Finding Meaningful Employment

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People with disabilities often face obstacles when pursuing gainful employment. By deploying techniques used by other job hunters and using workforce development resources, the path to a career should have fewer challenges. If you have Cerebral Palsy and are either underemployed, or unemployed, we have compiled a list of resources which should prove helpful in your job search.

About employment opportunities for individuals with Cerebral Palsy

Productive and gainful employment is a basic human right, yet individuals with disabilities have a significantly higher level of unemployment than the rest of the population, even though they are well-suited for the workplace.

The ability of a person to obtain – and maintain – meaningful and productive employment is dependent in many ways on the quality of his or her access to secondary education, workforce development programs or skill development. Workforce development resources designed to train, guide, develop, and assist, are slowly closing a gap in economic opportunity that has existed for too long.

Accessible transportation, buildings and workspaces provide access to a sustainable income for people who are willing and qualified to work. And, employers are incentivized to hire individuals with special needs. To
There are many factors that may hold people back from earning a living, but simply having a disability shouldn’t be one of them.

Securing meaningful, sustained

In today’s tight labor market, things are tough all over for anyone who finds themselves unemployed or underemployed. Some estimates indicate that amid what decision-makers like to call an economic recovery, there are six job applicants for every one available position.

This situation has meant a reversal of fortune for people who have lost their jobs, and those people managing to cling to their means of support. Those solidly in the middle class five years ago may find themselves in a new, unexpected position of having to stretch every dollar to make ends meet.

It’s a scenario that may feel familiar to people with disabilities. Labor participation has reached a new low for people with disabilities even in an era when regulation and technology have made great strides towards leveling the playing field for people who use assistive technology to communicate, public transportation to commute, universal design for access into and out of buildings and rest rooms, and computers to streamline simplified tasks that used to require physical labor such as filing, or filling out forms.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau, only 32.3 percent of people with disabilities (ages 16 to 64) participate in the labor force, down 3 percent from 2005. It’s a number that in no way reflects the skill, intelligence and work ethic people with disabilities are capable of offering an employer. Though some individuals with disabilities do opt out of the labor force because of their condition, others have pursued higher education, vocational training and workforce development participation in the hopes of securing gainful employment, to no avail.

The reasons are numerous. There is still a stigma attached to employees with disabilities as employers may feel like they will have to make costly improvements to work spaces to accommodate an employee. Additionally, a hiring manager may not be able to ascertain what a potential employee is fully capable of achieving in an interview process, and if he or she inquires, it could have the appearance of discrimination.

From a practical standpoint, when people with disabilities are shunned out of the job market, it means they will be dependent on family resources – if those are available, and social services such as housing, financial assistance, health care services, food assistance and other programs that meet needs in a minimal way, and are subject to political and societal funding whims. In fact, a worker with a disability, through workplace incentive laws, may be able to work and collect Social Security benefits, which will raise his or her standard of living.

But for a job candidate with a disability, employment serves other purposes beyond practical matters. A job can provide a new sense of purpose; the act of getting up five days a week to improve oneself and contribute productively to an employer is an immense source of pride and self-esteem that, in a perfect world, would be within everyone’s grasp. The ability to be independent, not dependent, and provide for self and family is a basic human need; some would argue it is a basic civil right.
The rule of law and the real world

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act put into place extensive protections for people with disabilities as it relates to employment, as well as restrictions on employers in terms of what they can ask in an interview setting.

Hiring managers are prohibited by law to directly inquire about a candidate’s disability. The manager can only ask questions that determine whether a person’s skills and experience render him or her qualified for a position and whether they can satisfy job requirements with, or without, reasonable accommodation.

The term “reasonable accommodation” means that employers may need to make changes to existing facilities to make them accessible to people with disabilities. It may also mean that a slight modification for hours, work environment, or providing unpaid leave may be necessary. But no employer is required to make an accommodation that would cause “undue hardship,” or complex, expensive modifications that could put a dent in a company’s financial resources.

To learn more about the rights of employers and job applicants/employees:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Although the ADA provided many benefits for job-seekers with disabilities, the same set of circumstances exists for anyone who believes that they were a victim of employment discrimination. A hiring manager would have asked all the right questions, and a candidate may have provided all the right answers, and no job offer was forthcoming. And the candidate has no idea why.

Although it may seem as though candidates may never get a break in this regard, there are some things that candidates with disabilities can do to level the playing field between themselves and other applicants. First, they must learn to sell their skills, personality and ambition to the hiring manager.
This means candidates should discuss what other candidates discuss – goals, experiences, education, what sets them apart from other candidates, their knowledge of the position and the company to which they applied, and how they would like their career ambitions translate to a long-term commitment to their employer.

Another strategy a candidate can deploy may, on the surface, feel like an affront, but it can help a person meet their professional goals: Be open about a disability, and invite any and all questions. Some refer to this as “taking the elephant out of the room.” An applicant can reassure an employer that they understand, and can meet, the demands of the position. They can explain that they use a communication device, but can fully communicate on par with others. They can reassure their level of competency in utilizing computers by presenting program and training certifications.

For an employer to extend a job offer, they need to be sure a candidate can actually perform a job. If he or she has any doubts, a deciding factor can turn against a candidate’s favor if some questions remain unanswered. Tell the employer up front if a reasonable accommodation will be needed and how it can be procured, or disclose if none will be needed. Make a point of telling the interviewer that there were no difficulties getting in, or out of, a building. And ask them, “Do you have any questions about how I might work day-to-day?”

These strategies will help an interviewer make a decision based on skills and experience as opposed to factors that are not related to the core responsibilities of a position. In addition, this approach shows initiative, forethought and opens dialogue. An employer is able to begin to match the applicant’s abilities with those required of the position.

Workforce development

People who have a disability that has a minimal or moderate effect on their ability to function may have as much difficulty obtaining employment as those who have a more pronounced or noticeable disability. People who have major physical disabilities or developmental disabilities do have resources they can avail themselves of in the realm of what is called workforce development.

When a young person is high school age and in a special education program, they are transitioned into skill training in concert with the special education services through their school district as part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process. In these circumstances, a student may take part in classroom activities that are vocational-oriented, or they may receive their training on-site through mentorship programs. Their skill sets are matched with employer job requirements.

For more information on transitioning young adults from school to employment, visit:

  • PACER Center offers many resources through the Technical Assistance on Transition and the Rehabilitation Act (TATRA) Project, including post secondary education, employment preparation, work incentives, ticket to work programs, supported employment, transition planning and employment, vocational rehabilitation and workforce centers. For more information, visit Pacer Center.
  • Transition Coalition provides online support on topics related to transitioning youth with disabilities from school to adult life, visit Transition Coalition.

Those with disability entering higher education are encouraged to make contact with their college’s disability service office. This office can administer to the concerns of college students who may require supports while at college and assist in locating employment upon graduation. Colleges also have placement service programs for graduates. They offer job matching services, workforce development opportunities, and support.


job applicant filling out application


The ability of a person to obtain – and maintain – meaningful and productive employment is dependent in many ways on the quality of his or her access to higher education, vocational programs or skill development. Employment assistance offered by the government, non-profit agencies, or educational institutions can fill the training and employment gap that prevents people are willing and eager to work from earning a sustainable paycheck. Employment Assistance

About employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities

Reduced government funding affects one man’s ability to work

Michigan man’s story illustrates the importance government-funded assistants can play in the lives of individuals with disability, and how difficult it can be to navigate government services.
Robert’s Story