How to Become a Disability Specialist in the US

disability specialist

A physical or mental disability can hinder a person from achieving his or her full potential. Disability specialists work to determine the severity of a disability in an affected person. They evaluate what the disabled can or cannot do under normal conditions. Employers, for instance, use this information to develop workplace modifications that can accommodate disabled employees.

If you are ready to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities, you should read this to the end.

What Do Disability Specialists Do?

Disability specialists work with diverse groups of people, ranging from young children to school students and the elderly. Their duties include:

  • Reviewing medical reports to determine the patient’s disability history
  • Assessing how a person with disability interacts with various environments – e.g. the interaction of disabled learned with classroom environments
  • Maintaining the confidentiality of patient’s health information
  • Compiling reports detailing their assessments and recommendations
  • Providing support, such as referring people with serious disabilities to physicians
  • Helping the disabled to understand their rights as outlined in the American’s with Disabilities Act
  • Keeping accurate records of disability assessment reports and other documents.

Work Environment

Disability specialists work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Their work environment varies from job to job. For example, specialists employed in schools spend some of their time in classrooms where they observe students with disabilities. Those who work for companies that provide assessment services travel regularly to patient’s homes or healthcare facilities to conduct assessments.


According to Payscale, the median annual wage for disability specialists is $41,740. The following table provides the salary ranges for specialists at various career levels:

Level of Seniority


Annual Wage

Starting disability specialists


$30,000 - $36,000

Experienced disability specialists


$36,000 - $52,000

Senior specialists (Case managers)


$52,000 - $65,000

Entry Requirements

Disability specialists can come from diverse academic backgrounds. To get started, pursue a bachelor’s degree in one of the following fields:

  • Special education
  • Nursing
  • Social work
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Psychology

Experience is a key employment requirement. Employers prefer individuals who have significant experience working with the disabled. As such, you should focus on finding a job immediately after graduating. If you have a degree in social work, find work as a social worker. Special education graduates should find work as teachers in schools.

After working for at least four years, pursue a professional certification from the American Board of Disability Analysts. Depending on your level of experience, you can choose to become certified as a Disability Analyst Fellow or Disability Analyst Diplomate. The latter designation requires at least nine years of relevant work experience.

Important Qualities

To be a competent disability specialist, you need:

  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Strong teamwork skills
  • Good speaking and writing skills
  • Skills in information gathering
  • Good decision making skills
  • An interest in helping disabled persons
  • A good understanding of national and local disability laws
  • A knowledge of community resources for people with disabilities
  • Emotional resilience.

Career Development

Many employers provide additional training to newly hired disability specialists to enhance their suitability to the job.

To increase your career progression prospects, take the following steps:

Job Opportunities

The employers of disability specialists include:

  • Schools
  • Health insurance companies
  • Commercial providers of disability assessments
  • Community support organizations
  • Healthcare facilities and many other types of private and public companies

With experience and advanced qualifications, you can be hired as a case manager.

Although the Bureau Labor of Statistics doesn’t provide job growth projections for disability specialists as a collective group, prospects for individual professions are impressive. For example, the need to detect disabilities as early as possible in the lives of students will increase the demand for special education graduates. The aging US baby boomer generation is also more prone to disability. So disability specialists will be needed to help create appropriate independent living and assisted living environments.