The news today is filled with jubilant reports of the current state of the U.S. job market. Record low unemployment. More women and minorities in the workforce than ever before. Wages steadily rising.
However, if you are one of the more than 60 million Americans who live with a disability, the news may not be so rosy.
According to a recent survey of white-collar workers with a disability, the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that more than a third of respondents report having experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace.
In addition, employers frequently deploy covert strategies to screen out candidates with disabilities from their applicant pools.
Including incorporating “required” physical capacities into job ads, even when these abilities have little or nothing to do with the position being advertised.
Such practices are the reason why, as a Rider University report notes, the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is estimated to be double that of non-disabled persons in the United States.
Though the current situation for workers with disabilities may be challenging, it does not have to be dire. You can still have a rich, rewarding, stable, and lucrative career, even in the face of disability.
What it takes, though, is a bit of strategy, some boldness, and an understanding of the resources available to you and of the rights you enjoy under the conditions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
1. Do a self-assessment
If you have a disability and you are planning to enter the workforce, it’s important to first consider what you want out of your work.
Are you looking for a long-term career, part-time work, or a temporary job to make ends meet or earn a bit of extra spending cash?
Are you looking for a passion project or just a bit of financial stability or independence in your life? A terrific career assessment test you can take for free online is the Holland Code Test.
Next, consider your own interests and talents.
What makes your heart sing? Or, at the very least, what is tolerable enough to you that you can envision yourself doing it 20-40 hours per week?
Consider the specific skills that you have. Don’t focus on just one past work experience, but also on other past activities.
Have you worked as a volunteer or served at your child’s school or family’s place of worship?
As you consider career possibilities, you should also examine opportunities outside of your traditional field.
Keep an open mind to positions you might not have previously considered, and look into job opportunities that may be particularly well suited to persons with disabilities.
Don’t forget about friends and family as well! Loop them into this process. Ask them what they think your specific strengths and talents are.
Also, think about the feedback you get from those closest to you.
Are you the one your friends turn to when they need a great letter written? Are you always asked to make the dessert for family functions?
These are all possible career paths in the making!
2. Do a disability pre-employment needs assessment
There’s no getting around it. If you have a disability, this will be a factor, to a greater or lesser extent, in your work life.
It is important to be clear, both with yourself and your prospective employer, about what your present and potential needs relating to your disability may be.
An important first step may be to consult with your healthcare provider to determine what your particular health needs are and how these might be accommodated for work in your particular field.
You may also elect to consult with a vocational rehabilitation counselor to help you access the information and resources you need as you move forward with your job search.
Legally, of course, employers and recruiters are not permitted to ask you questions about your disability—only about factors relating to your ability to fulfill the duties of the target position.
You are also under no legal obligation to disclose any information regarding your disability, except for information that may directly impact your job performance.
3. Needs assessment during and after hire
Simply because you are not legally bound to discuss your disability in the workplace does not mean you cannot or should not discuss your present or future needs with a prospective or current employer.
Indeed, as the labor market contracts, the need for talented and loyal employees is growing increasingly urgent.
This means that employers and potential employers may be more willing than ever to offer flexible work options, ranging from flex scheduling to the option to telecommute on a limited or even full-time basis, all in an effort to recruit and retain you and your irreplaceable skills!
When working with a prospective employer on developing the accommodations you and other workers may need, you should also be prepared to address employers’ potential concerns about how best to implement procedural changes in the workplace.
Recommending strategies for seamlessly instituting necessary changes that can assist the entire workforce not only you may allay prospective employers’ concerns and demonstrate the feasibility of the plan.
Best of all, it will give you a chance to both to showcase your skills in action, and to demonstrate how integrating accommodations can promote loyalty and productivity institution-wide.
After all, employees are people too. As such, they will inevitably experience illness, injury, and care giving obligations at some point in their careers. Establishing an accommodation plan now is a win-win for all!
As you seek out employment opportunities that meet your particular needs, it is also important to examine the benefits packages offered by prospective employers.
For example, you should consider what your insurance needs may be for both the short and long term. Some small businesses, for instance, may be limited in their benefits packages.
However, as a person with a disability, this is likely to be an essential need and key determining factor in your desire to accept or refuse a position.
Fortunately, with access to the proper resources, even small businesses can offer workers’ compensation or disability insurance packages at a reasonable cost to the company.
4. Turbo-charge your CV
Now that you are clear on exactly what you want from a new employer and what you have to offer them, it’s time to put it in writing!
A strong CV is essential to making prospective employers clamor to meet you.
The CV is the place to let your light shine, so don’t be humble and don’t be shy. Proclaim your talents and experience from the rooftop (or at least from the printed and digital page!).
There are also excellent resources you can access for a professional review of your CV, often available at low or no cost.
Then, embark on an unabashed carpet-bombing strategy. Print hard copies of your CV and have them in your car or somewhere at the ready at all times.
Most important, saturate the digital world. Capitalize on the vast potential of job boards like Monster and Indeed. And don’t forget to look for niche job boards dedicated to your particular industry!
5. Expand your search and your mind
If you live with a disability, then you know that life moves in unexpected ways. You’ve probably learned to roll with the punches as you navigate your new health challenges.
But life’s surprises can be wonderful, as well, and that includes surprises in your professional journey. Don’t be afraid to innovate and experiment.
You might consider, for example, starting your own at-home business or venturing into new fields.
For instance, you might decide to translate your love of jewelry into your own custom-design business on Etsy. Or you might transform your business experience into a home-based accounting or bookkeeping enterprise.
Thanks to digital technologies, the world of business and entrepreneurship truly is at your fingertips.
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Ainsley Lawrence is a writer who loves to talk about good health, balanced life, and better living through technology. She is frequently lost in a good book.