When I was a sophomore in college back in 1987, I became disabled. As my peers were figuring out their career paths, I had great concerns about finding a job after graduation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was not signed into law yet, so there was not job security for people with disabilities. I remember going through the long list of jobs I would NOT be able to do either because I could not stand or because I would not be able to enter the building.
I didn’t think I could be doctor, dentist, nurse, physical therapist and a multitude of other occupations that would require me being able stand to reach people or objects. Jobs requiring manual labor like construction work, fire fighting, police officer, hairdresser, and others were totally out of the question for me. I knew that I would need to be in an occupation where I used more of my brain and less of my body.
Today, even though things like the American with Disabilities Act is in place, it can still be difficult to land a job when you have a disability. Employment options are significantly reduced from the outset, but there are resources that can help.
There are many barriers people with disabilities need to deal when it comes to employment.
- Lack of accessible transportation and accessible housing near available employment.
- The fear of earning or saving too much because you will lose Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Disability benefits.
- The energy and time it takes for a person with a disability to prepare to get to work is extensive, and reduces the amount of time the person has to perform job duties.
- Discrimination in the workplace hiring practices. For example, reduced wages for a person with a disability in comparison to a person without a disability.
If you have disability and the traditional employment avenues are not working, start by looking at the Department of Labor’s website
. They have several agencies that help you learn more about your rights and find employment. Specifically, the Employment Training Administration (ETA)
provides grants and services that offer job search assistance, job training and connects employers with skilled employees.
The Department of Labor also helps employers hire and retain talented employees with disabilities. Part of that is providing employers with information on how to create a disability- friendly work environment. There is tons of great information available on the DOL website
. They are truly dedicated to helping people with disabilities
The Campaign for Disability Employment
The What Can You Do? Campaign for Disability Employment
is a collaboration of many organizations who all promote the hiring of people with disabilities. The campaign is funded by the Department of Labor and they have created and distributed public service announcements to promote all of the positive aspects of hiring people with disabilities.
I love the fact that you can find the links to multiple organizations all in one place, like the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
. AAPD has a career center on their website where many interesting jobs are posted. If you are looking for a job, spend some time looking at the resources in each of the links. There are so many resources on the What Can You Do website
to mention, so please check it out.
Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
: I interviewed Bambi Polotzola, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs in Lousiana, about state resources available to help people with disabilities find employment. She suggested to first contact your state’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Every state has a vocational rehabilitation agency that helps individuals meet their career goals. They provide job training programs to prepare you for employment. They also perform assessments for provision of assistive technology, which will help a person perform their job duties.
I first learned about my home state’s resource, Louisiana Vocational Rehabilitation
, when I was in the middle of my undergraduate degree. I was assigned a vocational rehabilitation counselor and we met periodically to go over my career goals and progress. This state resource actually paid for me to complete both my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree as long as I maintained a certain grade point average. I had an amazing experience with vocational rehabilitation assisting me in completing my education.
Since completing my master’s degree in 1996, I have been very successful with employment. I have worked for five different organizations over the years and I have loved aspects of each job.I think one key thing to remember when finding employment with a disability is to be willing to be flexible and solution oriented. I have always found a way to make situations work for me and my employer.
Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs
: The Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs in Louisiana started a website explaining the Disability Employment Initiative
. Part of the Louisiana Disability Employment Initiative includes a link to a Louisiana employment guide. It’s a good idea to do a google search and see if similar resources are available in your area.
Louisiana has also designated itself as a model employer, which means they are setting the example for the private sector by hiring more people with disabilities. If a person with a disability is set up with vocational rehabilitation and sees a job posted on the state website, they can make sure that their resume is pulled and taken into consideration.If more training is needed for a person with a disability to be considered for the position, there is a possibility that vocational rehabilitation can provide additional training. Bambi also suggested seeing if your local mayor’s office has a disability council or staff member dedicated to disability related issues in your area. The city’s disability council may have connections to businesses that would like to hire people with disabilities.
Now it’s Your turn!
When living with a disability, you must be persistent, creative and hardworking just to navigate life. Those qualities are exactly what employers are looking for when it comes to hiring! Finding the best job to accommodate your disability will take flexibility on your part, and the part of your potential employer. I also believe that having enthusiasm for connecting with other people will help you find a great job. The more people you connect with, the better your chances are of finding a job you love and that can accommodate for your disability. Although there are many obstacles to finding a great job that can accommodate your disability, is it possible. I know lots of people with a disability who have fulfilling careers.
Your disability doesn’t define you, it’s a part of who you are. Now go get out there and show the world all your amazing qualities!