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How To Get A Job If You Have A Disability

Updated : May 2nd, 2022

Searching and interviewing for a new job typically comes with a certain level of angst – but if you’re searching for a job and feel unsure about how an existing disability may affect the process, the pressure rises dramatically.

The good news is that many American employers actively promote jobs for people with disabilities – not only because disability inclusion is inherently fair, but also because employers see the value of reflecting the full range of the customer demographic they serve. In addition, several laws are currently in place that are designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities – even from the very first interview.

4 Tips for Getting a Job If You Have a Disability

  • Update Your Resume
  • Write a Cover Letter
  • Apply Carefully
  • Prepare for the Interview
  • Ask for What You Need

It can be a challenge for individuals with disabilities to find employment that fits their skills and qualifications while also allowing for the reasonable accommodations that allow them to do their best work. It’s important with any job opportunity to strike the right balance between highlighting your professional accomplishments and experience while also being forthright about any job accommodations potential employers will need to provide.

Even as more American employers prioritize hiring individuals with disabilities, this group of applicants may face unique challenges while navigating the hiring process. As you prepare to apply and interview for a new position, there are some key areas of focus you should keep in mind. Let’s take a look.

As you enter your career exploration, there are several best practices you should consider – here are some of the most valuable.

Update Your Resume

The most important thing during your job search is to clearly let potential employers know about the skills, abilities, and strengths you bring to the role you’re applying for. At this point, there is no need to disclose your disability unless you simply choose to.

Make sure your resume clearly outlines your educational background and any previous employment experience relevant to the open position. Also, be sure to include accurate contact information so that potential employers can easily get in touch with you to talk about the job.

Don’t forget about the value of unpaid experience – if you’ve held internships or completed volunteer service that’s related to the role you’re applying for, definitely include it. Wherever possible, use your resume to convey the successes you’ve achieved throughout your career thus far – if you can show measurable success backed up by data, your resume will be that much stronger.

Write a Cover Letter

The cover letter you submit with your application represents your first opportunity to introduce yourself to employers and explain why you’re a great candidate for the position you’re seeking. You can outline your background and employment experience, along with sharing your reasons for feeling that the role is right for you. Your cover letter can be as personal as you feel comfortable with, and many applicants with disabilities may choose to disclose their disability at this point in the process.

If, for example, you are applying for a state or federal job that must comply with affirmative action laws; if you are applying with an organization actively recruiting individuals with disabilities; if your disability provides unique insight that can help you carry out the role, or if having a disability is required for the position, these all represent situations in which disclosing your disability within your cover letter may provide you with an advantage.

Above all, focus on how hiring you will be to the company’s advantage – if you have unique skills or characteristics that will allow you to shine in this role, make sure to call those out. And if you’ve had documented success in similar roles, make sure to include that information as well. Use data, numbers, and specific information wherever you can to illustrate your previous employment successes.

If you have experienced periods of unemployment – whether because you were receiving long term disability benefits, unemployment benefits, or for any other cause – don’t be afraid to address it. You can offer evidence of how those breaks have shaped you and made you a stronger candidate for this particular position.

Apply Carefully

In many cases, employers may require you to submit a formal job application, along with your cover letter and resume. Make sure you take your time, understand each question on the application and provide accurate and comprehensive answers.

It’s also important to understand that the law prohibits potential employers from asking questions about your medical history or disability status. If you see these kinds of questions on a job application, you can skip them. The exception to this is when you’re applying for a position with a federal or state agency that may ask you to voluntarily disclose your disability status for affirmative action purposes.

Once you’ve finished your application, make sure to look it over carefully before submitting it. It may even be helpful to have another person look it over to make sure you’ve thoroughly addressed all parts of the application.

Prepare for the Interview

If you’re selected to interview for a position, it’s important to prepare carefully and thoroughly. First, do your homework – make sure you know as much as possible about the role you’re applying for and the company itself.

You should try to visit the interview site beforehand to make sure everything is accessible for you if you think you may need to request accommodations or request a new interview site. Make sure you know whether accessible parking is available, along with whether the interview site has an elevator if you need it.

Should I disclose my disability during the job interview?

You may wonder if you are required to disclose your disability before or during your interview – the answer is no. The decision of whether and when to disclose your disability ultimately rests with you.

According to the law, you do not have to disclose your disability when you apply or interview for a job, even if you later request an accommodation. This, of course, is a luxury available to those whose disabilities are not immediately obvious, such as with a developmental disability or intellectual disability.

In the case of a physical disability that can be seen, it is usually best to acknowledge it up front and to be honest about the reasonable workplace accommodations you would need to fulfill the duties of the job. It’s important to be clear about what you need to fulfill your job duties.

However, in cases of disabilities that can’t be seen, such as some mental health issues or developmental disabilities, you can choose if and when to disclose your disability. You may choose to discuss your disability with your supervisor only if you believe it is beginning to affect the quality of your work. A good rule of thumb is that you should ask for what you need when you need it. If your disability does not require workplace accommodations, you are under no legal obligation to disclose it.

