“Everyone needs something to do, someone to love and something to hope for.”
— Alexander Chalmers
The quote has been attributed to any number of individuals, but it’s true for all of us. The first factor—something to do—is key to a person’s self-esteem and independence. For most people, having a job lets them claim their place in the world—and it often becomes part of their identity.
For adults with developmental disabilities, a job is just as vital. They learn that they’re capable of doing something of worth that gives them a sense of accomplishment. That first job might be a stepping stone to other experiences that lead to other, even better jobs. It teaches them many aspects of navigating the world—showing up, working with others, and earning and managing money. It may even open the door to lifelong friendships and the positive social interaction we all crave.
How To Know What Kind of Job To Seek
People with developmental disabilities express themselves in varying degrees and, therefore, skill sets and aptitudes are unique to each person. While one person may be high-functioning socially, they may have problems reading, for example, or handling complex or multi-step processes. Conversely, some individuals may be very good with manual tasks or even intricate manipulations but may not be very interactive or animated.
Attention span and distractibility also play a role. A more distractible person may thrive in a fast-paced environment where the focus is stable yet constantly updating with new people, for example. That same setting, however, could prove distressing to someone who likes to focus on a particular task without interruptions or distractions.
To find the right job for a person with developmental disabilities, you really need to be aware of each person’s interests and aptitudes and to be sure that the potential work environment—the employer, managerial staff and co-workers—will be supportive of their abilities and needs.
Employment Ideas for Adults With Developmental Disabilities
Many employers have found that hiring workers with disabilities can be a win for both parties. Nearly every industry has spaces where these individuals can thrive in a job done well. Explore job listings, organizations and conversation threads, and you’ll find that while many people have disabilities, they also have talent and enthusiasm for doing something worthwhile.
For someone who loves meeting new people, just saying hello or offering a bit of help while working by the entrance to a shop or store can be a rewarding task. Greeters may also assist with shopping carts, hand out holiday promotions or assist customers with simple questions.
Restocking shelves usually involves rotating older stock to the front, pulling outdated stock and putting new stock in its proper place. While it may seem a monotonous task for some, many people find it relaxing and enjoy the repetitive order and neatness of the inventory management process.
Cleaning can cover a wide range of duties and industries. While janitorial services may come immediately to mind, cleaning can extend not only to commercial properties and services but also to private ones as well as off-site services. Businesses from laundry and dry-cleaning services to local parks need people who will keep spaces looking neat, clean and attractive.
Depending on a person’s skill level and interest in a certain career, a person may be able to work as a helper fetching tools, an internal courier carrying documents or materials, or a helper distributing handouts during conferences or meetings, for example. Many times, people are needed for simple tasks that are time-consuming yet need to be done so that activities run smoothly.
The repetitive nature of assembling basic products may lend itself to jobs that people with disabilities can do and do well—especially if instructions are straightforward and tasks require little decision-making. Some adults with developmental disabilities have even found their niche doing simple mechanical repairs. If someone is interested in what they do, the level of competence they can achieve can be surprising.
Packaging and Shipping Techs
With so much business now conducted online, small companies are expanding their packaging and shipping departments. Packaging can include everything from putting a product and all its parts in branded packaging as well as packing up orders for shipping. With most requirements formulaic and standardized, all you need are willing attitudes and capable hands.
In a similar vein, some full-service grocery stores still offer bagging services for grocery purchases. Baggers may even help shoppers take their purchases to their car, load them into the vehicle and take the cart back to the store. It’s a relatively easy task great for people who like the social interaction with customers.
Individuals may enjoy the atmosphere of the public library. While a person may or may not be capable of shelving books, he/she could collect books from drop-off bins, transfer books to and from designated areas, and help with many of the activities and programs that most active public libraries host.
Vending Machine Operators and Delivery People
While some people may not be able to drive themselves, some individuals with disabilities may enjoy helping set up and maintain vending machines in various settings like schools, parks or other public places. Individuals also can help deliver basic supplies to these businesses. Arc of Acadiana has programs and employment opportunities such as this.
Restaurant and Food Industry Workers
Preparing food is a life skill that many people with disabilities work on. While some may not be able to handle deep fryers or high-speed equipment, others may be very good at assembling sandwiches from prepared ingredients or filling plates of food from prepared dishes. Some individuals may be adept at preparing silverware bundles, bussing or setting up tables, or even hosting and seating people.
Pet Grooming and Animal Boarding Service Workers
Many of the tasks associated with boarding, grooming or caring for animals are standard. Meanwhile, for many people, animals can be soothing and perhaps a welcome escape from the demands of people. While much of the work is basic, for calm individuals who really enjoy cats, dogs or even horses, it can also be therapeutic and low pressure.
Car Hand Wash Attendants and Detailers
For someone who loves cars and trucks, being able to make a vehicle look as good as it possibly can may be right up their alley. This is also an opportunity for some people to see a variety of cars, and places that hand wash and dry usually could use an extra set of hands. It can also be good exercise, and it’s working outside.
Plant Nurseries and Garden Center Helpers
Another venue for outdoorsy types with a green thumb, working at a place that raises or sells ornamental plants and flowers may be a good match. Watering, moving stock, and helping customers load and unload garden carts are all fairly easy tasks that can be time-consuming yet need to be done.
Spa and Recreational Staff
Preparing rooms, sorting and laundering towels and robes, or even transporting luggage are all things that the right person might be able to not only do but also thrive on while doing them. Does the facility have food services, recreational equipment or other conveniences? You might be surprised at how efficient someone can be at keeping the cup supply at the water cooler filled, the fluffy stacks of towels organized and everything in its place.
Retail and Thrift Store Workers
For many organizations, resale and retail stores are a great way to offer adults with disabilities employment while also helping to fund special programs and activities designed to help those individuals. For example, Arc of Acadiana operates resale stores that are staffed completely by individuals with disabilities. This organization and the people that work there take in goods and donations, sort contributions, price and display products, maintain the store and its inventory, and even check customers out. Employees are paid, and any additional proceeds are returned to the nonprofit’s programs.
Seeing just how capable people really are is rewarding for everyone. Workers get to develop skills and confidence. Forward-thinking businesses get enthusiastic workers while giving people with disabilities a chance at a life of employment and earning power.
What’s really important, however, is that each person likes the work environment and has an interest in what they’re doing. The job also needs to match each person’s skill set, capabilities and temperament. In some cases, a person may not be able to handle the job alone but may be the perfect helper—at least until they get the hang of the job and the work environment.
If you’d like to know more about job options and employment programs for adults with developmental disabilities, Arc of Acadiana and our employment services are great places to start. We’re constantly working with our local communities and the companies within them to build a network of employers who understand how important having something to do is for everyone. Reach out today, and help someone you love and care about take another step toward independence and pride in what they can accomplish.