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Employment Opportunities For Adults With Intellectual Disabilities

Employment For Special Needs Adults

Everyone wants their children and loved ones to grow into successful, productive members of their community. However, historically, individuals with intellectual disabilities have been a severely underserved sect of the workforce. In recent years, however, more companies have been making the socially-responsible decision to broaden their hiring policies to be more inclusive, and to great benefit.

How to Help Them Prepare

Preparing for your dream job can be a daunting task. Even the most qualified individuals for a job report feeling wholly unprepared for the job of their choice. It’s the same for everyone. If you or your loved one is interested in becoming employed (which we highly recommend), there are actionable steps that can be taken to give them a strong foundation, and an excellent headstart.

Helping Around The House

House-hold chores are a practical way to bridge the gap between being at home, and being in a workplace. Not only does this promote the concept of responsibility, but it also fosters accountability. Clearly communicate your expectations, and be prepared to help when asked. Chores can be as simple as taking the trash to the curb, washing dishes, or helping tend to other household needs. But creating the expectation of helpfulness goes a long way in fostering a desire to do more, especially when a task is accomplished successfully. A job well done is a reason for both you and your loved one to celebrate.

Volunteer Work

Aside from there being a need for volunteers for almost any cause imaginable, volunteering can be a fun, low-stress way of working with others. Make no mistake, volunteer work isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding and builds community. It also may give your loved one the opportunity to work independently of his or her family, allowing them to flex their social skills and strengthen relationships with people outside of their immediate social circle.

Volunteer work often includes some level of manual labor and usually involves a good bit of social interaction without being too complicated, which is a wonderful way to help get rid of nervous energy. It’s a win-win!

Vocational Classes

Vocational classes are a wonderful opportunity to learn real-life skills from trained professionals. Many high schools offer vocational training as part of their high school transitional programs. Vocational specialists trained to assist those with intellectual disabilities can really help your loved one discover interests that correlate with viable employment opportunities.

These classes help individuals learn everyday life skills like how to interview, checking in or out with a supervisor while at work, how to interact with others via phone, and how to navigate confusion or upsetting interactions. These skills can also be reinforced at home.

Ideally, choosing a vocational route has the potential to lead to a paid position. They say that if you have a job that you love, you never work a day in your life!


While managing a part-time job can be more than enough to keep track of, working a variety of part-time positions can help hone important skills. They teach time management, social skills, and are often times very rewarding. On the other hand, they may help you or your loved one narrow down what kind of work they don’t particularly care for so that you can avoid looking for those kinds of full-time positions in the future.

School-to-Work Transition

If you have a soon-to-be adult family member, it’s important to make work an expectation rather than an option. Making the transition from school into the workplace environment is ideal because it helps to maintain a schedule, and keeps social skills sharp.

This is also a great opportunity to practice work situations with roleplay. Try building confidence in scenarios where your loved one may need to ask for time off for a doctor’s appointment or special occasion. Discuss appropriate timing, etiquette, and what phrases are useful when navigating these kinds of interactions.

Additionally, it may prove helpful for caretakers or family members to discuss a loved one’s triggers if they have any with their employers. The better prepared a manager can be to help their employees, the more likely that everyone can have a successful experience.

Why Employment Is Important

For many of us, our work is a defining feature of our personality. It highlights our strengths, helps us build important relationships, connects us to a variety of communities, and helps us feel fulfilled. These core ideals don’t ring any less true for those with intellectual disabilities. Everyone regardless of ability should have the opportunity to be part of their community and to live, work, learn, and play throughout every stage of their lives.

Social skills

Part of feeling fulfilled and experiencing everything the world has to offer is developing social skills. Work is an excellent way to foster social growth. It teaches individuals how to problem solve and how to manage time. It builds friendships, respect, and trust, and in some cases may involve the use of technology, which are transferable skills.

Financial Independence

Did you know that only a little under 15% of individuals with IDD are employed? That’s staggering. In addition to that, caregivers for loved ones may also be unemployed. As is the case with all people, financial independence is an important part of living a normal, healthy life. Being able to purchase your own food, clothing, and other essentials, as well as enjoy everyday luxuries is particularly empowering. Generating income also means being able to contribute to a household in new and helpful ways.

