If you’re an American with a disability who’s looking for a job, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. Despite the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a civil rights act passed in 1990 to fight discrimination against the disabled, employment for disabled Americans has actually fallen since 1990, reports CNN. In 2014, just 17 percent of persons with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And unemployment rates were higher for disabled people versus those with no disability in all educational attainment groups.
Despite the sobering statistics, however, being disabled has fewer barrier into the workforce than it once did. There is far more awareness today, and many big corporations are stepping up their efforts to diversify their workforce, and that includes actively recruiting those with disabilities.
If you’re disabled and looking for a job, here are some strategies to help you find work:
Know where to look. Yes, there are more corporations looking for talented people to add to their teams regardless of disabilities they may have, but you need a way to find them. Disability.gov lists a number of resources to help start your search with community-based organizations that help train and place disabled people into jobs, as well as job portals that are designed specifically for you. Organizations like GettingHired.com also specialize in bringing together disabled job seekers and veterans, and employers in need of talent.
Show off your abilities. Like any job seeker, it’s important to focus on your strengths, and what unique attributes you can bring to an employer. Make sure your resume is polished, your cover letters are immaculate, and each of your applications is tailored to the specific company’s offerings.
Recognize your limitations. If a job requires manual labor or heavy lifting and that isn’t something you can do, than you’re better off focusing on applying to positions that suit your other skills. That being said, you also want to be up front with a prospective employer about your disability so there are no awkward situations going forward. For example, if you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll want to make sure that an office job you apply for is handicapped accessible.
Don’t assume you’re not qualified. Thanks to technology, if you are blind or deaf, computer systems can be set up to accommodate you, for instance. Especially in larger organizations, there is likely a solution to help give disabled people the same opportunities as non-disabled job seekers to come on board. Ask about such accommodations before deciding if you should apply for a position.
By taking advantage of resources designed to help you find a job, seeking out diversity-friendly employers, and making yourself more marketable, your disability doesn’t have to define your employment.