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Employment: Prepare for Employment

People with disabilities face a myriad of unique challenges when it comes to securing a job. This guide is designed to introduce you to available programs, strategies and resources that will help you achieve your employment goal.

Click on the following links to learn more about what you can do to ensure that you reach your goal of employment.

  • Are You Ready to Work?
  • Consider what You Do Best in Choosing a Job or Job Path
  • Learn How Working will Affect Your Disability Benefits
  • Use Your "Ticket to Work"
  • Check Out Social Security Work Incentives
  • Investigate Your State Medicaid Buy-in Program
  • Contact Your Local Vocational Rehabilitation Office
  • Improve Your Computer Skills
  • Improve Your Soft Skills
  • Gain Experience Through Volunteer Work
  • Create/Update Your Resume
  • Prepare for the Interview
  • Disclosing Disability

    Are You Ready to Work?

    Before setting out on your employment journey it is important to assess your readiness to work. In particular, you will want to assess whether or not you are prepared for the demands of the type of job you desire? Doing so will ensure a successful transition into the working world. To begin, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are you ready/able to commit to a set schedule and routine everyday?
  • Are you prepared to balance the demands of work with the demands of life (Family committments, Dr. appointments, etc.)
  • Do you have reliable transportation to and from work?
  • Do you have the education/experience needed for the job you desire?
  • Do you have the specific skills the job requires? (Computer-related, critical thinking, organizational, etc.)
  • Do you understand how working will impact your benefits?
  • If you are unsure about any of the above, it is important to seek help from a qualified employment counselor. These couselors will help you properly prepare for the demands of work by connecting your with the education, training, and knowledge you need to start your career with confidence. Please read on for more detailed employment-related resources.

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    Consider what You Do Best in Choosing a Job or Job Path

    A panel of people with disabilities spoke about their experiences while looking for work and after obtaining work. The advice given by them is valuable because this panel of people with disabilities knows firsthand what to do and not to do to obtain a job and keep it. They also know what obstacles will come up in looking for and keeping a job.

    We would like to share some of their advice:

    Having a purpose in your work life or job will help keep things at work from getting old and keep you from experiencing burnout.

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    Learn How Work Will Affect Your Disability Benefits

    To find out specifically how going to work could affect your disability benefits, you should contact a Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) Project. WIPA staff can answer any questions you have about going to work and SSA Work Incentives. Call 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) to receive a referral to your local WIPA office.

    Your local Center for Independent Living might also employ a benefits counselor. To locate a CIL that serves your area, visit the ILRU Directory of Centers.

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    Use Your "Ticket to Work”

    If you are receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, you are very likely eligible for their Ticket to Work Program. Your ticket can be used to obtain FREE employment services such as skills training, resume development, and job placement via an approved Employment Network or your local Vocational Rehabilitation Office. Chances are you have already received a Ticket without even realizing it.

    To learn more, check out the SSA-sponsored website
    Ticket to Work or call 1-866-968-7842.

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    Check Out Social Security Work Incentives

    One of the biggest fears people with disabilities face in pursuing employment is the perceived risk of losing thier benefits in the event employment does not work out afterall. This is an unfounded fear in many cases.

    Special rules make it possible for people receiving Social Security disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to work and still receive monthly payments. And, in many cases, if you cannot continue working because of your medical condition, your benefits can immediately start again.

    Following are a few employment incentive programs offered by the Social Security Administration:

    The rules are different under SSDI and SSI. To learn more about the various work incentives available, read Social Security’s publication Working While Disabled – How We Can Help.

    For a more in depth look, check out Social Security’s Red Book – A Guide to Work Incentives.

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    Investigate Your State Medicaid Buy-in Program

    Medicaid covers the cost of essential personal care services (such as in home attendtant care) that enable individuals to continue to live in the community and obtain gainful employment. While you may think working will eliminate your eligibility for Medicaid, this is not always the case.

    Under Section 201 of TWWIIA and Section 4733 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, States have the option to provide Medicaid to working people with disabilities whose earnings are too high for them to qualify for Medicaid under existing rules.

    At this time the majority of states extend this option. Contact your local Medicaid office to learn if this program is available in your state.

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    Contact Your Local Vocational Rehabilitation Office

    Every state offers Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services to individuals with disabilities. Services will vary from one office to the next, but in general will include job preparation, skills assessment/development and local job searches and placement. Such services are free to approved VR participants. Many state VR agencies will also cover the costs of schooling and training.

    To locate your local VR agency, complete a Google Search for [your state] vocational rehabilitation.

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    Improve Your Computer Skills

    Many jobs now require the use of a computer. Beyond the obvious benefits, learning how to use a computer can help you improve your critical thinking skills, which will prove useful in both your personal and professional life.

    Check out your local library or technical college for low cost, if not free computer training.