Fosters creativity

Having an outlet for creativity is critical for emotional success. We know that sometimes communicating in conventional ways can be difficult and often frustrating. Having a job pushes us to be creative in our approach to everyday problems. We learn how to streamline tasks, how things are made, or how they work, and what to do when our current method isn’t quite working. Furthermore, being around others facilitates creativity as we learn from them.

Creates a Sense of Fulfillment And Accomplishment

At the end of the day, all anyone can really ask for out of life is to have a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Feeling nourished by what you do is one of the biggest gifts we can be awarded in life. When our bodies and brains spend too much time being idle, we can feel a little lost. Having a routine to look forward to helps to stifle common problems like anxiety and depression, and builds confidence enabling us to challenge ourselves and discover skills we may not even have known we possessed.

Increases Awareness

Unfortunately, the employment rate for individuals with intellectual disabilities is very low. Part of this issue is a lack of visible representation. We know we are strong, able, and ready to take on a variety of tasks. By putting ourselves out there, we become ambassadors for our thriving, colorful community. We become advocates and allies and remind others what they’re capable of.

Why Companies Choose to Hire Adults with IDD

Companies that choose to hire employees with IDD are discovering the worth in being an inclusive business. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, a whopping 43% of companies that choose to hire the disabled have discovered that it produces measurable and observable benefits to their business.

In recent years, high-performance companies that hire adults with IDD have reported that they have experienced positive results and that these individuals have been excellent talent matches for the positions they’ve been selected for. And while these employers are proud to bolster the disabled community, they also feel that it supports their organization’s diversity culture and that these decisions show others that corporations have a social responsibility to be inclusive. What’s even more important is the fact that companies aren’t hiring for government incentives. In fact, less than 15% of companies report this as an important factor when making hiring decisions.

Companies that hire the differently-abled say that, overall, the experience is positive and that these select employees are dependable, engaged, motivated, have wonderful attendance, produce great work, and have high productivity.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, these businesses report that hiring an individual with IDD provides them with an insight on how to better serve their customers.

Employment Opportunities

So now that you’ve prepared, what kinds of jobs would be a good fit for someone with a disability? Fortunately, the sky’s the limit. Determine your strengths and consider some jobs that use that skillset. Some commonly recommended jobs include:

  • Foodservice (waiter, barista, etc.)

  • Artist

  • Photographer

  • Physical labor (construction, physical therapy assistant)

  • Retail

  • Mechanic

  • Phone-related jobs (These can provide work from home options as well.)

  • Receptionist

  • Programmer

  • Jobs working with animals

  • Entrepreneur

Companies With Strong IDD Hiring Practices

The following companies are well known for creating inclusive work culture, and for hiring individuals with disabilities.

  • IBM - This well-known tech giant has helped pave the way for other companies to follow in their footsteps when it comes to hiring the disabled. They’re dedicated to recruiting, hiring, and retaining workers with disabilities, and ensures that their employees are regularly trained to be aware of their inclusivity policies.

  • Freddie Mac - In the past, this well-known mortgage company has partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to creative specific positions aimed at the strengths of adults on the spectrum.

  • Proctor & Gamble - P&G is a household name. You’d be hard-pressed to find a home without at least one of their products floating around. Learn more about their policies on their inclusive workplace by visiting their page.

  • Microsoft - Microsoft is another household name that is dedicated to inclusivity on every level. They’ve developed the disAbility Employee Resource Group, comprised of over 10 employee-driven networks that advocate for various demographics, including the disabled.

  • Walgreens - Walgreens has made great strides in creating an equal, inclusive company culture. Not only does it ensure that its employees are all treated equally, but there’s also no pay gap between typically-abled and the disabled.


In addition to these major brands, sometimes simply visiting a local business is enough to get your foot in the door. You’ll be surprised by how many small business owners are welcoming to employees with ID.

Companies That Can Help

In addition to companies that make a concerted effort to hire inclusively, there may still be some barriers to entry into certain positions. However, there are many resources that focus exclusively on helping those with special needs find employment.


Perhaps most well-known amongst these businesses is This organization is dedicated to ending social, physical, and economic struggles for individuals living with IDD. Working with both children and adults, this company’s influence can be seen in schools and in the community as they advocate, build relationships, and help educate the world on the value of equality and inclusion.

CLICK HERE: Employment Resources →


Posted by Cassie Smith at 2:53 PM