Getting a Job If You’re in a Wheelchair: 7 Steps
Getting a job if you’re in a wheelchair can seem like an impossible dream. But as many people with disabilities can tell you, it’s not.
While it might be difficult, thousands of people in wheelchairs have found satisfying and challenging jobs that pay well and even offer full benefits. Many of these jobs are in places you wouldn’t expect.
Did you know, for example, that agencies like the FBI hire qualified people with disabilities? Not everyone who works there is an agent and carries a gun. The FBI has plenty of jobs that can accommodate people with disabilities. So don’t limit your options by thinking a company or organization wouldn’t even consider hiring you.
In fact, by law, any company or agency that accepts federal funds must hire disabled workers. Other laws guarantee that you can’t be discriminated against. However, a company doesn’t have to lower its standards to hire you just because you have a disability.
Which means that you’ll have to work at selling your talents and skills to a company. You might have to look a little harder or do a bit more research to find a great job. But it’s not impossible.
Follow these seven steps to finding jobs if you’re in a wheelchair:
1. Think About Jobs You Can Do
Start your job search by being realistic about the type of work you can do. There’s no point even thinking about jobs that require long periods of standing if that’s not possible for you.
Office jobs are easily adapted to wheelchair users and with a motorized wheelchair, it’s easy to get around the office without straining yourself. Professions like computer programming or accounting are also good fits. Creative environments like design studios are often good places for people in wheelchairs to work.
An increasingly popular alternative is working from home. This eliminates all the transport and accommodation issues involved with a job you commute to.
If you’re not sure about the kinds of jobs you can do, or just want some more ideas, websites, like Confined to Success, can help.
2. Define What You Have to Offer an Employer
Make an inventory of your education, skills, and experience. Be as specific as you can.
If you need some more training for the jobs that interest you, by all means, get some. Don’t get stuck thinking you need to just settle for any job you can get. Set some career goals and work toward them.
But what if you don’t have any work experience? Think about the volunteer work you’ve done. If you’ve ever organized an event, for example, you can use that experience to show you have organizational and leadership skills.
If you don’t have any experience at all, do some volunteer work. If you’re in school, internships are a good option. Entry Point is a good place to look for an internship for those studying science, engineering, math, or computer science. The American Association of People with Disabilities website provides information about all kinds of summer internships.
3. Find Jobs to Apply For
Once you have a good idea of what you’d like to do and have listed your skills, you’re ready to look for jobs to apply for.
There are also several job banks specifically for the disabled, such as:
• https://abilityjobs.com Provides the largest service for job seekers with disabilities and employers who want to hire them
• http://www.disabilityjobexchange.com Offers resume and job search assistance, as well as job postings
• https://www.disabledperson.com Features an accessible job search website
• https://www.gettinghired.com Caters to professionals and veterans with disabilities
• https://connect.ourability.com Helps employers connect with job seekers with disabilities
• https://tapability.org Creates a talent pool made up of disabled people to help them connect with employers
It’s always worth checking USAjobs.com, as government jobs must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Don’t forget another way many job seekers land jobs: through the power of networking. Talk to people you know who work for companies you’re interested in. Personal referrals can do a lot to help you get past the initial screening and land an interview.
4. Assess the Company or Agency
Before taking the time to apply for a job, take a look at the company or agency that’s hiring. Look at their website and try to find answers to questions such as:
• Do their mission and values align with yours?
• Do they have a culture of supporting employees and helping them grow professionally?
• Are their salaries, wages, and benefits competitive?
You want to find a job with a company or agency that will be good to work for, not someplace that just wants to squeeze the most out of you they can.
Then you’ll need to dig a little deeper and try to find out:
• How accessible are the work buildings? The toilets?
• If you don’t drive, will you be able to arrange transport to and from the workplace?
• What’s the company’s reputation for hiring, training and promoting disabled people?
Use this information to help you decide which jobs you want to apply for.