The important point to remember about your interview is to keep the discussion focused on your skills and your ability to do the job – these are the only criteria by which a decision about whether to hire you should be made.

Ask for What You Need

Remember that a job interview is just as much for you as it is for potential employers. During the interview, make careful observation of the work environment and ask a lot of questions about the conditions under which your work must be done. Based on what you know about your abilities, clearly explain to potential employers any reasonable accommodation they should be prepared to make.

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a reasonable accommodation is any adjustment to a job or work environment that will enable an employee with a disability to perform their essential job functions. Examples may include adjusting the height of desks or equipment, installing computer screen magnifiers or installing telecommunications for individuals who are deaf.

Ask about any type of disability employment policy the organization has in place, along with their human resource efforts around disability inclusion. If someone from the organization’s personnel management or human services department isn’t involved in your interview, you may want to ask for a separate appointment so you can discuss these issues.

If you make it through the interview process and into the negotiation stage, continue to ask for what you need – this is a no-brainer when it comes to salary, but it also applies to employment benefits. Make sure to ask good questions about everything from health care coverage and personal days to short term disability insurance, life insurance, and retirement contributions. If you’re the best candidate for the job, you should be compensated appropriately.

What Is the American Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a piece of federal legislation enacted with the goal of protecting civil rights for those with disabilities. The ADA prevents discrimination against a job seeker because of a disability. According to the ADA, a disability is defined as any physical or mental damage that has a significant impact on life activities, such as breathing, seeing, walking, lifting, sleeping, and taking care of oneself.

When it comes to employment, the ADA helps make sure that individuals are not denied work they can feasibly do just because they have a disability – qualified individuals with disabilities must be afforded the same opportunity and consideration as other candidates without disabilities.

Helpful Resources for Disabled Job Seekers

As you embark on your job search, you’ll find several different employment resources designed specifically to help disabled job seekers. For example, the American Job Center for your area can help you find job leads, plus provide access to in-person career counseling, training, and support. In addition, your state vocational rehabilitation agency can be a tremendous resource during your career exploration and may even administer a workforce recruitment program.

The SSA has a website that provides many informational resources ranging from online job search tools and job training programs to instructions around creating your resume, preparing for job interviews, and understanding your rights as an employee.

Other valuable employment resources as you navigate your job search include the Workers with Disabilities section at and your nearest Independent Living Center. There are multiple job boards that highlight positions for which disabled candidates are actively recruited, including many positions with the federal government. The site also makes available social networking features, newsletters, and other employment services and resources that provide career guidance.

In addition, the Job Accommodation Network, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides invaluable information that can help you fully understand your rights as you navigate your employment search.

You can find information about reasonable job accommodations, your rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, your rights from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and how the law is designed to protect you against harassment and disability discrimination.

Applying for a Job With a Disability

Researching, applying, and interviewing for a job opportunity can be a long process – though taking the steps to do your homework, present yourself accurately, and find both the work and the work environment you need to thrive can lead to a great reward.

Finding work you enjoy in a culture that values you and your abilities can be a life-changing accomplishment, resulting in a better work-life balance, higher quality of life, and better overall mental and physical health. It’s worth the time and effort it may take to find the right work environment for you.

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  1. My benefits ended Jan. 11, 2020. Will I be eligible for 13 week extension and if so how do I claim in N.J.?

    • John,

      We understand this might be a difficult time for you. We’re anticipating a shortage of staff across unemployment offices due to the massive surge in UI applications considering the pandemic. We advise against calling or visiting the office, as you may not get a response instantly. Please read more about the situation here

      Your state may have activated “Extended Benefits (EB)” authorized by the federal government. We recommend you apply for UI benefits online. For more information, please visit your state’s official Unemployment website.

  2. I have been trying to apply for unemployment,on-line and by phone, for several days. My first attempt was on the day that I was required by last name. I truly understand that there is going to be an extremely large,either by phone or on-line,influs of applicants to complete this process. Following the prompts do not seem to work since I am guided to another section that does not pertain to applying. I am extremely frustrated. I need to complete my unemployment claim. May you please tell me what I need to do?

    • Edna,

      We understand this might be a difficult time for you. We’re anticipating a shortage of staff across unemployment offices due to the massive surge in UI applications considering the pandemic. We advise against calling or visiting the office, as you may not get a response instantly. Please read more about the situation here

      Your state may have activated “Extended Benefits (EB)” authorized by the federal government. We recommend you apply for UI benefits online. For more information, please visit your state’s official Unemployment website.

    • I am not sure how it works in your state. We suggest you visit the Unemployment Office’s website and learn more about it under the FAQs section.

  3. I am confused, my Illinois unemployment was accepted on March 29th, but I don’t call to certify for benefits until Monday, March 13th. I thought they were waiving the waiting week. Now I have to wait almost 3 weeks for any kind of financial relief? Do I not get the 600 for the care plan? if I do when will that be here? will it be direct deposit? Please help me.

    • Jennifer,

      Please try finding answers online since there might be limited phone support due to the shortage of staffing. You can use the “Resources” or “FAQs” section of the website.

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