The Best Careers for the Physically Disabled

| TBS Staff

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The unemployment rate for people with physical handicaps is 50% higher than for the able-bodied, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

However, people with disabilities now have more occupational opportunities than ever before, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), adaptive technology, and work-at-home employment through the Internet. This article will discuss 10 of the many career choices particularly well-suited to people with hearing, vision, or mobility impairments.

First, how does the ADA define a physical disability and what are those who meet the qualifications entitled to? The ADA defines a physical impairment as something that impacts a “major life activity” of a person, such as caring for self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, or sleeping.

Employers are required to provide reasonable modifications to the work environment that enable a disabled person to perform his or her job duties. This can include a wheelchair ramp, adaptive computer technology, or accommodation of a service animal. Employers also must ensure disabled persons have the same rights and privileges as their non-disabled co-workers. Accommodations are intended to be a negotiation between management and employee.

Tax incentives are available for employers who provide jobs for the disabled. A poll by Louis Harris points to a high level of satisfaction among employers of the disabled, with 39% responding that their disabled workers were more reliable than the non-disabled ones, and a further 42% saying the two types of employees were equally reliable.

The careers below have been arranged alphabetically within four general categories: any type of physical disability; hearing impairment; vision impairment; and mobility impairment.

All statistics are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unless otherwise indicated.

Any Type of Phsyical Disability

Many jobs can be performed by people with hearing loss, vision impairment, or who use a wheelchair with little adaptation needed. These include writing, teaching, self-employment, sales, and accounting.

$61,690 Accountant

What they do: An accountant prepares and examines financial records, such as tax returns

Where they work: Accountants can be self-employed, working for a number of different clients on a contract basis, or they may work for accounting firms or directly for a wide variety of businesses.

Accounting firms obviously are a major employer of accountants. However, large businesses often have their own in-house accountants, as well, to process and track payroll, capital investments, profits, royalties, and other forms of income and expenditure.

Some self-employed accountants focus on a particular type of business, such as tax returns.

Education: Accountants typically hold a bachelor's degree and may be certified in their particular branch of accountancy. Many employers want candidates with work experience.

Income: The median annual pay is $61,690.

Varies widely Salesperson

What they do: A salesperson's role is to sell a product or service by communicating with potential customers about how their product or service meets a real or perceived need. A satisfied and knowledgeable customer can make the best salesperson: Therefore, a person with a disability seeking employment in sales may want to contact the maker of whatever adaptive technology they use.

Where they work: Salespeople can be found in retail settings, insurance offices, and virtually anywhere a product or service is produced or sold. Salespeople can work by phone from home, in a showroom, or at prospective customers' locations.

Education: At least high school, and sometimes several years of college, depending on the product and clientele.

Income: Varies widely; can include commission, which is typically 10—20% of the purchase price. Salespeople can also earn bonuses for meeting specified quotas and sales goals.

Varies widely Self-employed Worker

What they do: Some disabled people discover that self-employment is the best option for them. This field overlaps with most of the others in this section, as writers, accountants, and even teachers can be self-employed.

Other forms of self-employment include owning and operating a business, either bricks-and-mortar or online; serving as a consultant for other businesses; being a lawyer in one's own independent office; and most other lines of self-employment pursued by the able-bodied. Numerous websites now exist where people can tutor others in a specific subject or develop series of lectures for student/consumers to purchase.

One self-employment opportunity uniquely suited for the disabled in accessibility consulting. This entails advising companies about how they can make their offices and surrounding areas more user-friendly for people with different disabilities.

Where they work: A self-employed person typically works at home, or perhaps in a co-working environment set up for self-employed people to share office space to enjoy camaraderie and a greater sense of work/home separation.

Self-employed contractors or freelancers also may work at a client's place of business. Professional service providers such as attorneys or therapists may rent professional office space.

Education: Varies. Some college coursework in marketing and business administration can be helpful, along with professional continuing education in the self-employed person's area.

Income: Varies widely.

$53,220 Teacher

What they do: Instructors help people of various age groups improve themselves intellectually and master new skills. People who have overcome a disability can use their hard-earned expertise to teach and mentor others with or without the same disability.

The advent of online education also affords more opportunities than ever for people to teach others without having to leave home. The online format also means people with vision or hearing impairments can teach and engage fully with others through adaptive technology.

What to teach? Those who become disabled later in life may still be able to teach and mentor others in their former profession if they can no longer engage in the work themselves. For example, an athlete who becomes disabled may still be able to coach young athletes. Likewise, a law enforcement officer or firefighter disabled from a job injury can still teach skills and knowledge to people entering the profession.

A disabled person may want to consider a career as a special education teacher, where he or she can help children with disabilities learn essential life skills in addition to general school topics like social studies and mathematics.

Where they work: Instructors can teach in schools, on college campuses, in community centers, or online.

Education: Many instructors have at least a master's degree in their area of expertise. However, extensive training and experience can qualify someone to teach essential job skills. Teachers for kindergarten through high school usually need certification and a bachelor's degree.

Income: Varies by topic and age level; the median income for a special education teacher is $53,220.

$55,420 Writer

What they do: The writer's role is to communicate with readers through the written word.

“Write what you know” is a common and true adage that can take different forms for people with disabilities. such as writing about the disability. Possible platforms include a blog about life as a person with a disability or writing newspaper, magazine, web content, or ebooks to educate the public on disability issues or provide “how-to” information for people with disabilities.

Writers can use their existing expertise gained through work, family, or personal interests to generate ideas for articles and books. Alternatively, a writer can branch out and study a different subject to specialize in. This can also entail developing a network of expert sources.

