Looking for a new job is challenging for all of us, but the journey might present different challenges when you live with a disability. What should you keep in mind while job hunting if you are disabled? How do you disclose a disability to an employer? Are resources available to job seekers with disabilities? To help answer these important questions, I spoke with several job search, career, and accessibility experts to get their insights. Here’s what they recommended:
7 Tips if You’re Job Searching with a Disability
1. Practice self-care.
The importance of self-care repeatedly came up in my conversations with these experts. “Job searching can be frustrating and depressing” explains Becca Lory Hector, an autistic neurodiversity, disability, and inclusion consultant. As a result, she endorses “taking care of your physical and mental health during the process.” Think about scheduling time every day or week for intentional self-care. Ask yourself what activities and practices would recharge you and help prevent job search burnout.
2. Set clear goals.
Before diving into the job search, Hector says it’s important to “know what you want from a job and an employer.” Write out what you need and want in your next role, as well as any dealbreakers. Charlie Kramer, a life coach for the disabled, says it’s important that you don’t settle when painting the picture of your dream role and dream company. Kramer is blind, with 4% of his vision remaining. He believes that “there’s always a way to do what you want to do, and while that way may be different, different isn’t always bad.” The key, he says, is to find an employer you can trust. This article includes potential questions to ask when vetting prospective companies.
3. When in doubt, apply.
It’s normal to doubt your qualifications when looking for a new job. Wendy Tobias, chief accessibility and inclusion officer at the University of California San Francisco, says that “applicants with disabilities are aware disability discrimination can sometimes [happen], so it can be easy to have a deficit-based perspective and not apply for a job.” However, she urges you to “count yourself in” and apply to a role if it appeals to you. Similarly, Hector recommends “think[ing] big” and claims, “you only need to fit 60% of the posted qualifications to get the job, so apply if you think the fit is right.” She reminds us that “if you don’t try, you already lost the job.” The bottom line? It never hurts to apply to open roles.
4. Request accommodations with confidence.
You may be contemplating whether—and how—to disclose your disability during the job search, but remember, disclosing is your choice. Kramer explains that “you do not have to [disclose] in the hiring process,” but that you will want to weigh the benefits and costs before self-disclosing. And if you do choose to self-disclose, Jenn Best, a career coach and job search expert who identifies as neurodivergent, advises using your cover letter to introduce your disability, as well as any accommodations you may need. She provided the following template: “As a person living with X, it’s important that Y happens.” Similarly, Kramer recommends focusing on what you need from your employer, such as workplace accommodations, while reminding them of your confidence in your ability to succeed in the role.
5. Consider volunteering.
But what if you don’t know what you want to do for a living in the first place? Hector recommends volunteering. She rationalizes that “it is a great way to get your foot in the door somewhere while also getting to see how a place truly functions and what the work environment feels like for you.” You can also cut ties without repercussions if the organization does not work out, she says. Catchafire, VolunteerMatch, and Idealist can be helpful starting points for finding both virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities.
6. Use available resources.
There are ample resources available to support people with disabilities who are looking for jobs. Tobias recommends visiting the Job Accommodation Network, a free and confidential online resource for people with disabilities. She also suggests “find[ing] a resource who can assist you if you have questions about if, how, and when to disclose a disability and/or request a reasonable accommodation for the application process.” If you are in California, Tobias says the Department of Rehabilitation is a helpful resource.
7. Don’t take rejection personally.
Rejection is inevitable when looking for a job. While easier said than done, Hector urges you not to take it personally. Additionally, she wants you to know that “they aren’t judging you as a human being, just the piece of paper you sent in.” She believes the “no’s protect you from places and people you don’t want to work with anyway… Trust your gut on who and what feels sustainable to you.”
As a last note, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to job searching with a disability, but with time and intention, you will find the right strategy that works for you and land a job you love. You’ve got this!