Just over 1 in 4 of today's 20 year-olds will become disabled before they retire. One in eight workers will be disabled for five years or more during their working careers.
Outdoor careers are not risk-free. People should consider how adaptable their career of choice might be if they became disabled at some future date. Cross-training when you are healthy may save your career if you became disabled later in life. Disability can happen to you.
The federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on disability all share the same fundamental goal: to remove the barriers to employment faced by individuals with disabilities. However, not all of these laws apply to all employers. Whether or not a law applies depends on several factors, such as whether employers are in the public or private sector, how many employees they have and whether they hold federal contracts or subcontracts.
You must be qualified to do the job you are seeking. The ADA defines qualified to mean a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education, or other requirements of an employment position that s/he holds or seeks, and who can perform the essential functions of the position with or without 'reasonable accommodation'. Requiring the ability to perform 'essential' functions assures that an individual with a disability will not be considered unqualified simply because of inability to perform marginal or incidental job functions.
If a person is qualified to perform the core or essential job functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation. If a written job description has been prepared in advance of advertising or interviewing applicants for a job, this will be considered as evidence, of the essential functions of the job. All state and federal careers should have published job descriptions.
Here's an example for the USFS on reasonable accomodation: Reasonable Accomodation. If you want a career with a natural resources agency, most federal agencies have goals set for hiring persons with disabilities. See if you can connect with that agency's disability specialist who may be able to advise you on their job hiring practices.
It is extremely important that people with disabilities connect with organizations that can assist them in their job search and provide services that support them once they are employed. Job seekers should connect with professional organizations, attend job fairs, and network.
Federal resources agencies, (like the US Forest Service), often sign MOU's (Memorandum of Understanding) with major orgnaizations to create a single point of contact to connect with qualified applicants with disabilities. *Reference
Obtaining a job in career position that is essentially an 'outdoor' job may be very difficult for certain types disabilities. For example, if you use a wheelchair it would be more difficult to be a 'field forester' where hiking up rugged mountains or crawling through thick brush, or fighting fire was a required part of the job. However, a forestry data analyst position should be entirely possible.
There are a lot of jobs within every state and federal natural resource agency that should be ADA friendly. Government jobs often provide good opportunities for persons with disabilities and such agencies are also required by law or executive order to increase their number of employees who have disabilities.
Tip: If you want to know which agencies rate as good places to work for people with disabilities, check Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. If you want to understand how aquiring a disability after being hired could make a reasonable accomodation necessary, get informed.
If you have a permanent disability (or develop a functional disability through accident or illness), then take a hard look at adaptive equipment that may enable you to continue in your profession. You may have to get creative in terms of gear. You need to know how using a device or tool enables you to do the essential functions of your job. If you can provide examples illustrating how an employer can accompdate you, it can increase your chances of getting that job.
Age discrimination does exist and can be a serious employment barrier for older adults. In some circumstances, though, age (and experience) can be a real plus. Some federal agencies are more age-friendly due to the population they serve. Many employers need experienced older adults who don't need to be trained every step of the way and who can hit the ground running. Age can be a positive as well as a negative so pick your job targets accordingly.
Not too surprisingly, certain types of jobs at National Parks, outdoor resorts, camps and recreational sites may have some good opportunities for people with disabilities or the older job seeker. Summer and seasonal jobs are good places to start looking. Don't overlook volunteer opportunities, too. Employers often hire people they know.
Keep in mind that job hunting is difficult for everybody. No excuses! Perseverance pays off!
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