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Have you ever worked with a disabled or special needs adult in the workforce? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. For decades, special needs adults were completely shut out of the labor force. Over the last few decades, that has improved but the quality of jobs has not. Too often these adults have been relegated to menial jobs with pay at or below minimum wage.

Technology, new research, and a growing population of highly functioning special needs adults are proving that adults with disabilities can do much more than most people think. That is now being reflected in the types of jobs employers are hiring special needs adults to manage – some very highly skilled and high paying!

New Laws Target the Double Unemployment Rate for the Disabled

The earliest law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that dealt with the disabled focused on preventing discrimination for any employer receiving federal funds. Four years ago, the law was updated to make it stronger by mandating companies receiving federal funds aim to have a workforce made up of at least 7% disabled people.

When the law was enacted, the unemployment rate for the disabled was over 12% compared to less than 6% for the general workforce. In 2008, the ADA was updated to broaden the definition of what constitutes a disability “in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the ADA.”

In 2014 Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act which included an update to the 1998 Workforce Investment Act and reauthorized the 1973 Rehabilitation Act through 2020. This law aims to make businesses and agencies work more proactively in vocational rehabilitation programs that help transition special needs teens to the workforce.

It also tries to eradicate “sub-minimum” wage jobs that have historically characterized employment for the disabled. And the career centers required for the general workforce must also include career resources for people with disabilities. Even the National Defense Authorization Act has been updated to include benefits for disabled veterans.

Top 5 High Skill Jobs Special Needs Adults Can Do

Plenty of organizations dedicated to the welfare of special needs adults are coming together to train and place special needs adults in better high paying jobs. CareerCast, a job listing site, put together a list of the best jobs for people with disabilities. Here are 5 of the top high skill jobs for special needs adults:

  1. Vocational counselor: A special needs adult can make nearly $55,000 per year as a vocational counselor working in schools, in government, or in the private sector. These counselors help others with disabilities and special needs in a variety of ways, including training for the workforce. Highly functioning special needs job seekers are prime candidates for this type of career.
  2. Pharmaceutical Sales: People with disabilities make excellent sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry. Many take the drugs or use the medical devices being sold by pharmaceutical companies which make them the best advocates. General sales in retail is also a good career avenue for special needs adults.
  3. Physician Assistant: Physician assistants make on average nearly $90,000 per year with a 30% projected growth rate. This field is also an excellent match for highly functioning disabled persons who can assist in medical fields where their personal experiences with a disability can work to their advantage.
  4. Management Consultant: As new regulations mandate that businesses do more to seek out special needs job candidates, the need for management consultants charged with hiring more special needs adults is growing, making it an ideal role for a person with disabilities. It pays close to $80,000 per year and has a 20% projected growth rate.
  5. Market Research Analyst: Research analyst positions are excellent for special needs adults and pays over $60,000 per year with a near 40% projected growth rate. Besides being helpful assets when trying to market products to the disabled population, research analysts often work alone in highly focused work which can be the perfect setting for some autistic adults that have a hard time with social interaction.