Helping People with Intellectual Disabilities find Jobs

Leonora Hall                                                                                                                                           Elon University Career Advising Fellow                                                                                           April 6, 2017


As a former teacher of adults with intellectual disabilities and as a current career advisor, I have come up with some thoughts and advice about helping people with intellectual disabilities find meaningful work. With colleges and universities offering programs for people with intellectual disabilities, helping the graduates find work is an essential next step.  Above is a picture of my sister who attends a program called Scholars with Diverse Abilities at Appalachian State University  (  She graduates in May and is starting to think about what is next.  It is important for people like my sister to have fulfilling work where they can contribute and are valued.  The following are considerations to make when helping a person with a disability find work:

  1. What does the person with an intellectual disability (job seeker) enjoy doing and how could they contribute?

Start with the basics, does the individual enjoy working with people or things? What do they like to do? What strengths and weaknesses does the individual have?

  1. Preparing Job Search Materials (job application, resume, cover letter)

It is important to help job seekers with their job application materials but also embrace their individual level of work.  Their resume should reflect their abilities.

  1. Safety is priority

People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable and it is crucial that they are in a safe and supportive work environment.  Career advisors could share established and recommended organizations and encourage the students and their parents or guardians to do informational interviews with potential employers.  Informational interviews are an opportunity to find out information about an organization and the work culture.  I mentioned parents and guardians accompanying the job seeker with an intellectual disability because it is important for them to have an advocate and someone who can get a sense of the organization’s environment, at least for the initial visit.  The following resource provides questions to ask employers

  1. Networking

Ask the job seeker if you can let others know that they are looking for a job and encourage them to do the same.  Do not ask for jobs for the job seeker but, instead, ask about opportunities.

  1. Necessary Accommodations

What accommodations will the job seeker need to be successful?  For instance, if an individual cannot tell time with an analog clock, they could use a digital watch to keep track of time.  Perhaps the individual could be paired with a mentor who looks out for them.  The link listed above also gives appropriate accommodations that someone with an intellectual disability might need at work.

  1. Self – Advocacy

Job seekers with intellectual disabilities need to know they can speak up and say, “I don’t understand” or “I need help.”

While paid work for people with intellectual disabilities is preferable, it is hard to find.  Volunteering is another meaningful option for people with disabilities so they can still give back and engage in work.  I believe that employers who hire people with intellectual disabilities will benefit from fostering a diverse and inclusive team while people with disabilities will benefit by developing their skill set and having a job they enjoy.



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