Professionally successful people living with a disability sometimes credit their impairment for boosting their career prospects, because it taught them perseverance and commitment. Others believe that their physical or cognitive differences in certain areas have led them to develop stronger abilities in others.
Choosing a trade school is an opportunity to assess one's traits and capabilities, and find the right career for applying them.
Jump to a section:
- Why Vocational or Trade School?
- What People With Disabilities Should Look for in a Trade School
- Common Trade School Challenges for People With Disabilities
- Career Options for People With Disabilities
Why Vocational or Trade School?
Success at a trade school can lead to stable employment with higher-than-average earnings. That makes trade school an attractive option for anyone.
For someone living with a disability, vocational or trade school training allows them to exhibit the talents and abilities they have, rather than those they don't.
A trade school provides a structured learning environment, hands-on experience, and instruction from experts in the field. And like any accredited educational institution, trade schools are required to provide accommodations to level the playing field for students living with disabilities.
What People With Disabilities Should Look for in a Trade School
Looking for a trade school is no different than shopping for any other important purchase. Do the research.
Job Placement Success
Some trade schools have been known to mislead students about their chances of getting a job, the qualifications of instructors, and outdated training equipment.
Students at these schools invest time and money in their education, only to find that what they learned is outdated or not what employers are looking for in a candidate.
Ask a prospective trade school:
- How many students complete the program?
- What percentage of students who graduate find jobs in the field soon after graduation?
- What is the average starting salary for graduates?
A trade school that is accredited has completed an independent process verifying that the school's facilities and instructors meet a minimum standard for their industry. Only accredited schools can offer federal financial aid. You can check a school's accreditation status online at the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Most trade schools offer a variety of programs within one industry or across a variety of industries. Just like any large institution of learning, some programs are inevitably better than others. You need to have general information about the school as a whole, but learning the specifics of your program of interest may be even more important.
Taking some of these steps may help you identify the program that is right for you.
- Ask for the qualifications of the instructors and meet with them, if possible.
- Ask about the technology used and other learning aids. How modern is their equipment? Are there hidden fees for using it?
- Ask to speak to one or more recent graduates to get the perspective on the program and their transition into the working world.
The American Disabilities Act requires educational institutions to provide accommodations to avoid discrimination against students with disabilities. But unlike in elementary, middle, and high school, these accommodations are not provided automatically.
High school students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan -- they get it without asking. In a trade school or vocational training program, the student must seek out accommodations that are necessary to give them the same chance of success as other students.
Here are some of the accommodations that may be provided at a trade school.
- Reducing a student's course load
- Providing note takers
- Providing sign language interpreters
- Allowing more time to complete tests
- Equipping school computers with adaptive software such as screen readers
Students are responsible for asking about such accommodations. They can also opt to keep their disability private. There is no requirement for disclosure.
Common Trade School Challenges for People With Disabilities
Every student will face different challenges as they work to graduate trade school and secure employment.
- Requiring assistive technology the school has never provided before
- Managing daily routines and schedules related to hygiene, nutrition, and transportation
- Adjusting to lecture-style classroom instruction rather than a more personalized approach
- Spending extra time mastering new skills
- Adjusting to a social circle that may not include other people with disabilities
- Finding translators or note takers to correctly communicate overly technical topics
- Following along with group discussions or participating in group projects
Career Options for People With Disabilities
The employment rate for people with disabilities is consistently higher than that for those without disabilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.9% of people with a disability were employed in 2020, compared with 61.8% of people without a disability.
Part of this large discrepancy has to do with the fact that people with disabilities are disproportionately older than the general population. Still, within age groups, they are less likely to be employed.
Improving the employment rate among people with disabilities may be more likely if career opportunities are better understood. Here are some potential career paths for people living with specific disabilities.
Physical disabilities can include those caused by injury, such as loss of mobility due to spinal cord damage. Other physical disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy, are genetic and present from birth.
People living with physical disabilities may struggle with jobs that require physical strength and endurance, such as working as a firefighter. Jobs that require constant motion or mobility, like landscaping, could be challenging.
However, many high-paying jobs do not require much physical activity at all, relying instead on cognitive ability. Trade school offers a path to some of these occupations.
Air Traffic Controller: Training through the Air Traffic - Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) qualifies a person to become an air traffic controller. These specialized degrees are offered through colleges and technical schools. Necessary skills include communication, concentration, decision-making, math, organizational, and problem-solving skills. The median annual salary for an air traffic controller is $130,420.
