What Are the Best Jobs for Quadriplegics?

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Quadriplegics, like other people, also must have the opportunity to work at jobs and attain financial autonomy and a sense of independence. Contrary to thinking, there are quite a few job opportunities out there for them that can be suited to the physical needs and mental capacity of quadriplegics.

With gainful employment, not only can people suffering from quadriplegia sustain themselves, but they can also become a source of inspiration for many others.

In this article, we will explore the different kinds of jobs that quadriplegics can take up. We will also highlight the laws that support people with disabilities in general and quadriplegics in particular.

What is Quadriplegia?

Plegia or paralysis is the loss of movement, temporary or permanent in a body part. It occurs when there is a loss of nerve function in a muscle either at the level of nerves, spinal cord, or brain. These three together form a neural pathway through which nerves send motor signals and take back sensory signals to the muscles for their movement.

Often, paraplegia and quadriplegia get mixed up. Depending on the area affected, paralysis can be,

  • Monoplegia – paralysis of only part i.e. one arm or one leg of any side
  • Hemiplegia – Hemi meaning half, it is the paralysis of one arm and one leg on the same side of the body
  • Paraplegia – paralysis of both legs and/or the trunk of the body
  • Quadriplegia – paralysis of both arms and both legs with/without the muscle of the trunk and organs in it

Doctor examining spinal cord of a patient

A spinal cord injury at the area of the cervical vertebrae bones i.e. the area behind the neck and skull, due to accident, disease, or tumors can result in quadriplegia.

In addition to the loss of function from shoulder down, the quadriplegics may also face other physical issues such as difficulty in breathing, incontinence, bowel issues, blood clots, and pressure sores. While there is no known cure for quadriplegia right now, some people may regain partial recovery of some functions over time.

Supportive Efforts for Employment for Disabled Persons

Before we dive into the variety of jobs that could suit quadriplegics let us first understand the employment landscape for the disabled. Globally, the official unemployment rate for employable persons with disabilities is at least twice that for those who have no disability.

The efforts of the World Health Organization are geared towards accommodating the increasing the percentage of persons with disabilities into the working-age population.

Anti-discrimination laws in various western countries greatly help the cause, by making it illegal to make decisions about a person’s employment based on their disability. Some countries follow the ‘Quota System’ for organizations of a certain size and type. Fines are imposed on companies not meeting the quota.

In some countries, ‘Sheltered Employment’ is provided. This is about employing separate facilities. It could be a sheltered business or a segregated part of a regular enterprise This is controversial in some cases due to the ghettos it could promote.

Hence, another route is ‘vocational rehabilitation and training’, which can greatly help restore or develop the capabilities of people with disabilities so that they can participate in the competitive labor market.

Young man on hos electric wheelchair in an open field

Besides, many laws that govern the disabled at work and are as follows:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – This prevents discrimination against the disabled and promotes equal opportunities for them at jobs, transport, etc
  • Rehabilitation Act – This gives authority for funding of the many disability-related activities and programs including research and training, state Vocational Rehabilitation programs (VR), etc
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) – This takes care of federal employment programs and job training by the Department of Labor (DOL) and vocational rehabilitation and literacy programs for the disabled by the Department of Education (DoED).
  • Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) – This covers most federal agencies, it allows for fairness for the disabled applicants and employees by federal personnel.

More details about the laws can be found at the website https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/publications/fact-sheets/employment-laws-disability-and-discrimination.

Moreover, since 1992, under the banner of the United Nations, every year the ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities ’ (IDPD), also called the World Disability Day, is celebrated on the 3rd of December to raise awareness about participation and equal opportunity for the disabled in employment, healthcare and education programs. It aims to help promote the well-being and the rights of the disabled in all spheres of society.

Jobs for Quadriplegics

While quadriplegics may not be able to do jobs of a physical nature, they can work in various fields that do not require physical work. Thanks to technology, many specialized products for quadriplegics have made their life simpler.

Wheelchairs for quadriplegics have opened up the world to them. Head pointers and incontinence products help them be more efficient and work longer. Specialized beds can help quadriplegics work from the comfort of their homes.

The range of work that a quadriplegic can do will depend on some factors such as,

  • The extent of movement of different parts of the body depending on the position and extent of the injury
  • Any general or specific skills that they may possess
  • Their education and professional degrees if any. College degrees will also help in getting better job options. In case a college degree was not obtained before, the person can consider getting back to college and getting a degree. To assist them in this endeavor, there is a wide range of options available like: federal grants and loans, state grants and scholarships, fellowships and scholarships by schools and universities, loans by private agencies, corporations, or banks. More information on government student disability loans can be obtained at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/education/grants/disabilities.html and https://www.ed.gov/category/subject/disabilities
  • Their level of intellect
  • Their mental state and psychological motivation to work. Since it is natural to feel anxious or depressed after going through such a life-altering incident. Any professional help if needed, or help from family and friends to ease their mental situation will greatly further increase their chances of getting employed.

Sometimes quadriplegics have to deal with not just physical and mental challenges but many times, they may have to face prejudices from people around, judgments in terms of how much they will be able to accomplish, and other stigmas associated with their condition.

