According to the Social Security Administration, there are over 8 million disabled workers in the United States. These workers often face challenges such as stereotyping, discrimination, and a lack of accomodations. Thankfully, there are a variety of legal protections and employment resources available that help people with disabilities overcome these challenges and advance their careers.
Below, we’ll go over best practices for resume writing, laws that protect you from discrimination, and several other topics that you should know about as a disabled worker.
Resume Tips for Job Seekers With Disabilities
For the most part, writing a resume as a disabled worker involves the same best practices as writing any type of resume. Some of the most important things to keep in mind include:
Keep your resume clear and concise
Hiring managers usually have dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes that they need to review in order to fill a single open position. There’s simply not enough time to carefully review every applicant’s resume in depth — if you don’t catch their attention quickly, they’ll usually move on to their next option. Generally, you should limit yourself to one page, favor short and direct words over longer synonyms, and use paragraph breaks and bullet points where necessary to avoid a “wall of text” look.
That said, there are some instances where a more than one-page resume is okay, including for certain roles or experience levels. Review our resume examples to find out best practices for your role.
Highlight your specific qualifications
While training is always an option, employers prefer candidates who already have experience with the specific tools that their team uses on the job. Connect the dots for the hiring manager by highlighting any software platforms, regulatory programs, types of equipment, or other relevant skills that you have that makes you the perfect fit for the job you’re applying to.
Use numbers to quantify your work accomplishments
Even if you give potential employers a good idea of what your responsibilities were at your previous jobs, how will they know that you handled these responsibilities well? Showcasing your achievements with concrete numbers to demonstrate your job performance helps convince hiring managers that you really know what you’re doing. For example, the amount of revenue or savings generated, the percentage of projects completed under budget, the size of the team you managed, etc.
Make sure to write a matching cover letter to pair with your resume. While not all jobs require one, it’s another touch point with the hiring manager to express your interest in the role. Download one of our free cover letter templates to get started.
In addition to these general rules, there are two aspects of resume writing that specifically concern disabled workers: deciding whether to disclose your disability, and explaining gaps in your employment history.
It’s important to note that you have no legal obligation to disclose your disability on your resume. If your disability is not visible — the term “disabled” covers everything from physical injuries to chronic diseases to mental disorders — there’s no need for an employer to be aware of it at all. This is especially true at the beginning of your job search. Your first focus should be on securing an interview, and choosing to not disclose your disability may help you avoid any instances of bias.
That said, after you’ve scheduled an interview it may be helpful to disclose it. For example, if there are accommodations that you need, informing the employer about it as soon as possible helps ensure that everything is set up before you arrive.
Jeff Arseneaux, a Disability Employment Consultant with cerebral palsy, recommends, “I have found that the best practice is to be 100% honest with a potential employer. Usually, this happens at some point in the interview process, so make sure you’ve evaluated your accommodation needs big and small. Sometimes it’s the simple accommodations that make the big difference. For example, a simple thing like a piece of velcro under my keyboard, so it doesn’t slide when I try to use it, makes a difference for me. I’ve found that corporate America often interprets accommodations as costly and requiring lots of effort, which isn’t always the case.”
Explaining gaps in employment history
People with disabilities sometimes have long or frequent gaps in their employment history. Prospective employers will likely notice these gaps on your resume, and they may ask you to explain them.
Even in these cases, there is no need to disclose your disability if you do not wish to. In order to avoid this situation altogether, you can record the dates of obvious work history gaps on your resume and write “Illness and Recovery” next to them. This explains to employers why you were not working during these periods, and it implies that you are now “recovered” and fully ready to work.
In the resume example below, we’ll show you exactly how people with disabilities can use these techniques when writing their resume.
Disabled Worker Resume Example
1192 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 92043
Highly skilled paralegal specializing in business law with 10+ years of experience researching cases, interviewing witnesses, drafting briefs, and helping litigators prepare for trial. Detail-oriented with strong communication and time management skills.
Paralegal, Morgan & Morgan, Jacksonville, FL
August 2017 – Present
- Assist team of 5 attorneys with trial preparation, proofreading correspondence, and organizing documents
- Use LexisNexis to collect data and research case law
- Manage scheduling with witnesses to ensure attendance at court hearings
- Serve as client-attorney liaison, keeping clients updated and promptly addressing their questions and concerns
Illness and Recovery
November 2015 – August 2017
Legal Assistant, Times Warner, Atlanta, GA
October 2008 – November 2015
- Answered phone and managed email correspondence for company’s law department, providing information and referrals as needed
- Entered and updated client data in HoudiniEsq database
- Managed office inventory and ensured supplies are regularly stocked
- Reduced administrative expenses by 20% through developing Standard Operating Procedures for common admin tasks
Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies
GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY Atlanta, GA, September 2006 – May 2010
- Legal research
- Client relations
- Office management
- Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
- Registered Paralegal, National Federation of Paralegal Associations, 2012
Job-Related Resources for People With Disabilities
From skills training to interview practice to job search support, there are many employment resources available for disabled workers. Below, we’ll review some of the most significant programs that you should be aware of.
