Applying for Jobs with a Disability
May 27, 2022 - Written By: Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT
Under the best of circumstances, applying for a new job is stressful and anxiety-producing. Add to this applying for a job with a disability which compounds the stress and anxiety with additional worries like fear of discrimination or stressing over whether you should or should not disclose your disability during the application process or interviews.
You can take many steps to minimize the stress and anxiety when applying for a job with a disability.
First, before even applying for a position, thoroughly research the company where you might be working.
Scan their website for disability-friendly language or photos, affiliations with disability groups, and offers to assist people with disabilities to make it easier to apply for a specific role. Companies that prove they will accommodate you and assist you during the application process are more likely to accommodate you once you have the job.
Focus on your abilities, not your disability.
That way when you are skimming down the list of job responsibilities and tasks for a certain job, you will know exactly what fits your skillset and abilities and can quickly move on from jobs that are not as good of a fit.
Certain jobs might work better for people with certain disabilities. For example, people with physical disabilities or mobility limitations might consider applying for administrative jobs, creative or design positions, jobs that can be done at a desk, or jobs that require a certain amount of knowledge like think tanks or advisory boards. With technology advancements, many meetings and sharing of ideas can take place on Zoom or other virtual platforms without you ever needing to leave the house.
People with dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers and arithmetic) or dyslexia (difficulty reading) might opt to apply for active trade jobs where they are using their hands, such as a painter, plumber, electrician, mechanic, roofer, construction worker, carpenter, a window or air conditioning unit installer, a hospitality industry worker, or an artist in the creative sector.
People with mental disabilities might thrive in environments like warehouses or supermarkets where they take responsibility for specific, directed, structured, uncomplicated tasks.
Choosing jobs where you know your disability will not interfere with your abilities is one of the best ways to decrease stress and anxiety during the job search.
As with anyone applying for a news job, search for jobs that fuel your passion, are meaningful to you, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.
If you focus on doing what you love, you will be happier in your work and more satisfied with the direction your life is taking.
When you send in your resume and cover letter, do NOT mention your disability.
Your cover letter and resume should focus on explaining to the employer why you think you are a perfect fit for the available position. They should highlight your abilities and skills.
When applying online, seriously think about how you will answer the question, “Do you have a disability?”
Legally, you are not obligated to answer this question, so there should always be the options:
I prefer not to answer
You can choose not to disclose.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. It protects people with disabilities from employer discrimination during the job application process. It also requires these employers to make reasonable accommodations so these employees with disabilities can do their jobs while minimizing difficulties.
As the applicant with the disability, you have complete control over whether you choose to disclose your disability. However, if you choose not to disclose, the employer also will not be obligated to make any accommodations if they are needed.
Think about how your disability would affect your ability to complete the required tasks and responsibilities listed in the job description. If the answer is no, my disability would not interfere with by ability to do this job and I would not need any accommodations, then there should be no reason to disclose your disability. This way you can be sure to avoid job discrimination during the early stages of the application process.
If the answer is yes, my disability would affect my job performance and I would need specific accommodations to do my job better, then you must determine when you would be the most comfortable disclosing how your ability would impact your job performance and what sort of accommodations you need to enable you to perform at your best.
For some people, it may be when you are invited to interview for the position. If you have a visible disability, disclosing details before the interview might be sensible.
For others, it might be best to bring up your disability during the interview itself to address any concerns or speak of accommodations that might be needed.
Yet for others, it might be after the interview at the time of hire but before you accept the job. This way you know that you got the job on your own merits and no discrimination took place, but you can also request for those accommodations if needed before you accept the position.
If you accept the job without disclosing your disability, the employer would not be legally required to provide accommodations without prior knowledge of the disability.
Make a list of accommodations that you need to do your job better.
You may need:
wheelchair-accessible or standing desk
an ergonomic mouse, keyboard, chair, or workstation that can be adjusted to your body
voice recognition software to decrease repetitive stress with typing
a screen reader
a flexible schedule to allow for taking medications, eating at specific times, or going to doctors’ appointments
changing the set-up of the workstation and placement of supplies so that everything you need is within your easy reach
One huge accommodation for many people with disabilities or chronic illnesses is the opportunity to work remotely. If the COVID pandemic has done anything beneficial, it has proven that people can successfully work from home and often were MORE productive than in an office setting. This, of course, may not hold true for folks with kiddos running around the house, interrupting Zoom meetings and making a ruckus. However, remote work has improved accessibility to jobs for people with disabilities by:
eliminating the need for long, stressful, exhausting commutes into an office
reducing exposure to COVID-19, transmissible infectious diseases, and allergens for those who are immunocompromised or highly sensitive to scents, mold, pollen, and other allergens that might be unavoidable in the office environment
preventing accessibility problems at the workplace such as lack of wheelchair accessibility, ADA-compliant bathrooms or entrances, elevator access, ramps, and other situations making it difficult just to gain access to the workplace
improving energy levels by decreasing energy spent on getting to and from work
improving mental health status and focus for people with anxiety, autism, ADHD, or other conditions which making working from home with a quiet, structure routine far more appealing than a noisy or distracting office setting
Know what resources and benefits are available to you.
USA.gov aids people with disabilities who are searching for a job. They help with developing work and job-seeking skills, finding jobs, and provide information about filing complaints if you are harassed or discriminated against on the job. They provide information on the benefits of having a government job if you have a disability, a link to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and information regarding your rights from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) including right to accommodations and protection from harassment and discrimination. This information can be found here:
Additionally, you may want to mention that there may also be financial benefits for the employer if they hire you. Businesses who employ individuals with disabilities may be eligible for sizable federal and state tax credits, including the Work Opportunity Credit. It has also been shown that businesses that employ people with disabilities increase their profit margin, have improved productivity and innovation, diversify their company culture, and have decreased turnover and higher company morale.
Many opportunities, resources, and benefits for both the jobseeker with the disability and the potential employer exist—a win-win situation for everyone involved!
References and Resources
When Should You Disclose Your Disability During Your Job Search? The Balance Careers. Accessed May 24, 2022.
Remote work made life easier for many people with disabilities. They want the option to stay. CNN. Accessed May 24, 2022.
5 Tips For Job-Hunting Individuals With A Disability. Forbes. Accessed May 24, 2022.
Jobs and Education for People with Disabilities. USAGov. Accessed May 24, 2022.
How Hiring People With Disabilities Helps Business. business.com. Accessed May 25, 2022.
Van der Bok, M. Applying for a job with a disability or impairment. resume.io. Accessed May 25, 2022.
Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT
Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT, CSCS, CIMT, CMTPT is a freelance medical writer and Doctor of Physical Therapy from Maryland. She has expertise in the therapeutic areas of orthopedics, neurology, chronic pain, gastrointestinal dysfunctions, and rare diseases, especially Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.