    If you have regular access to a computer (either at home or via your local library) you can receive free self-paced and instructor lead training via GCF Learn Free. Self-paced classes, which cover everything from computer and internet basics to e-mail and Facebook, feature easy to follow videos and outlines that make learning a breeze.

    Instructor lead classes are also offered in are being offered in Microsoft Access (database), Power Point (presentation), Excel (spreadsheet), and Word (word processing). To participate in these classes, you must have these programs installed on your computer.

    Check out the complete selection of classes by visiting GCF Learn Free.

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    Improve Your Soft Skills

    So what exactly are Soft Skills? Unlike Hard Skills, such as knowledge of industry specific tasks or computer software, soft skills are those skills that speak to the character of an individual. They are an indication of your capacity to behave appropriately in a professional environment.

    While hard skills, which are presented on your resume, will land you an interview, it is often the soft skills that could be a deciding factor between two candidates with similar education and backgrounds.

    Soft skills include such skills as communication, focus, teamwork, dependability, creativity, professionalism, problem solving, etc. If you lack these skills, it will be very difficult to keep a good job.

    Here at NHU we have begun to develop a series of brief guides on Soft Skills.

  • The first in the series focuses on Communication.
  • The second in the series focuses on Emotional Intelligence
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    Receive a Computer for Use in Your Home

    If you do not have a computer at home to practice your skills, there are many programs throughout the nation that provide low-cost or free refurbished computers to low-income individuals and families. If you live in Wisconsin, contact us for more information and eligibility requirements for our NHU Computer Grant Program Application. Do you live in another state? To locate a Microsoft Registered Reburbisher in your area, visit Microsoft Refurbisher Program.

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    Gain Experience Through Volunteer Work

    Volunteer work will show potential employers, that you have continued to use and improve your skills despite your unemployment. Volunteering will also help you test your ability to work.

    Many non-profit organizations and churches are in need of reliable volunteers to fulfill their missions. Volunteer work can range from mail preparation or event coordination to mentoring or tutoring. Some positions will require several days per week, while others may require just a few hours. To ensure that your volunteer experience will be of benefit, look for a long-term position that offers at least one day’s worth of work per week.

    To ensure that you gain a valuable reference, you must treat your volunteer job just as you would a paid job. Show up on your scheduled days, act and dress professionally, take care to do the job accurately and thoroughly.

    Find volunteer opportunities by visiting Volunteer Match or by contacting your local volunteer center.

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    Create/Update Your Resume

    A common issue for many individuals with disbilities is a lack of or a significant gap in employment history. Despite one's lack of employment history it is still possible to develop a winning resume.

    If you have a significant gap in your employment history, or no employment history at all, you will need to develop a functional resume. The functional resume focuses on your skills first and your experience second. You will first focus on the assets that you can bring to the specific job you are seeking. If you do not have much formal work experience, you should list any skills or experience that you have picked up while volunteering or in training. Following are a few specific suggestions:

  • Professional skills (related to the job for which you are applying)
  • Volunteer work experience (church, voting polls, organizations or clubs, other non-profit organizations)
  • Recent classes that you have taken
  • Computer skills

    Always be honest, do not list skills that you really do not have. Remember, you cannot create something out of nothing, it is essential that you gain work experience through volunteer work and that you take classes to improve your employment skills.

    It is recommended that you not specifically mention your disability on the resume or cover letter unless the position directly relates to your experiences as an individual with a disability.

    For more on resume development, visit GCF Learn Free: Resume Writing.

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    Prepare for the Interview

    The interview is your opportunity to stand out from the crowd and make a great impression. Following are a few tips to help you fully prepare for the big day:

  • Research the company or organization and make sure you fully understand the scope of their work. Also be certain that you fully understand the tasks associated with the job for which you are applying. Interviewers are impressed by candidates that ask intelligent questions concerning the organization and position.

  • Practice answering common questions in the mirror or with a friend. A few common questions include:

  • Pick out professional looking attire. Make sure your interview attire is in line with the company's culture. You may not want to invest in a suit if the company encourages business casual attire. Never wear jeans, t-shirts, or street shoes to an interview. Make certain your appearance is neat and clean.

    Here is a great resource on How to Nail Your Next Interview, provided via Learn How to Become, a comprehensive, one-stop resource on careers.

    For more on interview preparation, visit GCF Learn Free: Interviewing Skills

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    Disclosing Your Disability

    Employment lawyers advise that if your disability is not apparent, you should not discuss it until after you have received a job offer. There may, however, be a few instances where you might consider disclosing your disability:

    If you do choose to disclose your disability, discuss it in only a positive manner. Focus on what you can do, not what you cannot do.

    People with disabilities suggest:

    Be honest with your needs, choose wisel,y and ask for help when needed. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, and asking for help when needed will take you much farther in your work goals and life.

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    For more on the topic of Employment:

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    [Updated November 30, 2017]
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