Resources for Disabled Job Hunters

By , November 30, 2010

Job seekers with disabilities have it tough. Only 21 percent of disabled working-age Americans had a job in the past year – that’s compared to 59 percent of non-disabled Americans. Whether you are a newly minted college graduate or returning to work after an extended absence, when looking for a job it’s hard to know where to begin.

What you do know: You want to find the position that best meets your needs and the needs of the employer. And you must be qualified, and able to sell yourself as the best applicant for the position, regardless of your disability.

Here are some online and offline resources available to help job seekers with disabilities succeed.

  1. Use your state employment agency. Every state in the U.S. and Puerto Rico has a vocational rehabilitation agency that holds a list of job openings and can help you get interviews. Agencies often partner with certain companies that want to hire this group. They can provide job training and even pay for assistive technologies that help you perform your job. Find your state agency here.
  2. Surf disability specific job boards. Online job boards like Monster.com have listings from companies that are dedicated to hiring people with disabilities. Others include GettingHired.com, which also offers a social networking portal to help job seekers connect with mentors and each other, RecruitDisability.com, which is run by national disability recruiter The Sierra Group, Hire Disability Solutions and Disaboom Jobs.
  3. Consider a public sector job. The federal government has stepped up efforts to help the disabled find jobs. President Obama has called for 100,000 people with disabilities to be hired in the federal workforce in five years, and now requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action and open employment to people with a disability including disabled veterans. Consider a federal job or a job with a company that does business with the government. The federal Office of Personnel Management has job listings.
  4. Attend a teleseminar. The Sierra Group, through its non-profit One More Way initiative, offers online courses that are free to job seekers and veterans with disabilities. Recent topics have included accommodating mental health in the workplace, networking for veterans and finding assistive technologies that are right for you. The Sierra Group also offers job placement services.
  5. Choose companies wisely. Each year DiversityInc. magazine compiles a list of the top 10 companies for people with disabilities. Although the companies pay to participate in the rankings, they do exemplify hiring practices for the disability population through disability-focused recruiting and fostering disability employee network groups. The National Business and Disability Council, which counts more than Fortune 500 and other companies as its members, has a job database.  If you have a disability and there’s a job you think you’re qualified for at a certain company, you should contact the hiring manager at the company and ask if you can come in for an interview.

If you’re comfortable disclosing your disability, you may do so initially, though some people prefer that their disability does not become part of their job application so early on in the interview process. [See my article in The Wall Street Journal about this topic].  Instead, you could tell the hiring manager that you saw their listing in DiversityInc, or that you are aware that they are a corporate member of the NBDC (or other disability networking association).

When seeking a job, approach each interview with an open mind. Try to put yourself in the employer’s shoes: He or she is looking for the best possible candidate, so keep the focus on how you bring value to the company.

The Think Beyond the Label campaign works to spread the message to businesses that labels get in the way, disabilities rarely do. In one of Think Beyond the Label’s national TV commercials, we meet Marie, an office worker who uses a wheelchair and can’t make a decent pot of coffee.

While Marie’s co-workers label her “coffee-making impaired,” the message is clear: Marie was not hired for her coffee-making skills, or for her disability. She was hired to perform the job for which she is qualified – and ultimately that’s what every company (and job seeker) wants. Happy job hunting!

Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."