A Guide to Building a Great Career as Someone Who Is Developmentally Disabled

The above picture is of a man and a woman smiling and high-fiving each other. The man holding tablet and the woman a notepad.

A Guide to Building a Great Career as Someone Who Is Developmentally Disabled

Within every demographic, people with disabilities face the worst employment outcomes. If you're someone who's developmentally disabled, it's likely that you're anxious about finding employment and it may seem impossible. 

It's true that people with disabilities have more barriers, but that doesn't mean that they're not capable of finding meaningful work (depending, of course, on their abilities and independence). 

We're here to offer a few tips that can help someone with a developmental disability build a career that they enjoy. Read on to learn more. 

Know Your Rights

The most important thing when it comes to finding and following a career path as someone with a disability is knowing your rights. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) gives people with disabilities specific rights within the workplace (including during the hiring process).

By knowing your rights, you're protecting yourself from being taken advantage of.

You do not need to disclose to an employer that you have a disability unless you plan on asking for reasonable accommodation (which we will discuss later). If you choose to disclose your disability, the employer cannot use it to discriminate against you.

The only reason that an employer can use a disability "against" an applicant is if the applicant would not be able to complete essential tasks of the job even with accommodations. 

Discrimination doesn't always look the same. In some cases, it can result in someone with a disability not being hired at all solely because of that disability. In other cases, it looks like someone not receiving a promotion that they're qualified for, not receiving equal pay, or not getting appropriate accommodations. 

Remember that you have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace and during the hiring process. 

Know (and Build) Your Skills

What skills do you already have? Too many people (both with and without disabilities) don't feel qualified for positions that are 100% within their reach because they don't take inventory of the skills they already have. 

Job skills are divided into hard skills and soft skills. Soft skills are traits and qualities that impact how you work, while hard skills are things that can be taught and that are necessary for jobs.

Examples of soft skills include things like listening, creativity, and communication. Hard skills are things like writing, coding, and design. Both are important. 

Consider the skills that you already have. You likely have more marketable skills than you think, even if they're soft skills. You can gain many skills through high school, clubs, and even volunteering.

How can you expand upon those pre-existing skills and build new ones? 

If you can, taking college courses (even at a local community college) is a great way to build your skills. There are also online courses (often for free) that will help you learn and develop new skills. 

The more skills you have, the more promising your career path will be. 

Find a Job that Matches You

Picking the right job is crucial. If you really want career growth, you need to find a job that you enjoy and that you're capable of being good at. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to be passionate about it, but you should find it tolerable (at least). 

Consider your personal interests. What types of careers do those interests lend themselves to? You may have to use some creativity to think of careers that both fit your interests and your current level of skill and experience. Not all interests directly relate to jobs, but with some creativity, you can find something.

For example, you may be interested in working with animals. Many jobs that include working with animals are high-skill jobs that require a lot of education that you may not have at the moment. A vet is a good example of this.

Working at a pet supply store or animal shelter, however, is an option that requires fewer specialized skills. You'll still be around animals but you don't need years of schooling. Even if you plan on getting into a more specialized job in the future, this will give you valuable animal handling experience. 

You may find that you're completely content in the position you choose. There's nothing wrong with working an "entry-level" job forever as long as you're able to support yourself. However, by working these jobs, you're also building skills that you can use for career development. 

Ask for and Accept Assistance

Always remember that there's help available to you. Asking for help is a good thing. It just means that you're being resourceful (and resourcefulness is a soft skill!). 

But how should you ask for help? 

Before You're Employed

Before you've found a job, talk to friends and family members. See if anyone you know has any information about open positions. Networking is one of the most important parts of finding a job that too many people don't talk about. 

Your friends and family members know you best, so if they think you're a good fit for a job, they'll tell you.

You can also hire a career coach or someone who can help you with resume writing and job placement. There are many people who build careers off of helping people with disabilities find work. 

During Your Employment

During your employment, don't be afraid to ask for accommodations if you need them. You don't have to "prove yourself" by struggling. If you know that a "reasonable accommodation" will make you better at your job, ask for it!

Your employer must provide the accommodation as long as it's possible and convenient for them to do so. 

Developmentally Disabled People Can Find Meaningful Work

If you're someone who is developmentally disabled, you're still capable of finding a job you enjoy. Keep this guide in mind when you're preparing to enter the workforce. Remember: there is help available to you, so take advantage of it!

We understand that finding a good career can be challenging for people with disabilities. Check out our job directory to find employers who may want to hire someone exactly like you.