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How to Find a Job With an Intellectual Disability

by Ellie Williams, studioD

Intellectual disability refers to the impairment of cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, problem solving and interpersonal skills. Conditions such as Down syndrome and autism can cause these problems, which can interfere with the ability to find and keep a job. If you have an intellectual disability and are searching for employment, create a strategy that plays up your strengths and minimizes any weaknesses.

Assess Your Strengths and Limitations

Before you embark on a job hunt, think about what you naturally excel at and what tasks are difficult for you. If you struggle with interpersonal skills, such as communicating with others and being social, avoid jobs in customer service or positions where you must often work in groups. Instead, opt for something where you can work independently. If you have difficulty remembering things or multitasking, steer clear of high-pressure jobs where it’s crucial that you think quickly or keep track of a long list of responsibilities.

Know Your Rights

The Americans With Disabilities Act protects people with intellectual disabilities from hiring discrimination. If you’re worried your condition will prejudice employers against you, you don’t have to disclose it. Prospective employers also can’t ask about it during the interview. However, they can ask if you can perform the required job duties. For example, an employer can ask if you can file items in alphabetical or numerical order, but cannot ask if you have an impairment that would prevent you from doing so. They also cannot ask if you take medication or have ever been hospitalized for your condition.

Learn to Sell Yourself

If your disability hinders your social skills, you may have difficulty making a good impression on potential employers during an interview. Brush up on your interviewing skills by working with a job coach or counselor, and by asking friends or family to help you practice by conducting mock interviews. Also, learn how to showcase your skills and strengths so that employers see them instead of your disability. Create a portfolio that showcases your work and any supporting materials, such as performance reviews and letters of recommendation. This shows employers that you’ve been successful at previous jobs and that you have the knowledge and experience they’re seeking.

Seek Professional Guidance

Many employment agencies, government offices and nonprofit social services organizations provide training and job coaching for people with intellectual disabilities. Volunteers for America, for example, offers counseling, job placement and training. You can also seek help from a Vocational Rehabilitation agency, offices operated by the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration. To qualify, you must demonstrate that your disability interferes with your ability to hold down a job, and that assistance from the organization can help resolve this. Some private employment agencies also specialize in or offer programs for job seekers with intellectual disabilities.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

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