In some cases, a disability can affect your ability to get a job and might also affect the kind of work you can do. A person confined to a wheelchair, for example, would have a hard time meeting the physical requirements of becoming a firefighter. In most cases, however, people with disabilities are like anyone else. If they have the right training and skills, they can work in a wide variety of occupations that run the gamut from university professors and corporate executives to call center representatives, carpenters, sales associates and cooks. Because employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, few jobs are beyond the realm of people with different disabilities.
Disabilities and Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The ADA does not define or identify specific disabilities. The reasonable accommodations requirement of the ADA means that an employer must take necessary steps to help an individual with a disability perform her work. Such accommodations might include a modified work schedule, changes to the physical environment or the ability to telecommute. For example, an advertising company might provide sign language interpreters to conduct training sessions for copywriters who are hearing impaired.
Physical and Mental Challenges
Disabilities include physical impairments such as an inability to walk, mental health issues such as bipolar disease or autism, cognitive impairments such as those suffered by people who have had a stroke or who were born with Down syndrome, and learning disorders such as dyslexia. Each creates its own challenges for the disabled individual who is looking for work. Physical disabilities can limit access to a department or workstation, while a disability such as dyslexia may make it harder to perform a job that requires reading.
Returning to an Occupation
An individual who has training or experience in a particular occupation and becomes disabled may be able to return to the same work or perform work in the same field. A registered nurse who became paralyzed in an automobile accident, for example, could continue to work in her field as a telephone triage nurse. An accountant could continue to work under similar circumstances, although each might need some modifications to the work area. Some disabled individuals can also obtain training to allow them to change careers.
When someone with a disability wants to perform a particular job, she might need special training to overcome the problems posed by her disability. An individual with a developmental disability, dyslexia or another learning disorder, for example, might need to learn by doing rather than studying. In these cases, an internship or apprenticeship might allow her to gain the skills she needs. Hands-on jobs are often best taught through something like an apprenticeship. These types of jobs range from animal caretakers to cook’s assistants and custodians.
Disability as a Business Asset
Some disabled people have turned their disability into a business asset by providing businesses with advice on subjects such as improving physical access, marketing to the disabled population or developing products targeted at disabled individuals. Information technology is a field with great potential for products that can help disabled people work or play, yet few disabled individuals work in that area, according to a September 2010 article on the IT Business Edge website. The disabled person's perspective could provide new insight to software developers and engineers and create jobs for others as well as themselves.