Computer Programmer: Due to a nationwide shortage of qualified computer programmers, the skill is increasingly taught at specialized trade schools. Some of these are fully online, such as Codecademy. Important qualities for a computer programmer include analytical abilities, concentration, being detail oriented, and troubleshooting skills. The median annual salary for an air traffic controller is $89,190.
Paralegal: Paralegals support lawyers with researching and other administrative tasks. The American Bar Association maintains a list of Approved Paralegal Education Programs. Effective paralegals are proficient at using computers, and have excellent communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills. The median annual salary for a paralegal is $52,920.
Cognitive disabilities impair intellectual processes such as learning and communication. There is a wide range of cognitive disabilities. Some, like dyslexia and autism, may not prevent a person from learning highly technical skills.
Many trade careers involve hands-on work, and working at one's own pace rather than an in-person environment. These careers may be more rewarding for those with cognitive disabilities.
Someone living with autism spectrum disorder may thrive in a career that limits the necessity of in-person interactions. Those living with dyslexia may prefer a career of hands-on work rather than one that requires frequent reading or writing. Someone living with ADHD may succeed in an outdoor working environment, while they might struggle if confined to repetitive desk work.
Electrician: Electricians design and maintain electrical systems in wiring. It can be a dynamic, varied work environment with many different tasks and problems to solve. Trade school programs provide hands-on training. Though electricians must read blueprints, do math calculations, and exercise caution, cognitive disabilities are not a barrier to success. The median annual salary for an electrician is $56,900.
Respiratory Therapist: Respiratory therapists specialize in treating people who have diseases or conditions that hamper their ability to breathe. The work is a combination of developing treatment plans, hands-on therapy and using respiratory equipment. Aspiring respiratory therapists may get their training at a 2-year program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. The median annual salary for a respiratory therapist is $62,810.
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installer: HVACR installers work with technology related to heating and cooling of buildings. The work is usually indoors, and may involve installing new systems or maintaining existing ones. Many trade schools offer training in HVACR systems, which are growing in complexity and may include innovative technology like solar panels. The median annual salary for an HVACR installer is $50,590.
People living with visual impairments rely on senses like hearing and touch to navigate their environment. Careers that highlight these skills may be excellent options.
Massage Therapist: Massage therapists manipulate the body with touch, relaxing patients and helping relieve pain. They work in doctors offices and spas, and make home visits. Massage therapy degrees are offered at community colleges and specialized academies. One such school, the American Institute of Alternative Medicine, recommends massage therapy as a career path for the visually impaired. The median annual salary for a massage therapist is $43,620.
Medical Billing Specialist: Medical records and health information specialists, also known as medical billing specialists, develop a deep and specialized knowledge of the healthcare system. They help make sure that bills and other records are accurate, based on notes provided by medical professionals. The job can often be done remotely. World Services for the Blind offers a medical billing training program. The median annual salary for a medical records and health information specialist is $45,240.
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanic: Automotive technicians maintain and repair vehicles. Technicians with visual impairment learn to perform the job through their hearing and by feel. One of the largest automotive trade schools, the Universal Technical Institute, lists their disability services online. The median annual salary for an automotive technician is $44,050.
People living with hearing impairments often thrive in work environments that demand concentration and working without interruption. Many highly competitive fields fit these skills, as do many of the most common trades.
Lab Technician: Clinical laboratory technicians perform and analyze medical tests. Work is typically performed in a closed environment, such as a hospital or a specialized clinical lab. Technicians sometimes specialize in a field like immunology, or blood tests. Trade schools and community colleges offer 2-year training programs for lab technicians. The median annual salary for a laboratory technician or technologist is $54,180.
Welder: Welders, cutters, solderers, and braziers form and join metal objects. The work requires attention to detail and manual dexterity. Welders may work at a job site or a shop, though they sometimes work outside. Some learning institutions for people with hearing impairments sponsor welding programs such as this program at Texas School for the Deaf. The median annual salary for a welder is $44,190.
Landscaper: Landscapers or landscape gardeners maintain the outdoor spaces around homes and buildings. It is also a good opportunity to start one's own business. Landscaping educational programs tend to focus on the business ownership and self-employment aspects of the work. In many parts of the country, landscaping is seasonal work, or business owners can make their own hours. The median annual salary for a landscaper is $32,220.