Laura Berlinsky-Schine

People with disabilities often face challenges that impede their access to career opportunities and advancement. Fortunately, there are laws in place and resources available to help them. Whether you’re a job seeker with a disability or an employer wanting to improve your workplace and offer opportunities to all people, including those with disabilities, here’s what you should know about disability employment.

What is the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI)?

The DEI is a 2010 initiative from the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) with joint funding from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) with the goal of improving educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The DEI authorizes grants to be provided to fund projects that share this mission of helping people, including youth and adults, who receive Social Security disability benefits and/or are underemployed or unemployed. 

For example, through California’s program, Registered Apprenticeship: A Promising Practice, the Merced County American Job Center (AJC) worked with a training provider in Commerical Driver’s License (CDL) to recruit and aid people with disabilities in completing the training requirements. Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ Career Pathway Pilot for Individuals with Disabilities enabled a local healthcare facility and community college to establish an internship program that allowed them to train individuals with disabilities and equip them with skills necessary for an entry-level job as a patient access service representative. 

Do you have to hire someone with a disability?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities, including refusing to hire them because of their disability. This applies to all employers, including private and state and local government, with 15 or more employees. 

However, an employer is not required to hire someone with a disability. If the candidate is not qualified to perform the duties of the job or if her disability prevents her from performing the “essential functions” of the position, then the employer is within its right to refuse to hire anyone. In other words, an employer cannot refuse to hire someone if her disability will not interfere with her ability to do her job, but it can if the disability will interfere.

An employer is also required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified candidates and employees, such as training modifications, special equipment, the use of interpreters or different work schedules, unless it demonstrates that doing so would cause the employer “undue hardship.”

What is the Office of Disability Employment Policy?

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)is a non-regulatory federal agency that seeks to improve the workplace for people with disabilities. Established in 2001, it works with employers and state and local governments with the mission to “develop and influence policies and practices that increase the number and quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities.” To accomplish the goal of building a more inclusive workforce and helping all Americans find employment opportunities, ODEP shares and promotes the use of evidence-based strategies, information and best practices and offers technical assistance and tools to government agencies, non-government agencies and employers.

ODEP defines its vision as “A world in which people with disabilities have unlimited employment opportunities.”

What can you do to campaign for Disability Employment?

The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is funded by ODEP to promote employment opportunities for and the retention of people with disabilities. It includes business and disability organizations that have collaborated to establish the initiative, “What can YOU do?” The campaign promotes the message of inclusion and positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities, using PSAs and tools such as discussion guides for employers. 

If you want to get involved, the CDE suggests following the campaign and spreading the message on social media, helping distribute its PSAs, fostering inclusion at the workplace and engaging in CDE dialogues, among other ideas. Learn more about the initiative and how to get involved here

Do companies get money for hiring disabled?

If you hire employees with disabilities, you may be entitled to certain tax credits and/or deductions. Some common ones include:

• Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal Deduction

This deduction can amount to up to $15,000 per year for businesses that work to remove barriers that impede the mobility of people with disabilities and the elderly. 

• Disabled Access Credit

This provides businesses that incur expenses related to offering accommodations to people with disabilities with a nonrefundable tax credit. It is available to small businesses only. 

• Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

The WOTC incentivizes employers to hire employees from target groups that have faced challenges with regard to employment, including people with disabilities. 

There are also individual tax incentives offered on a state-by-state basis. 


There are many resources provided by the government and individual organizations to encourage employment opportunities and accessibility among people with disabilities. Some examples are:


abilityJOBS is the largest job site exclusively for people with disabilities. Employers can post opportunities and find matches, while prospective employees may search for jobs on the site. 

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD)

COSD helps current college students and recent graduates with disabilities by partnering with Disability Services and Career Services on college campuses to provide, tools, opportunities to connect with employers and support.

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) 

EARN assists employers with hiring, retaining and advancing people with disabilities by hosting events such as webinars, offering information and advice on hiring practices and providing news updates. 

Enable America

Through local meetings, speakers and events, Enable America seeks to expand opportunities for people with disabilities across the country. These events are meant to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities as well as provide information and answer questions they may have. 

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

JAN offers confidential guidance to both employers and people with disabilities looking for employment opportunities 

The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)

WRP connects employers with qualified current and recent college students who have disabilities.

There are also many state and local resources available. Visit your state government website to finding information about disability employment and more.

Don’t miss out on articles like these. Sign up!