Over the past decade, having great technological infrastructure has gone from being a luxury to a necessity. Industries from agriculture to healthcare need skilled and creative software engineers to power what they do. As a result, the number of computer science jobs is surging.
Despite the abundance of jobs, the tech industry still has a glaring issue—the lack of diversity in its workforce. According to a survey conducted by Stack Overflow, a majority of developers are white, male, and able-bodied.
In particular, people with physical disabilities are underrepresented in computer science and programming jobs. Only 1.6% of respondents claimed to have a visual impairment, compared to 2.83% of the general population. Only 0.42% said they had severe difficulty walking or standing, compared to 3.6% of the adult working population.
Similar levels of underrepresentation extend to all physical disabilities, despite assistive computer tools for people with disabilities existing since the 1980s. So why are we still so far behind in equal employment?
It’s a complicated question, but the good news is many major technology companies have made commitments to diversify their workforces. As software engineering jobs continue to grow in number over the next decade, they will also become increasingly accessible for workers with disabilities.
Here are seven great resources for individuals with disabilities looking to break into careers in computer science and software engineering.
USA.gov Job Search Engine
Federal jobs can be advantageous for those with disabilities because they use schedule A non-competitive hiring process, which streamlines the application process. In some cases, the government reserves specific jobs exclusively for applicants with physical disabilities.
The USA.gov job board is one of the best places to begin your search for a job in computer science. It allows you to specifically filter for jobs that accept applicants with disabilities and gives information and tips on applying through schedule A.
It also has a directory that will get you in contact with a selective placement program coordinator (SPPC). These are professionals whose job is specifically focused on helping those with disabilities find federal employment, and can be an excellent resource in your job hunt.
AccessComputing is an organization that is committed to helping those with disabilities find scholarships, internships, and employment in the computer science and technology fields.
One of the most important services they offer is their online community dedicated to helping those navigating the technology industry with disabilities. Mentorship and advice are valuable for any person in any industry, but it is especially helpful for those dealing with the unique challenges of disability in tech.
AccessComputing allows its members to connect with others who have experienced (or are currently experiencing) the same transitions and hurdles that they are going through.
They also send their members information about scholarships and jobs, have one of the most extensive databases for computer science internships on the internet, and have a backlog of videos and articles that tackle questions related to disability and tech.
You can apply to become a member of the AccessComputing community here.
The Microsoft Disability Scholarship
Microsoft, a global leader in software engineering and development, and also the company behind Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), is working to promote the careers of physically disabled individuals in engineering. The Microsoft Disability Scholarship is unique in that it is awarded to students that are exclusively interested in pursuing a career in technology.
While the application process is relatively involved (it requires three essays, along with letters of recommendation, a resume, and a declared major), the award totals $20,000 over a 4 year period.
Even though the Microsoft Disability Scholarship is reserved for high schoolers, other scholarships, and STEM-focused higher education in general, are an option for people of any age.
Studies show that the average age of students receiving computer science degrees is rising, and that is especially true for students with disabilities, 36% of whom are over the age of 30.
Remote Work | Using Filters
Securing proper accommodations in the workplace has always been a challenge for workers with disabilities. While the ADA (American Disability Act) has helped move things in the right direction, many workplaces still aren’t accessible enough.
The employment rate for people with disabilities is only 30% compared to the general population, and according to researchers at MIT, much of this is due to a lack of proper accommodations.
Luckily, remote work opportunities have helped level the playing field for workers with disabilities. In the spring of 2020, the world went remote. And in the years since, many workplaces have ditched the traditional 9-5 and opted for more flexible schedules.
For those with disabilities, remote work can be a game-changer. No more having to think twice about accepting a job just because in an old building or part of town that’s difficult to navigate. Many software engineer jobs can be done in the comfort of your own home.
Every popular job site—such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Zip Recruiter—has a feature filter for exclusively remote jobs. These engines make finding jobs that work for you easier than ever.
USA.gov “Jobs and Education for People With Disabilities” Page
This USA.gov page is a comprehensive hub for people with disabilities looking to break into any sector of the workforce.
On it, you’ll find links to federal job listings, legal information on workplace harassment and discrimination, and organizations that help people with disabilities find jobs in the public sector.
It also offers a number of great resources to anyone interested in continuing their education, with links to state education laws, nearby schools, and scholarships available to people with disabilities.
While the USA.gov site isn't unique to the technology industry, it’s the best place to start if you’re interested in learning more about protections for workers with disabilities, as well as the resources the government offers for employment and education assistance.
Diversity and Inclusion Events
Kubecon is the world’s flagship conference for the CNCF or Cloud Native Computing Foundation. For anyone involved in the Kubernetes ecosystem, Prometheus, or any similar cloud-native technology, it’s the best place to learn about the future of the industry, and network with its leaders.
And every year, they do a breakout session dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in the world of tech. In these sessions, you can learn from esteemed keynote speakers, and connect with others in the industry who value diversity.
While online communities and resources can be helpful, there’s no replacement for sitting down in the same room with people who share your mission. Even if a major event like KubeCon isn’t for you, there are plenty of ways to plug in similar, smaller events in your local community.
Job Boards For Workers With Disabilities
There are actually quite a few job boards that claim to be exclusively for people with disabilities. While many just aggregate listings from other jobs boards, some actually post listings exclusively from employers who are looking to hire candidates with diverse backgrounds.
One of our favorites is disabledperson.com. They vet employers themselves and have hundreds of thousands of listings up at any given time. In fact, if you type in “software engineer”, you’ll see over 80,000 listings.
While that alone is probably too many jobs to sift through over the course of a lifetime, these boards shouldn’t be the end all be all for your job search. It’s important to use disability job boards in conjunction with other engines, to ensure that you’re not missing opportunities.
Still, websites like disabledperson.com can be an important tool for helping you connect with employers who value your background.
Their site also has a helpful blog and offers courses specifically designed for workers with disabilities.
The role of technology in our economy is evolving, and all signs point toward computer science becoming one of the world’s largest industries by the end of the decade.
For years, computer science has struggled with inclusivity, and many capable workers with disabilities have struggled to enter the field. Luckily, there are companies working hard to reverse that narrative and are actively working to make their workforce more diverse.
This means that more computer science jobs will be available to workers of diverse backgrounds than ever before. By taking advantage of the resources available, workers with disabilities can continue to find the jobs, scholarships, and communities needed to break into the promising world of computer science.