Resume and Employment Guide for People With Disabilities
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Written by: Jeff Arseneaux, Disability Employment Consultant
Updated: July 11, 2022
According to the Social Security Administration, there are over 8 million disabled workers in the United States. These workers often face challenges such as sterotyping, discrimination, and a lack of accommodations. 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.
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
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 ar