Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on mental or physical disability. This means that no employer is allowed to make hiring decisions about qualified candidates who have disabilities—and in fact, they’re not even allowed to ask about a person’s disability status.
Changes have been made to strengthen the law, extending the types of disabilities covered. And additional legislation, like the “Final Rule” of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 2014, requires any company or agency connected to the federal government to aim for 7% of their workforce made up of employees who are differently abled.
So what does all of this mean for your own job search if you happen to have a disability, like nearly one-fifth of America’s adult population? For starters, it means that you should expect to help create a level field for yourself. Employers are not allowed to use your disability as a reason not to hire you, if you’re otherwise qualified for a position—so it’s on you to make sure you are presenting your strongest qualifications.
Tips for Your Job Search
- Be confident. Although it may feel sometimes like your disability puts you at a disadvantage against others who may not have the same challenges, you want to go into the process full steam ahead, knowing that you bring valuable skills and experience to this new opportunity. Your disability doesn’t necessarily define you or your career, so make sure you’re emphasizing your best self. A positive attitude is one of your best assets in any job hunt, so make sure you’re giving yourself that advantage.
- Don’t offer more information than you need to. You don’t need to talk in-depth about any disabilities or necessary accommodations up front in an interview. The employer isn’t allowed to ask. Still, you may need to make certain disclosures up front, or they may just be apparent to the interviewer. For example, if you use a wheelchair for mobility, this will be noticed. You are not, however, obligated to go into details about any conditions you have, or your history.
Unfortunately, assumptions may be made about your ability to do a job (human nature being what it is), but you can help offset this by revealing only the most necessary information about your challenges, and shifting the focus to your strengths as a candidate.
- Focus on what you can do. If you have mobility issues, you can talk about how you use accommodations or tools to get from one place to another, and emphasize your stellar history of being on time. This is especially important if the job involves travel between places. If you have vision or hearing impairments, you can talk about processes you’ve come up with to manage (and excel at) tasks related to your job. This is a good chance to show off your problem solving skills, and showing how you’ve faced and gotten past challenges. Interviewers love detailed, real-life examples that show how you’d approach problem solving on the job, so this is a chance to be proactive and take control of that narrative.
- Get all the information you can. There are lots of great resources for job hunters who happen to have disabilities. Make sure you’re armed with this info before you even start your job search, so you know what to expect, and what is okay/not okay as you look for your next job.
You want to target your job search as much as possible, so that you can find a job where you’re able to succeed, grow, and be happy. For example, if you have mobility issues, a job that requires constant movement, or a lot of outdoor terrain, may not be ideal, so a desk-based job in an accessible building would be more suitable. Or if you have Asperger’s or an autism-spectrum disorder, a field where social interaction is limited might be the right choice—ruling out jobs like being a receptionist or salesperson, where social interactions make up the bulk of the work day.
It’s about finding a job that plays to your strengths and skills, while also working with your disabilities to the extent that you’re comfortable and able to do what you need to do.
Fastest-Growing Jobs to Consider
Let’s look at some of the fastest-growing jobs that work well for people with disabilities.
Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
The job: These sales reps work for pharmaceutical companies, selling products and devices to healthcare professionals who then use them for treating patients. If you have physical or medical disabilities, it can actually give you an edge if you’re not just a seller of these products, but also a beneficiary of them. It gives you an extra layer of expertise. This position typically requires a bachelor’s degree, because of the science and medical knowledge involved in the products, but no advance training beyond some on-the-job training.
The salary: Pharmaceutical representatives make a median salary of $59,080 per year, or $28.41 per hour.
The outlook: This is a field that continues to grow, as the medical needs of the population grow, and technology offers more varied treatments. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that this field will grow 7% by 2024.
The job: Accountants and auditors work for large firms, examining and analyzing financial records. According to CareerCast, large accounting firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers are among the top employers of people with disabilities. To become an accountant or auditor, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in the field, as well as strong math and finance skills.
The salary: Accountants and auditors make a median salary of $67,190 per year, or $32.20 per hour.
The outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that this field will grow 11% by 2024.
The job: Twist! You’d be helping other people find employment, especially other people with disabilities or who face challenges in getting into the workforce. Because disabled people face an unemployment rate nearly double the national average, counselors who help people build job skills and advise on related legal and social issues.
The salary: Accountants and auditors make a median salary of $56,490 per year, or $27.16 per hour.
The outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that this field will grow 19% by 2024.
The job: With greater opportunities in the job market in general, companies need advice and perspective on how to reach out to the disabled community, as well as insight into creating accommodations for disabled employees. For this kind of role, you should have a bachelor’s degree and a strong business background.
The salary: Management consultants make a median salary of $81,320 per year, or $39.10 per hour.
The outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that this field will grow 14% by 2024, as companies look for ways to diversify.
Computer Support Specialist
The job: Computer support specialists are IT professionals who manage and support computer hardware or networks for companies. Because the work is computer-based, electronic accommodations can be made for people with disabilities like blindness (braille computer displays) or deafness (voice commands). If you’re a computer whiz, this could be a great opportunity to put those skills to work, regardless of your disability.
The salary: Computer support specialists make a median salary of $51,470 per year, or $24.75 per hour.
The outlook: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that this field will grow 12% by 2024, faster than average and increasing opportunities across the board for all types of computer support specialists.
If any of these jobs don’t sound like quite the right fit for you, you might also want to consider going into business for yourself—after all, what better way to put your unique skills and strengths to work? A fantastic example of this is Colette Divitto, whose booming cookie business shows the world that having Down Syndrome is not the professional limitation it once might have been. This is your career, and it’s up to you to seize your next great opportunity, regardless of disability or challenges. Good luck!