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Job-Hunting Tips for Adults With Disabilities

7 smart ways to steer your search

Hannon: Finding job if you are disabled

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Physical and cognitive disabilities shouldn’t stop you from a successful job search.

En español | Whether you're dealing with a vision or hearing impairment, or some other physical or cognitive limitation — arthritis, perhaps, or PTSD — disability can add special challenges to finding a job.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy reports that the October 2015 unemployment rate for adults with disabilities was 10.5 percent vs. a 4.6 percent rate for adults without. People with disabilities who did have a job were more likely to work part time and be self-employed.

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Even if your condition doesn't undermine your ability to do a job, the fact is that many potential employers will have worries. But you can prove them wrong — and in making your case you'll have special protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Here are seven smart ways to navigate your job search.

1. Check out websites geared to disabled and older workers. The Retired Brains website has loads of useful tips on how to find jobs that allow you to work at home. Disability.gov has exhaustive info about U.S. government disability programs and employment. Look at the Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network and GettingHired.com, a disability employment site featuring postings from such companies as Hilton Worldwide Inc. and energy provider Exelon Corp.

If you're receiving disability benefits from Social Security, look into its Ticket to Work program. You may qualify for free employment help such as career counseling and job placement and training.

2. Tap into the federal government's job board. Go to USAJobs.gov and click on the link for people with disabilities. You can set up a profile and receive alerts for government jobs that are specifically for people in your situation.

3. Find a mentor. Connect with someone who has comparable issues and holds a job that appeals to you. Ask how the person obtained the job and does it well despite the disability. The nearest chapter of the national association that deals with your condition might be able to put you in touch with a mentor.

4. Do a reality check. You've found an opening. Now ask yourself: Can you do the job? Truthfully, will you be not only comfortable with the work, but good at it? If you have knee or hip issues, for example, you might do well to avoid a job in retail that includes long periods of standing. Likewise for one with a commute that requires lengthy walks to and from a bus stop.

For some people, the challenge is cognitive issues, such as problem solving, editing and writing on a computer, says Rosalind Joffe, a career coach for people living with chronic health conditions. "For others, it can be such things as vision," she says. "When thinking about a new job, you want to keep in mind these limits, but focus on what you can do. If you only focus on your limits, it's difficult to find the courage and resilience to look for a job at all."

See also: Get unstuck with a career professional

So, before you put your hat in the ring, dissect the job description carefully to figure out requirements beyond formal skills and certifications. The Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good resource for this task.

Have a hankering to become a senior massage therapist? The handbook's section on how to become one states that you may have to stay on your feet throughout appointments and will need "physical strength and dexterity."

5. Consider when — and if — to discuss your disability. "If you can do the job as described, without any work-arounds," says Joffe, "then ask yourself what makes you want to discuss your health condition and the limitations it puts on you." There may, in fact, be no reason to bring it up.

The Americans with Disabilities Act bars an employer from denying you a job just because you have a disability. To protect you, detailed rules say what the employer can and can't ask, and when — for instance, the employer can't ask disability-related questions or require medical exams until after you've been given a conditional job offer. You can find the full details on the ADA website.

Even if you have an obvious condition, most experts agree that disclosing a disability in a résumé or cover letter can work against you, at least in the initial stages when an employer is paring down a stack of applications. Your first objective is to get invited in for an interview to show what you have to offer.

If there's something physically noticeable or an issue such as accessibility for a wheelchair, consider letting your interviewer know in advance, after the meeting date is set.

That's the advice of Kate Williams, head of the Employment Immersion Program at LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. You don't want surprises when you come through the door. "You want the hiring manager to look at your skills and your talents," she says. "You should be defined by your ability, not your disability."

6. Hone your interview performance. There's no reason you shouldn't discuss the proverbial elephant in the room if you're comfortable doing so. It gives you the power to make the case why, disability or not, you're the best person for the job.

If you'll need to handle certain duties differently than other employees, be sure you can easily explain any work-arounds and particular accommodations such as a special computer screen, desk or speech recognition software.

If there's a gap on your résumé due to a medical-related issue, be prepared to show how you continued building your skills through such activities as volunteer work or certification courses.

Before you come in, practice. Ask a friend or family member to sit down with you and hear your pitch.

In short, the best way for you to stand out is to demonstrate that you can do the job and are genuinely interested in the company and opportunity.

7. Adopt a chin-up attitude. "You have to get out of the 'I can't do it, I'm not capable' mentality," Williams advises. "If you don't project the belief that you can do the job, no one else will believe it."

Kerry Hannon is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her lastest book is Getting the Job You Want After 50 For Dummies. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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