As a parent of an adult child with special needs, it’s always encouraging to see adults with special needs being hired by employers. Many employers are leaving behind a lot of the stereotypes surrounding people with physical and intellectual disabilities and realizing that many of the special needs employees they work with are the most hard-working and dedicated employees they could ever hope to have on their teams.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against any employee with a physical or mental disability. In layman’s terms, this means that an employer is not allowed to make a hiring decision based on disability, but rather on the qualifications of the candidate for the job. In fact, employers can no longer even ask about a persons disability status.
To strengthen that law, changes have been made extending the types of disabilities covered under the law. And additional legislation, like the “Final Rule” of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 2014, requires any company or agency connected to the federal government to aim for 7% of their workforce made up of employees who are differently abled.
When searching for a job, you want to target your job search based on your skills as well as your needs. For example, if mobility is an issue for you, a job that requires constant movement may not be ideal. So something like a desk job at home or in an easily accessible building might be what you aim for. Or, if you have Asperger’s or an autism-spectrum disorder, a field where social interaction is limited might be something that would suit you and really allow you to succeed—ruling out jobs like being a receptionist or salesperson, where social interactions make up the bulk of the workday.
It is all about finding the right job for you. One that plays to your skills and strengths, while also accommodating your disability so that you are comfortable in your daily environment, allowing you to succeed.
8 Job Ideas for Adults with Special Needs
While certain disabilities aren’t suited for working in loud, busy, or extreme sensory environments, many adults with disabilities thrive in a retail environment. My local grocery store often hires adults with disabilities to cashier, bag groceries, round up shopping carts, and stocking shelves. The great thing about a lot of these jobs is that many of them provide some sort of union benefits in terms of health insurance or retirement planning.
The structure of a well-run kitchen is often an ideal environment for adults with disabilities. Depending on their level of comfort with some of the equipment, there are a lot of opportunities for adults with disabilities in the foodservice industry. Whether it is working the line in a busy restaurant or clearing tables, restaurants are often the perfect environment for a special needs adult to find meaningful employment.
Many hotels and chains won’t hesitate to hire a special needs employee for housekeeping or janitorial work. While it isn’t the most glamorous work in a lot of cases, it is a great way to meet other people while learning some new skills. Hotels and the hospitality industry as a whole have many positions to be filled. Some of them working more closely with people while others have less social interaction.
One of the local veterinarian’s office has a young woman on their staff with Down Syndrome. She spends most of her days in the office feeding the animals, walking dogs, and otherwise caring for the animals that are there. It’s amazing watching her light up in the presence of the animals. For those with disabilities, sometimes it is much easier to relate to an animal than it is to relate to other people. And this young lady positively glowed with love for her work. Whether it is a job with a local groomer or a veterinarian or even at a local pet store, adults with disabilities often thrive in an environment with animals.
Some adults with disabilities are highly artistic, and given the right tools to express their artistic vision, can be quite successful in a number of artistic careers. One of the best photographers I have ever seen is also severely autistic. If actually creating art isn’t necessarily in the cards, then a job or career in a movie theater or museum may be more suited to individual strengths.
There are a number of businesses across the country who make a habit of hiring people with special needs. Companies from Kroger to Panera Bread are always looking to provide gainful employment to adults with disabilities. Some jobs, of course, are more skilled than others. However, there are a ton of different opportunities available. It’s just finding what fits the personality and strengths of the adult with disabilities to determine the best possible fit.
If you love people and helping other people, this is the job for you! As a vocational counselor, you would be helping others find employment. Even other people who face challenges getting into the workforce, like adults with disabilities.
Physicians Assistant/Pharmaceutical Sales
Experiencing a disability first hand can actually give you an advantage in many career fields. For example, pharmaceutical sales might mean marketing drugs that you have used personally or had experience with. The same can be said with a physicians assistant, where a person who has a disability might have first-hand experience and would be able to help those people coming into the office that might have a similar disability.
Almost Any Career That Lets You Work from Home
There will always be that situation where leaving the house to go to work daily or several times a week just isn’t ideal. In those cases, there are many opportunities for adults with disabilities to work from home. There are jobs available such as computer support, medical transcription, graphic design, writing, and web development. Several of the jobs that can be done at home, or even in an office, like computer support specialist, accountant, and statistician, require heavy use of computers, which can be set up for people who are blind and/or deaf (Braille displays, voice commands and other new technology make this possible). For people who suffer from emotional disabilities like Asperger’s or other forms of autism, jobs with limited requirements to socialize with others can work well.
Too often, adults with disabilities feel like there are no options or that the options are very limited. Even if you cannot narrow what you want to do down to a specific career, think about what you are good at, what you love and what skills you want to utilize or improve upon.
These 8 job ideas for adults with disabilities is only scratching the surface! There are hundreds of ideas out there if you know where to look and know what you want.
Know where to look for jobs and job ideas.
Handi Crafters — Handi-Crafters runs one of the largest employment and disability-focused support service programs in Southeast Pennsylvania. Each year we help over 400 individuals to access rewarding employment opportunities in the community and in our Skill Development Center. We achieve our goals through partnerships with great employers and the acquisition of work contracts with businesses who choose socially responsible outsourcing to meet their production, assembly, kitting and packaging needs. We offer a continuum of support programs which includes housing solutions and retirement options. In operation since 1961, Handi-Crafters is a trusted resource serving the needs of those who are differently-abled in Chester and surrounding Counties.
Woods Community at Brian’s House — Woods Community at Brian’s House has a rich history of helping people with developmental and intellectual disabilities live meaningful and fulfilling lives in the communities of their choosing. They provide homes and work opportunities and foster friendships, learning, and the pursuit of interests.
PA Department of Labor & Industry — The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) serves people with disabilities that present a substantial impediment to their employment. Services are provided to individuals who can benefit from and who need assistance to prepare for, enter, engage in, or retain employment.
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. In fact, roughly 85 percent of the opportunities developed by NTI are home-based customer service jobs for commercial companies and federal government agencies.
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. In 2015 alone, USAJOBS listed over 360,420 job announcements—for opportunities in more than 145 countries—from over 500 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.
It’s amazing what you can learn through volunteer opportunities. Many adults 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.