5. Be Professional Throughout the Application Process.
Once you’ve decided you want to apply for a specific job, maintain the highest standards of professionalism every step of the way. Make sure your online application and resume have no typos. Give complete and honest answers.
Emphasize the portions of your education and experience that are most relevant to the job. If, for example, they want to know what experience you have in graphic design, emphasize any work you’ve done as a designer. You want to show how you are a good match for the job.
Many experts agree that there is no need to mention your wheelchair in the job application, in your cover letter or on your resume.
6. Prepare for the Interview
Good interview preparation can mean the difference between being hired and not. Like any job seeker, you’ll need to have several good questions about the company and the job prepared. Websites like The Balance Careers can give you some ideas.
Practice explaining your goals and describing your experience. Have a few key examples to share with the interviewer that demonstrate you have the skills needed to do the job you’re applying for.
Most importantly, be ready to discuss what you can contribute to the company and why you are a good fit for the job.
Be prepared to discuss what accommodations will help you be successful in the job. If you’re not sure what kind of accommodations you’ll need or which ones are reasonable, then this website can help. It provides accommodation ideas by type of disability.
Don’t forget about your appearance. Like any other job seeker, you’ll want to make sure your clothing, hair and grooming project a competent, professional image.
While making arrangements for the interview, ask about accessibility to wherever the interview is to be held. This is the time to explain you use a wheelchair.
7. Keep the Focus of the Interview on Your Skills, Not Your Disability
Once you’re at the interview, your goal is to convince the employer that you can do the job. If you’ve done your homework, you should be able to handle the questions about your background and experience with ease.
But what about questions about your disability? Here’s where a little preparation can go a long way.
First, remember that some questions are illegal to ask. For example, they cannot ask you any questions like “How long have you been in a wheelchair?” or “Why do you use a wheelchair?” You are not obligated to answer these kinds of questions or describe your disability or health status until the job offer has been made.
One way to answer illegal questions is to say something like “My personal challenges will not stand in the way of making a valuable contribution to your company.”
Then turn the discussion to how any barriers can be overcome. If you have examples of how you’ve overcome barriers in the past, describe them. Describe specific solutions, such as:
• Adjusting the height of the desk or work table
• Adjusting the height of the filing system
• Making sure shelves and drawers easy to reach
• Positioning copiers and printers at a lower height
• Adding computer mounts that attach to your wheelchair
The important thing is to be positive. Tell the hiring manager, “If I can reach the copier, I can make copies.” Or, “If the keyboard is positioned properly, I can prepare spreadsheets and enter data.” Give details on how the accommodation might work and explain how you will be able to do the job. If you have an electric wheelchair mentioning that you are effortlessly able to move around the office without getting tired will be seen as a positive.
If you can give an employer simple and specific solutions, they will be more likely to feel that accommodating you is possible. The key to remember is that employers are only required to make reasonable accommodations.
Make sure you come across as reasonable, flexible, and willing to compromise. Maybe the company can’t give you the ideal accommodation. If they are making a good faith effort, then be willing to consider different solutions.
This is because a hiring manager is not just looking for a qualified person who can do the required tasks of the job. The manager also wants to find someone who isn’t going to be difficult to deal with.
If you’re demanding and inflexible about accommodations, then the manager could draw the conclusion you’ll be demanding about everything else, such as work assignments or time off. They might reason that you’ll be more trouble than you’re worth and will decide to hire someone else.
The main thing you want to do during the interview is to convince the employer of any barriers can be overcome, and that your main interest is making a contribution to their company. Make sure you have emphasized what you can do for them over what they should do for you.
You may think that you won’t be able to get a job if you’re in a wheelchair, but that’s simply not true. If you have any doubts, read our list of inspiring successful people with disabilities that became leaders and overachievers. Yes, it will take some time and energy to find the ideal job, but that is typical of everyone in today’s marketplace. There are good jobs out there for people with disabilities. But with a bit of work, you will eventually be able to land a job that you enjoy and gives you the independence, purpose, and fulfillment that holding a job can give you.