Employment

Competitive, integrated employment is a reachable outcome for people with intellectual disability. Like anyone else, students with intellectual disability attend college to prepare them for the career of their choice. 

Through person-centered planning and skills evaluation, students can choose a field in which to pursue paid or unpaid internships, part-time or full-time work, and volunteer opportunities -- with the ultimate goal of leaving college with a paid job in the field of their choice.

Employment for people with intellectual disability is supported by legislation and advocacy. For example, Employment First is an initiative which advises that employment be the first goal for people with intellectual disability. Most states now have some kind of Employment First policy or initiative.

 The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and Title I is specific to employment. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires transition planning that addresses goals after high school, including training, education, and employment.

Another important law about employment is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA. WIOA increases the focus on improving service delivery to individuals with barriers to employment, including youth and adults with intellectual disability.

News & Features

Photo of Amy Dwyre D'Agati
Amy Dwyre D’Agati is a technical assistance provider for Think College on issues related to employment for people with disabilities. ...Read more
Photo of employee working with job developer
This module shares strategies for an asset or strength-based marketing approach to job development, focusing on a young person’s interests, skills, talents and support needs and matching them to th ...Read more
This webinar reviews the focus on employment and real work, and looks at best practice programming that has been shown to lead to better employment outcomes for students with intellectual and devel ...Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

If a person with disabilities obtains a competitive, paid job, do they risk losing their government benefits?

Special rules make it possible for people receiving Social Security benefits to work and still receive monthly payments. These work incentives include:

  • Continued cash benefits for a time while you work
  • Continued Medicare or Medicaid while you work
  • Help with education, training, and rehabilitation to start a new line of work

Learn more about Social Security benefits and work incentives [PDF].

Are certain employers better prepared to support people with intellectual disability in the workplace?

Not necessarily. This can be a very individually-based situation, depending upon the level of supports a job candidate may need to perform the job. This is when the role of a trained employment specialist becomes important.

The employment specialist can work with employers individually to assist with developing accommodations, offer knowledge about a job candidate’s skills and needs, and provide training and technical assistance to supervisors and co-workers to make the hiring process smooth.

Are employers obligated to provide accommodations for people with intellectual disability?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that employers, schools, and other public buildings and properties are accessible. Title 1 of the ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment (which includes interviews and any period prior to hire), unless the accommodation causes undue hardship to the employer.

There are 3 categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • Modifications to the job application process.
  • Modifications to the work environment, or the manner under which a job is typically performed, to perform the essential functions of that job.
  • Modifications enabling an employee with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment (health benefits, union membership, etc.).

If an employee requests a reasonable accommodation to apply to a job, or to complete the essential tasks of a job, the employer should comply or risk potential legal penalties.

Should people with intellectual disability disclose their disability during the application and interview process?

This is a personal choice for the interviewee. The only reason anyone needs to disclose at any point of the application, hiring, or employment phases is to request an accommodation. If an accommodation is not needed, it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to disclose. An individual with a disability should think about the who, what, where, when, and how of disclosure, and go in with a plan. An employment specialist can help with this process.

Can state VR programs assist people with disabilities to get jobs?

Yes. To receive services from a state VR program, apply at your local VR office. A VR counselor will determine whether you are eligible (your disability interferes with your ability to become employed, you need VR services to help you get and keep a job, or you receive SSDI or SSI through Social Security). Then the counselor will work with you to help you reach employment goals.

Are there jobs that are better for people with disabilities?

Actually, no, as long as an individual is qualified. As long as an individual can do the job to the required expectations, with or without accommodations, they are qualified for that job. For example, an attorney might be blind, and might use a screen reader on her computer and guides to assist her in court.

Whether a job is a good fit for a person depends on that person’s skills, personality, and interests, and how well all that aligns with the culture of the job. Using accommodations or supports is also important for making any job successful.

Other questions?