Jobs That Work With Mentally & Physically Disabled People

by Beth Greenwood

    Children and adults who have mental or physical disabilities face many challenges in school, work and life. Disabilities vary, from problems such as cerebral palsy that primarily affect children to major injuries that leave an adult paralyzed or missing a limb. Disabled individuals often need services that cover a wide range of occupations, such as special education, physical or occupational therapy and vocational rehabilitation.

    People with mental disabilities such as autism or who are developmentally disabled may need special education to learn the basics of reading, writing and math as well as other skills. Special education teachers help meet this need. Beginning with preschool, disabled children may work with special education teachers who have training specific to their needs. A bachelor’s degree is the usual educational requirement, and some states also require a license. Special education teachers might work in private or public schools or in residential facilities where special needs children live. The salary range for special education teachers in 2012 was $56,700 to $60,090, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Occupational therapy is a health care discipline that works with disabled adults and children to help them use daily living activities as therapy. An occupational therapist might use play therapy with a child or teach a person who's lost a hand how to dress herself and use a computer. Support staff in occupational therapy include occupational therapy assistants and aides, who may help patients perform exercises or schedule appointments. OTs must have a master’s degree, assistants need an associate degree and aides usually have a high school diploma and on-the-job training. All states require that occupational therapists have a license, and most require licenses for assistants. Salaries for occupational therapy aides, assistants and OTs were $29,870, $53,090 and $76,400 respectively in 2012, according to the BLS.

    Speech-language pathologists treat patients who have swallowing problems or communication disorders. In some cases, these conditions stem from birth defects or disabling medical conditions, such as a stroke. A master’s degree is the minimum educational qualification for speech-language pathologists, and most states require them to have licenses. Although most speech-language pathologists work in schools, according to the BLS, they may also work in hospitals or in private practice. The BLS reports the average salary for speech-language pathologists in 2012 was $72,730.

    Adults and older teens with disabilities often need the services of a rehabilitation counselor. These professionals help people with disabilities find resources that will help them live more independently. Rehabilitation counselors also arrange for vocational training and assist with job placement. Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification for rehabilitation counselors, the BLS reports that a master’s degree allows the professional to offer a wider range of services and that some employers may prefer it. Licensing, required for private practice and sometimes in other work settings, is only available to rehabilitation counselors with a master’s degree. Rehabilitation counselors earned an average of $37,330 in 2012, according to the BLS.

    About the Author

    Beth Greenwood is a registered nurse and writer. She served as a columnist for the Tides Foundation's Community Clinic Voice on quality improvement and now contributes to various websites. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College and is a graduate of the California HealthCare Foundation Health Care Leadership Program.

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