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Jobs for Adults with Special Needs

Updated on February 11, 2015

Types of Jobs Available

Contrary to what some people believe, everyone has skills that can be used in the workplace. Family members--who mean well--often believe that their loved one with special needs has no skills and should not work in the workplace.

Unemployment for people with disabilities is typically much higher than the rate of non-disabled. That stands to reason. Usually, a person with a cognitive disability can be trained to do one job. When a reduction of workforce is required, who gets the pink slip, the one who is trained to do only one job or the one who can do several tasks? Of course the one who can contribute the least to the company.

So what type of tasks can a loved one do? They can do anything that is repetitive. They enjoy doing things that drive some of us mad. When I was in college, one of the Professors of Education told us about running a group home and finding employment for them. He found a manufacturer of clothes dryers. When he saw how they were made, he knew his residents could work part of the assembly line. At that time, the drum of the dryer was turned by a rope which was woven through the holes by a worker. The job was boring and monotonous. The employer was always hiring another employee because people quit out of boredom. The professor recommended they consider hiring people with cognitive challenges who would not tire or get bored of the job quickly. The employer agreed and it was a perfect match. The people with disabilities had a job they could do and the employer had satisfied employees.

One evening, my husband and I were having dinner at a nationally based cafeteria. Suddenly, I heard a woman yelling. Not yelling out of anger. Just yelling to be heard. "Sam, Sam. Bring your cloth over here, Baby." Nothing happened. "Sam, bring me your cloth, Baby. Come on, I'll show you. Hurry, this table needs to be wiped." I noticed a man in his twenties headed in her direction. It was obvious he had some cognitive challenges. "That's right, Sam. Keep coming. Where's your cloth? Oh, no. Go back and get your cloth, Baby." He turned and went back to where he started, picked up his cloth, and again walked in her direction. "That's good, Sam. That's good, Baby. Keep coming."

I sat in my seat mesmerized by the scene. There was a manager showing a cognitively challenged man how to wipe off a table after it was vacated by customers. She was patient, kind, encouraging, and instructive. My special-ed-teacher-heart swelled as I watched this young man wipe the table until the manager was satisfied. Then she praised his efforts as if he had saved someone's life.

One day I was standing in the hallway at the middle school where I was the administrator in charge of special education. One of my students came running down the hall.

"Bobby!" I yelled.

He looked back and yelled, "Yes, ma'am?"

"Slow down."

"I'm going to lunch."

"Well, have a nice lunch."

He stopped running, turned around, and walked back to me.

"Oh, Miss. I might not have time to eat."

"What do you mean, you won't have time to eat?"

"I have to wipe those tables." He quickly demonstrated the art of wiping tables.

Later I checked with the cafeteria staff. They said that Bobby never had money for snacks, so they had decided to let him wipe tables and give him snacks. He was delighted.

Any task that must be repeated in the same order each time is a good fit for people with cognitive challenges. They take their jobs seriously and do them well if positive reinforcement is used. The employer must praise them often. They need to know they are doing a good job.

Simple Tasks


Why Should They Work?

A lot of people believe that as long as an individual qualifies for SSI they don't need to work. There is a lot more to working than getting a paycheck. Yes, most of these people do draw a check every month from SSI. It pays their expenses--just barely. It's not the money they need.

It's the affirmation. They need to know they are loved, appreciated, valued, and 'the same as anyone else.' They have felt different all their lives. How can they feel good about themselves? They have attempted things and been told "You can't do that." They need to know what they can do. They already know what they can't do. A job is a great place to learn their self-worth. That being said, it is recommended that loved one pay attention to what is happening on the job site. If the person is being abused, he or she should be removed from the job immediately.

Everyone feels a sense of accomplishment when they've completed a task successfully. If it was a difficult task, they feel victorious. Don't these adults have the right to feel that? They should know there is one job they can do well. It's not necessary that they work a full shift. Even two or three hours a day helps their self-esteem.

They need to work to feel needed, validated, and valued.

Meet Tim, Restaurant Owner

Hiring Individuals with Disabilities

If you owned a business, would you consider hiring individuals with disability?

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Unlikely Entepreneur

The first time I saw Tim's video, I fell in love. He is adorable on his own. Then all he has accomplished is amazing. When Tim Harm was 14-years old, he told his parents that he wanted to own a restaurant. They did what most parents of young teens do when informed of their child's career choice. They ignored it. Teens change their minds a million times before graduation.

Not Tim Harm. He never wavered from the plan to own his own restaurant. So they decided to help him in his endeavor. He now owns Tim's Place which serves 'breakfast, lunch and hugs.' Tim says, "Hugs are free." And yes, everyone gets a hug when they walk in the door. Tim is a great inspiration.

Achieved Goal

Tim achieved his goal with some help; but don't we all? No one succeeds alone. Did I fail to mention that Tim has Down's Syndrome? Tim began his career with enthusiasm that hasn't diminished yet. Tim is the only restaurant owner in the United States who has Down's Syndrome.


Every morning Tim does a 'happy dance' on the way into the restaurant. He is just so happy to be there. When was the last time you did a 'happy dance' on the way to work?

Praises for Staff

Tim constantly tells his cooks "Y'all are the best cooks ever." One who needs appreciation the most shows it to his staff.


Tim has his priorities right. He says, "The hugs are the most important thing. Food is just food."

Someday I hope I get to meet Tim. I might need a hug.

Surrounded by Love


Companies Known for Hiring Individuals with Challenges

These companies are known for hiring people with disabilities.

  • IBM Corporation
  • Ernst & Young
  • Proctor and Gamble
  • Aetna
  • KPMG
  • Cisco Systems
  • SC Johnson
  • Eli Lilly &Co.
  • Merck & Co
  • Sodexo

Although these are all large corporations, many small businesses are beginning to look at the practice of hiring individuals with disabilities. Many communities are recognizing these businesses

Business Honored for Hiring Individuals with Challenges

Little Couple



Jobs provide more than a paycheck. They provide affirmation, validation, emotional support, and encouragement. Everyone, disabled or not, needs to feel that way. They also need a feeling of accomplishment a job provides.

Individuals with disabilities can achieve goals like everyone else. These goals need to be nourished and the achievements celebrated. No one exemplifies this more than the Little Couple. Bill Klein and Jennifer Arnold. He is a businessman and she is a Pedetrician an one of Houston's busiest hospitals. Both suffer with a form of dwarfism.

There are major corporations and small businesses that are known for hiring individuals with disabilities. These companies need to be supported by the public for their attitude of going above and beyond the call of duty.


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