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How to job hunt for people with disabilities (Part 1)

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Helping people with intellectual disabilities job hunt can be very challenging, especially in this economy. Many barriers must be overcome, among the largest of which are attitudes. Sometimes it’s the attitude of the job seeker that is difficult. He or she may not be motivated to work, and depending on his or her circumstances, they may not have to.

By far the biggest attitude that job hunters are fighting against is that of the employers. Statistically speaking, people with disabilities are among the most underutilized segment of the workforce. Many businesses are not familiar with hiring adults with disabilities. They often react with fear, stating concerns that these workers might be a greater liability to the company, or that they simply can’t do the job.

It’s the task of the job developer to change those attitudes. While it may feel a bit like trying to hold the ocean back with a broom, there are some strategies that may get a foot in the door. First and foremost, don’t lead with the word “disability” because rightly or not, it turns many people off. Business owners and managers are interested in the bottom line. Taking on the responsibility of a worker with a disability may seem like a burden. They are not the non-profits; that’s our job. Their job is to make money. The job developer from the human service agency has to keep that in mind. The truth is most people want to know what’s in it for them. It’s our job to tell them that. An effective approach is to ask the employer to talk about his or her business. Once they start, listen for openings. Try to find out what their needs are. Once that information is out there, then the job developer can begin to talk about how his or her job seeker can make the business owner’s life easier and improve the bottom line.

It’s important to be truthful about your job seeker, particularly if the disability is obvious. Blindsiding the employer is never a good idea. Be aware that there is a fine line between being honest about the job seeker and leading with it. Think of it as a boxing match; you never want to lead with your chin. Take the time to get to know the business owner and his or her needs. Build the relationship. They want to know that the job developer cares as much about making them happy as he or she does about making the job seeker happy. As they get to know and trust you, they will be more likely to be open to meeting your job seeker.

Much of this information comes from a very effective training offered by the Institute for Community Inclusion from the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

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