For growing your job-seeking skills
It can be a challenge to discover job openings that make sense for your background and skill set, especially when you consider additional factors such as your desired location and salary requirements. By developing job-seeking skills, you’ll have a much easier time finding the ideal job opportunity for your situation.
The Department of Labor funds over 2,400 American Job Centers, which provide career services such as vocational assessment and access to labor market information. You can plug your city or zip code into CareerOneStop’s finder tool to discover the American Job Centers that are located closest to your home.
There may also be a Center for Independent Living located near you. In addition to helping people with disabilities live on their own, many of these facilities offer services such as job training and career coaching.
For finding a job
Once you’re ready to apply for positions, you can use one of the many job boards, online search sites, and other job placement resources that are designed for people with disabilities. Some of the most helpful resources include:
- abilityJOBS. Founded back in 1995, abilityJOBS is the largest job site for people with disabilities. One hundred percent of the employers that use this service are looking specifically to hire disabled workers, and these employers include prominent organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency, Deloitte, Amazon, and Wells Fargo.
- Disabled Person. This job board offers opportunities across many different career categories, including accounting, architecture, marketing, military/defense, and management.
- Getting Hired. You’ll find tens of thousands of available jobs with inclusive employers on this site’s job board. Getting Hired also holds recruiting events and publishes helpful articles on inclusivity-related topics.
For finding federal and government jobs
There are a couple of key benefits to federal jobs for people with disabilities, such as work is available across the country in many different career fields, and it allows you to take advantage of the Schedule A hiring process.
The Schedule A program involves federal agencies using a special authority to hire disabled workers without requiring them to compete for the job. To be eligible for the Schedule A program, you must be qualified for the job you’re applying to and have an intellectual, psychiatric, or severe physical disability (you’ll also need to obtain “proof of a disability” documentation in which a medical professional attests to this fact).
This non-competitive process can improve your odds of landing a federal job, but it does not guarantee employment. Also, there is a probationary period for Schedule A jobs that can last up to two years depending on the type of employment, during which you will be held to the same performance standard as all other employees.
The federal government’s job site, USAJOBS, allows you to search for both competitive and non-competitive job openings for disabled workers.
For recent grads and people new to the workforce
It can be difficult for anyone to find their first job and get used to the routine and responsibilities of a full-time position — disabilities may make this transition more difficult.
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability provides a number of helpful resources for people with disabilities who are new to the workforce, including the High School/High Tech program, which helps disabled youth explore careers in math, science, and technology.
Job Corps can also help you get your career off to a good start, as they offer free educational and job training programs. These programs are very accessible, with Job Corps offering support services for a wide range of disabilities.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a comprehensive set of Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) services that help disabled veterans achieve their career goals. These services include job training, resume development, and career coaching. They can help you set up accommodations at your job as well.
Veterans are eligible for these services as long as they did not receive a dishonorable discharge and have a service-connected disability rating of at least 10% from the VA. Active-duty members of the military are also eligible for VR&E services if they have a disability rating of at least 20% or if they’re waiting to be discharged due to a severe illness or injury.
Know Your Rights
You’ve likely heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but that’s not the only law that protects disabled workers. Indeed, there are several other pieces of legislation that help prevent discrimination and provide accommodations for the disabled.
Below, we’ll break down the ADA as well as the other major laws that cover workers who have disabilities.
The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination. There are two sections of the ADA that deal with employment issues, which covers not just hiring practices, but also pay, benefits, promotions, and firing practices.
- Title I: Private businesses, educational institutions, employment agencies, and labor organizations that have more than 15 employees are prohibited from discriminating against disabled workers.
- Title II: State and local government entities are prohibited from discriminating against disabled workers, regardless of how many employees they have.
Title I also requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for both employees and job seekers who have a disability. Such accommodations can include making existing facilities accessible, modifying equipment, and modifying work schedules.
Removing an essential function from a job, lowering production standards, and providing personal use items that are also needed off the job (prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, etc.) are not considered reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
How does a disable worker request reasonable accommodations?
“It’s important to advocate for your needs as you’re the expert in what those are. During the interview process, make sure to discuss with the recruiter or hiring manager about the procedure for requesting reasonable accommodations, including with whom and how. This should establish your comfort level with requesting the accommodations you need and set the tone for the hiring process,” says Arseneaux.