Writers can be self-employed, writing books to sell to readers and publishers, or they can work for a range of clients. Companies and non-profit groups also hire writers to get their message out to the public through advertising, newsletters, press releases, brochures, and other promotional material.

One sub-specialty for independent writers is ghost-writing, in which the author helps another person tell his or her story and receives money, but usually no by-line. Another sub-category is technical writing, which usually requires background knowledge in science and technology.

Where they work: Writers can work virtually anywhere, as long as they have a computer or even just a pad and pen. Some work in corporate or company offices. Others establish home offices or even a writer's retreat, with research materials close at hand. Some self-employed writers wanting social connection may do some of their work from a coffee shop or co-working space.

Education: A well-rounded college education is helpful for a writing career. Some universities offer programs in journalism or creative writing which can help new writers hone their craft. Years of rich life experience are also invaluable, as are an insatiable appetite for reading and a deep curiosity about life and the world.

Income: The income level for writers varies widely depending on the individual's background and type of writing; the median income is $55,420.

Hearing Impairment

In addition to the careers listed above, those who are hearing-impaired can perform most of the same jobs as hearing people can. However, hearing-impaired job seekers may want to consider a field where their condition is a non-issue.

For example, jobs working with loud equipment or in noisy environments such as factories can be a good fit, as noise would not be a distraction and potential hearing loss would be a moot point.

Examples include construction and factory work of all types. Here, we examine one labor area—industrial machinery mechanics and maintenance workers.

$38,460 | $45,420 Industrial Machinery Worker

What they do: Those who work with industrial machinery—including mechanics and maintenance workers—keep factory and industrial equipment and machines operating efficiently. Examples of such machinery include conveying systems and packaging equipment.

Where they work: These skilled laborers typically are employed in factories and other industrial settings.

Education: These jobs require at least a high school diploma. Industrial machinery mechanics typically need a year of trade school or training on top of that, while machinery maintenance workers often are trained on the job for between three and 12 months.

Income: The median annual pay for industrial machinery mechanics is $45,420, while the figure for machinery maintenance workers is $38,460.

$18.52 | $22.56 (hourly) Machinist/Tool-and-Die Maker

What they do: Machinists and tool-and-die makers are responsible for the set-up and operation of machine tools which are controlled either mechanically or by computer. These machine produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools.

Specific duties include working from blueprints, sketches, and design files; calculating and verifying dimensions; monitoring machines; shaping and grinding machine parts to specifications; and inspecting products for defects.

Where they work: These skilled laborers usually work on factory floors and in machine shops.

Education: A formal apprenticeship is usually required, along with a high school diploma that should include coursework in algebra and trigonometry. The apprenticeship is paid job experience plus technical instruction. The program can last up to five years. Those who complete it can receive journey-level certification. Some community and technical colleges now offer training, as well.

Income: The median hourly machinist wage is $18.52, while tool-and-die makers earn $22.56.

Vision Impairment

Careers for the blind and visually impaired include most jobs the fully sighted person can do, though they might go about it a little differently.

Computers with screen readers greatly enlarge the pool of job prospects for people with limited or no sight. Organizations like the Association for Blind Citizens can help legally blind job hunters purchase adaptive devices like portable barcode scanners to help them in the workplace and enhance their quality of life.

One growing job field that often is a good fit for blind workers is call centers, since the work is done over the telephone.

$30,460 Call Center/Customer Service Representative

What they do: These workers represent organizations, responding to customer orders, questions, and complaints when customers call in.

Where they work: Call centers typically have large phone banks and often are located at a separate location from the organization's headquarters. Some companies also contract with individuals to work from home as customer service representatives.

Education: These jobs typically require just a high school diploma and brief on-the-job training.

Income: The median annual pay for this field is $30,460.

Mobility Impairment

People who use wheelchairs can do well in most office environments. Builders, architects, and business owners understand the importance of providing an accessible work environment that meets ADA specifications. Some businesses are also moving toward more telecommuting, meaning employees can work from home.

Some general office jobs include manager, executive, director, secretary, and administrator. "Office jobs" in this context refers to positions where most of the work is performed at a fixed office location, so little travel is involved. This makes it easier for the disabled and their employer to ensure the work area is accessible and comfortable.

The employment category of “office and administrative support” is expected to generate more jobs than any other field between now and 2020, according to the BLS. Below, we examine two specific office jobs with good income and potential for growth. Both relate to information technology (IT).

$82,160 Computer Systems Analyst

What they do: These professionals review computer systems and protocols to help management run their organization more efficiently.

Where they work: Many work in computer design firms. Other frequent employers are finance and insurance, company management, and government. Analysts can work directly for an organization or they can be self-employed and work as consultants.

Education: A bachelor's degree in computer science is generally required. However, if a candidate can write computer code and has a liberal arts or business degree, that combination can also work well.

Income: The median wage in 2011 was $82,160.

$89,280 Software Developer

What they do: As the title suggests, these professionals develop software applications and systems. They write, test, improve, and maintain computer code that helps end users perform specific tasks. They also instruct programmers on how to write code for the software.

Where they work: Developers work in the IT department of businesses or for software firms. Some work in the finance and insurance industry.

Education: A bachelor's degree in computer science or mathematics. A master's degree may be preferable for some positions.

Income: The median salary in 2011 was $89,280.

To sum up, people with disabilities can perform many of the jobs available to the able-bodied. Those with hearing, sight, or mobility impairments can even turn their disabilities into employment assets through careful self-marketing and job selection.

Header Image Credit: Maskot | Getty Images

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