There are plenty of satisfying jobs for people with disabilities. All kinds of Americans have found them, and you can too. It just takes dedication to the job-search process and a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone. After all, the best jobs tend to go to those who demonstrate so much confidence in their abilities that employers are able to see past their limitations. With that in mind, here are eight tips to help you get through this part of your journey:
1. Get Clear About Your Goals
Too often, people with disabilities fall into the trap of being willing to take any jobs that they can get. They don’t seek out specific job opportunities, and they exude an ambivalent attitude about their ambitions. But potential employers want to see that you have genuine enthusiasm about a particular line of work.
So it’s essential that you get serious about narrowing down what you really want to do. Even if you can’t narrow it down to a specific career, see if you can figure out which skills you want to use or develop. Having more well-defined goals shows potential employers that you truly care about making a contribution.
2. Find Help
Conducting your job search alone might not be the best idea. You may be able to avoid a lot of common mistakes—and achieve success more quickly—by enlisting the support of others. Most communities have non-profit or government-run agencies that provide assistance to people who are seeking disability employment. Why not find out what they offer?
3. Know Where to Look
A lot of job opportunities can be found through organizations that actively generate or promote openings for those with disabilities. In some cases, you might even be able to take advantage of special hiring processes. That’s why it’s smart to get the support of local agencies; they can often show you where those opportunities are. Two great examples of where you can find disability employment openings include:
- The National Telecommuting Institute, Inc. (NTI)—This not-for-profit organization specializes in identifying and developing work-at-home opportunities for Americans with physical disabilities. NTI matches people with part-time or full-time jobs—and helps train them—in fields like virtual customer service, technical support, survey work, quality-control monitoring, and business-to-business telemarketing.
- USAJOBS—As part of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), this resource helps a lot of people with disabilities connect with good job opportunities throughout the federal government. It lists thousands of job announcements—for opportunities in several countries—from hundreds of federal agencies. Plus, it offers information about the Schedule A Hiring Authority, which often gives federal agencies a faster option for hiring individuals who have psychiatric, intellectual, or severe physical disabilities.
4. Make Your Ambitions Known
Don’t be shy about telling friends, family, or other people that you encounter in your life about your employment aspirations. Make it known that you’d like to find a good job so that they see you as someone who is actively trying to make things happen rather than someone who is sitting idle. You’ll likely get more encouragement that way, attain better job leads, and maintain a higher level of hope and optimism.
5. Start Volunteering
It’s amazing what you can learn through volunteer opportunities. Many people with disabilities have gained marketable skills through volunteering and gone on to find great jobs that pay well. Plus, being a volunteer gives you a chance to expand your network of professionals who can serve as references. And it’s a good way to avoid social isolation while getting used to working in a structured environment.
6. Think Carefully Before Revealing Your Disability
You may want to avoid disclosing that you have a disability during certain phases of your job search. After all, you probably don’t want potential employers prejudging your abilities or stereotyping you before even having the chance to meet you face-to-face. That’s why a lot of disability-employment counselors recommend not mentioning your limitations on your resume or in your cover letter.
That said, in some situations, revealing your disability can be to your advantage. For instance, if you are going after a job in a federal agency, then disclosing your disability can make you eligible for Schedule A hiring. And some employers actually seek out professionals with disabilities in order to add more diversity to their teams. In addition, at the application or interview stage, you might be legally required to disclose your disability if you will require any special accommodations.
7. Interview Like a Pro
Every job interview is an opportunity to showcase your strengths. So it’s essential to play up your talents and abilities. Obviously, your disability may become a topic of discussion, especially if you have visible limitations. But it’s best to turn those limitations into positives by acknowledging your challenges and explaining why they’ve given you abilities that other people might not have.
For example, maybe your disability has given you more persistence, a better work ethic, and an ability to take on new challenges at a higher level than other professionals. Focus on how you can add value to each organization, and describe your talents in as much detail as possible.
If you need accommodations, then be honest about it. But make sure that you know what those might be. For instance, will you need a flexible work schedule, adaptive equipment, modified job duties, or any special day-to-day assistance? Let potential employers know what you’ll need, but try to keep them engaged about all of the great things that you can contribute in spite of your limitations.
8. Don’t Give Up
Even the most talented and qualified people without disabilities sometimes run into roadblocks. So if you’re not getting the opportunities you want, don’t lose hope. Keep trying. Your confidence and self-esteem are the biggest assets that will keep you in the running. It’s only a matter of time before your job-search efforts start generating results. Stick with it.