While the ADA covers state and local government entities, the Rehabilitation Act covers federal government entities. Private employers that receive over $10,000 annually from contracts with federal agencies and organizations that receive federal assistance are also covered under this law.
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits these types of employers from discriminating against qualified job applicants with disabilities. It also provides funding for vocational rehabilitation programs, skills training, and other disability-related purposes.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) helps provide training and career services to all job seekers. There are several parts of this legislation that are concerned specifically with disabled workers, including:
- WIOA requires American Job Centers to maintain physical and programmatic accessibility for people with disabilities.
- Pre-employment transition services are available for students with disabilities.
- State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies engage with employers and connect them with disabled workers.
Also, Section 188 of WIOA prohibits disability-based discrimination at programs and activities that are offered as part of WIOA-supported workforce development efforts.
Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act
Another piece of legislation that you should be aware of is the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA), which covers federal contracts or subcontracts of $100,000 or more.
Such contractors are required by this law to provide equal access of employment activities (recruiting, hiring, promotions, etc.) to disabled veterans. VEVRAA also requires employers to post available jobs with their local state employment service so that veterans get priority access in job listings.
Dealing With Workplace Discrimination and Harassment
It’s good to know that there are laws on the books protecting people with disabilities from discrimination — but unless these laws are actually enforced, they’re not going to have their intended effect. Federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
You should be aware that not all organizations are covered by the laws that are enforced by the EEOC. While federal government entities are subject to these laws regardless of their size, private businesses as well as state and local government entities with fewer than 15 employees are not required to follow all of these rules.
Your protections under the EEOC+
The EEOC ensures that employees and job applicants are protected against discrimination based on sex, race, age, disability, and other factors. Disabled workers are also protected from being denied reasonable accommodations.
Laws that the EEOC enforces+
The laws enforced by the EEOC include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, and the Equal Pay Act. For disabled workers, the ADA is the most relevant law that is enforced by the EEOC.
What constitutes harassment?+
Legally, harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct such as offensive jokes, physical assaults or threats, ridicule or insults, and the display of offensive objects or pictures. This behavior becomes illegal when it creates a hostile work environment or when a worker gets fired for refusing to put up with the harassment.
How you’re protected from retaliation+
It is also illegal for employers to retaliate against workers who make an effort to utilize these anti-discrimnation laws. Specifically, employers may not punish an employee for talking to a supervisor about discrimination in the workplace, refusing to follow directions from a supervisor that would result in discrimination, filing an employment discrimination complaint, or assisting an EEOC investigation.
How to file an employment discrimination complaint+
The EEOC has divided their jurisdiction over the country into 15 districts, and each district has at least one EEOC field office. To file an employment discrimination complaint, contact the EEOC field office with jurisdiction over your area.
How to file a lawsuit+
After you’ve filed a complaint with one of your district’s EEOC field offices, they will decide whether there is a strong enough case that the employer violated the ADA for them to move forward with litigation. If the EEOC decides to not bring a lawsuit against the employer based on your complaint, you will be notified that you have the right to sue them in civil court.
If you decide to file a civil lawsuit, find an attorney who specializes in employment law (the National Employment Lawyers Association’s directory offers hundreds of options to choose from). The amount of money that you can win in these cases depends on how many times the employer is found to have violated the ADA — the maximum civil penalty is $75,000 for the first offense and $150,000 for each subsequent violation.
Finally, there are a few prominent programs we haven’t yet mentioned that may be able to provide you with some valuable support:
- Office of Disability Employment Policy. Founded in 2001, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is the only non-regulatory federal agency that promotes policies and collaborates with employers on behalf of disabled workers. ODEP doesn’t directly provide support services, but their research, funding, and advocacy works behind-the-scenes to increase the number and improve the quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
- Job Accommodation Network. The Job Accommodation Network, which is funded by ODEP, provides free one-on-one expert consultations on topics such as job accommodation solutions, self-employment options, and the ADA as well as other laws regarding employment rights.
- Ticket to Work. This program provides career development services to Social Security disability beneficiaries who are between the ages of 18 to 64 and want to work. These services include counseling, training, and job placement.
- AbilityOne. Over 40,000 people who are blind or have significant disabilities, including about 3,000 veterans, are employed through AbilityOne. This federal agency generates work for people with disabilities by purchasing products from participating community-based nonprofits that train and employ people with disabilities. If you’re looking for work, AbilityOne’s Find a Job page will direct you to the employment opportunities that are available in their network.
- Workforce Recruitment Program. Managed by ODEP and the Department of Defense, the Workforce Recruitment Program connects employers with college students and recent graduates who have disabilities and are ready to enter the workforce. This is an excellent resource if you’re looking for a short-term summer job to test out a career path or gain some experience as you continue your studies. The Workforce Recruitment Program offers permanent job opportunities as well.