • Making existing facilities accessible
  • Job restructuring
  • Part-time or modified work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment
  • Changing tests, training materials, or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
  • Medical leave
  • Work at home

Per the EEOC, these accommodations may be necessary for the reasons stated below.

“An individual with a disability may request reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or during the period of employment.

“The ADA does not preclude an employee with a disability from requesting a reasonable accommodation because s/he did not ask for one when applying for a job or after receiving a job offer.

“Rather, an individual with a disability should request a reasonable accommodation when s/he knows that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing him/her, due to a disability, from effectively competing for a position, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment.

“As a practical matter, it may be in an employee's interest to request a reasonable accommodation before performance suffers or conduct problems occur.”

Preparing for the Interview Tips

Interviews are nerve-wracking to say in the least. The stress is even worse if you have a disability. Even though you may be qualified for the job, there’s always the fear of not being recognized past your disability. So how do you get the interviewer to truly see you for you?

“They should keep the focus on why they would be an asset to the company, and that’s assuming they’ve done their research. They should know something about the company and hopefully about the position that they’re applying for,” Anne said.

“When I interview and I ask, “Tell me what the organization does,” and they can’t tell me that, it’s a real show-stopper,” she continued. “They should be able to keep a focus on the skills they bring to the job if they’ve done their research.”

We’ve broken down some other tips on how to prepare so that the hiring team will see you for you.

  • To Disclose, or Not to Disclose: You can discuss the bare minimum when it comes to your disability. The longer you hold off on disclosing these details, the better, at least until you’re able to prove you can do the job. Of course, this only applies to some situations. If your disability is visible, you should briefly acknowledge it by explaining why it doesn’t affect your ability to do the work. But more on this in the next section.
  • How to Disclose: If you’re going to disclose your disability, you’re probably wondering how to do so. Simply put, you should keep it simple. Speak plainly with your employer to explain what adjustment or change is necessary due to a medical condition. You don’t have to bring up the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.”
  • Show, Don’t Tell: If you have experience, use it to your advantage. By pointing out that you have experience, you’re able to show that you are able to do this job, rather than just telling them.
  • Exude Confidence: Make sure you exude confidence. Keep in mind that your attitude can impact the interview. Start off on the right foot (or hand) with a solid handshake. If you’re really nervous, you should go over your experiences and skills before stepping into the interview. Make sure you know why you make a great fit.
  • Do Your Research: Research the company beforehand. Find out as much as you can so you can show them you did your research. Plus, this gives you the upper hand on asking in-depth questions that other applicants aren’t. This makes the employer see you for you, instead of for your disability.
  • Look Professional: The way you dress can have an impact on the interview. Make sure you wear clothing that is professional and is something that you’re comfortable in. In addition to making a good impression, the right outfit can make you more confident in yourself.
  • The Law Has Your Back: If you’re nervous about being asked about your disability, don’t be. While it’s completely justified to be nervous about this, you should know that you are protected by the law. The potential employer is prohibited from asking any questions about your disability, including if you have a disability.
  • Work History Gaps: If your resume shows that you have gaps in your work history where you could not work due to your disability and an interviewer asks, you can simply respond by talking about what you did during that time instead of working. And, of course, include anything that you learned during that time.

While all of these tips are great, we asked Anne what the most important piece of advice she could give us for preparing for an interview. She said:

“The piece of advice that I would offer is to do your research on the company that you’re interested in working for to see if you can find out if they are disability-friendly. Sometimes companies will list on their career site about initiatives they have. Many companies do have initiatives about hiring people with disabilities.

“While researching, see what you can find out about the climate at that company relating to being accepting of all people.”

Once you have nailed your interview and received an offer, you’ll want to take a look over our Disability in the Workplace guide so you know what to expect next.

Tip (call-out box): The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 strengthened the public workforce system in the U.S. by helping people with disabilities enter high-quality jobs and employers to hire and retain them. It also required 15% of public vocational rehabilitation funds to be used to help people with disabilities transition from their school to work life.

Disclosing Your Disability

While we suggest keeping your disability under wraps for as long as you can, that shouldn’t stop you from disclosing it if you want it out in the open right away. You get to make that decision. Honestly, the only time you absolutely have to disclose your disability is when you request an accommodation.

If you do decide to be open upfront and request reasonable accommodations, you may be more successful in your position. This allows you to break down any barriers that may prevent you from doing the job. No matter when you decide to disclose your disability, it is important to do so before work performance issues arise.

No disability is the same. Some can change or even advance. If this happens to you and affects your work performance, you should notify your employer right away. This way they have plenty of time to adjust any accommodations and you’re able to continue working in a comfortable environment.

A super important thing to remember is that you’re never required to share information about your disability to other employees or co-workers. You’re protected by law. The same goes for your employer. They are prohibited from discussing your information and are required to keep it confidential.

Anne says, “It depends on how and when it would be done. If you don’t really know anything about the employer and whether they have experience in hiring people with disabilities, then it may be a little riskier, especially if you don’t know if you need the accommodation yet.

“A con of disclosing later is an employer may feel blindsided that somebody knew something and was holding back information.”

But disclosing a disability isn’t a problem for everyone.

“A lot of people with disabilities feel that the disability is a part of who they are and they have no hesitation in disclosing,” she said. “If they know they need an accommodation for the actual interview, obviously, you’re going to have to disclose or you’re not going to get that accommodation.”

There are situations where it might be better to hold off on disclosing. The example that Anne used is:

“If you’re not sure what the position entails and whether you would need an accommodation, you may want to hold off to disclose until there’s a job offer made, or at least until you learn more about what you might possibly need.”