A Manual Wheelchair User’s Guide to Finding a Job

Published: May 25, 2019

Finding a job as a wheelchair user is difficult. The most common types of jobs involve physical labor and this can limit your prospects. But it’s not hopeless. Here are some things you can do as a wheelchair user to land a job.

Know Your Limitations and Workarounds

The most important thing to know is what you physically can’t do. The second most important thing is how to work around those limitations. You can’t add “climbing ladders” to your list of duties, but you might be able to transfer to a stool when cashiering. You’re too short to straighten the top shelf, but you can easily move heavy boxes to and from the stock room. These small maneuvers are what’s going to help you succeed at your average starter‐job. It’s not about being able to do everything, it’s about being able to contribute in a meaningful way.

Always Apply

A lot of job requirements aren’t actually requirements. “Must have a valid drivers license” often means “must have reliable transportation”. “Must be able to stand for long periods of time” means that you’ll be moving around a lot or otherwise not resting. It’s all boilerplate and (for the most part), it’s negotiable. Sure, you won’t able to work in construction, but there’s nothing barring you from folding shirts at a JC Penny. So, don’t let what’s written on paper stop you from applying for a face‐to‐face interview.

Never Mention Your Disability

Don’t mention you’re in a wheelchair unless you’re in a face‐to‐face setting. Your disability isn’t relevant up until the point they hire you. Remember: you don’t owe them anything and you have nothing to apologize for. Focus on what you have to offer and deal with the rest later.

Get out of the (Literal) Labor Market

Physical jobs are where you’re going to encounter the most barriers. You’ll have a much easier time finding a job that involves using what you know instead of what you can do. Jobs like data entry, administrative work, and programming are ideal for wheelchair users. These kinds of jobs don’t involve a ton of manual labor. So, you’ll be competing with other candidates based on what you know and not what you can do.

Develop a Skillset

Just because desk jobs don’t have as many restrictions, it doesn’t mean that they’re easier to get. You’ll need to invest in your technological and social skills if you want to succeed. Start with mastering typing, computer literacy and software like Word and Excel. I also recommend gaining some basic coding skills.

I also recommend gaining some basic coding skills. Programming jobs are some of the fastest growing and highest paying positions available. They’re perfect for wheelchair users: they don’t involve physical labor, often come with benefits, and offer a consistent schedule, and a lot of flexibility.

Look Into Remote Work

Remote or Work‐from‐home type jobs are becoming more common. This kind of working arrangement is ideal for wheelchair users and allows a lot more flexibility and freedom than your standard labor‐focused job. It’s not without its pitfalls, however. Being able to work remotely is a skill in and of itself and is not something that everyone can do successfully. It takes a lot of self‐discipline, focus, and planning to be a successful remote worker.

Find Support

If you need extra help with job placement or training, Vocational Rehab is a great resource. You’ll have to make sure you have clear documentation of your disability but once you do, they’ll be able to help. To find a Vocational Rehab center near you, google “Vocation Rehab” and your city name.

Remember that Every Situation is Unique

Remember that every job hunt—like every disability—is unique. This guide isn’t meant to cover every problem or scenario you might encounter when looking for a job. In the end, it’s up to you to find a system that works when looking for employment. That could mean sending out your resume to a dozen different places a week. You might have to figure out who you know at a particular job and ask if they can get you an interview. It might mean joining a job placement program or going back to school. You may even have to join LinkedIn (terrible, I know).

Despite all of the challenges, finding meaningful employment is possible. It’s going to take time and there’s going to be setbacks, but in the end you will succeed.