But it has been proved that such people when they get back to work are not only exceedingly motivated to perform well but also show exemplary good morale and a positive approach to work.

To help them in their efforts, the availability of assistive technology has aided them greatly to perform jobs that they are skilled for.


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Jobs With the Help of Assistive Devices

The world-renowned astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking can serve as an example here. He had a severe debilitating nervous system disorder that made him a quadriplegic. He made use of assistive technology to overcome his mobility and speech issues.

He had a blink switch on his glasses that controlled his computer and spoke through a voice synthesizer. He not only led a good personal life but professionally took innumerable lectures on astrophysics and continued with his writing and research work even after his severe condition.

Computer-based devices can help the quadriplegics to make use of simple gestures such as the movement of a finger, blinking of eyes, and use of a ‘sip and puff’ tube to control virtually anything that can be controlled electronically. There are voice-controlled robotic systems that can also help quadriplegics to perform actions, pick up and place things and perform various gestures. Hence, these aids can be used for wheelchair control, environment control, and for help in communication which would further improve their daily life and job vocations.

So as far as assistance with getting a job is concerned, these aids help as follows:

  • to control and drive a wheelchair,
  • make use of multimedia programs,
  • use word processor software to read, write and edit text documents,
  • make use of search engines,
  • take printouts
  • make use of telephones,
  • read books and newspapers,
  • control automatic feeding devices (making them independent)
  • open doors and curtains

Which Professions are Most Suited for Quadriplegics?

If we talk of the present times, gig-working and remote roles are quite common. While the COVID pandemic has been a catalyst for moving many jobs remotely, many large organizations have always supported their workers working from home, if they need to. The work from home culture and terminology is increasingly percolating to medium and small-sized companies. 

This gives a major advantage to the quadriplegics who could benefit from working from the comfort of their home. This digital online control allows a person sitting in any place to be able to contribute to that organization without physically being present in the said place. This works hugely to the advantage of the quadriplegics and just about anybody, who for some reason cannot do a job conventionally by going to the office.

The following work options are ideal for quadriplegics:

  • Teaching – From teaching young kids to taking professional lectures in colleges and universities
  • Computer software designer – Designing various computer software to meet the requirements of the management or clients. Professional coders are also very much in demand these days and those with technical degrees can explore this option.
  • Computer programming – This is essentially about framing instructions for the computer to follow to achieve the desired task. In the present scenario where multimedia is widely used, all operating and file systems are dependent on computer programmers.
  • Writer – anyone with a flair for writing can take it up as a vocation and can write freelance for different clients or can work with an organizational team to write content. One can also explore the possibility of writing journals and books. A personal space in this field can also be built by writing blogs and writing content in one’s area of specialty. Softwares are available that help to convert speech-to-text (for searching, typing, etc), text-to-speech (for reading) such as NaturalReader and Say It !, and many more. Virtual keyboard by Macbook (Macbook Accessibility Keyboard) and Windows 10 Onscreen Keyboard (OSK) allow those users to type who cannot use a physical keyboard or touchscreen options.
  • Marketing – There are so many avenues in marketing be it social media, event, and email marketing to the marketing of various brands. Content marketing, copywriting, product marketing, marketing assistant and so many other options are also available.
    Sales – Many sales desk jobs can be considered suitable for quadriplegics, such as sales assistants.
    Accountancy – anyone with a stronghold with finance can advise and assist various companies and organizations with their financial concerns. They can either work freelance for individual clients or get employed at firms.
  • Photography – this can be explored by quadriplegics who have some mobility in their hands. It would need some modified photography equipment and assistive technology to help take pictures and edit them as well.
  • Law – those with professional law degrees can go back to pursuing their field as a lawyer and even explore being a disabilIty advocate. These disability advocates can either be legal ( those with professional degrees) or social ( those who help in the cause by social changes and public policies). The job of a law assistant, a paralegal, or even a law secretary does not need expensive law degrees (a certificate or a training program may be all that’s needed) and all these jobs can be done from behind a desk.
  • Guidance counselor – who can be a better motivational and guidance counselor other than somebody who can lead others through their own experiences and eventually triumphs over the condition. Not only this, those with professional degrees can even work as psychologists from their homes and conduct sessions for people who may need help and counseling. These sessions can be done at home personally, online and even the option of conducting psychology workshops for larger groups of people can be considered.

Interestingly, most of the aforementioned job options can be taken up from the comfort of their homes by the quadriplegics too. In addition to this, this shift towards modular and online working opens up many more work options for quadriplegics.

The main thing is for quadriplegics to keep the following pointers in mind when looking for a job that suits them:

  • Use all the support available in terms of laws, support groups, and job-seeking platforms – many platforms can be searched for job avenues by quadriplegics such as job-seeking search sites, vocational rehabilitation agencies, classified ads, job placement assistance agencies, and even through friends and family.
  • Make use of technology – make use of assistive technology when possible. Even for people with disabilities, these can help them to perform varied works at the job.
  • Be open about your limitations – It is always best for both employer and employee to have a clear image of what the condition of the quadriplegic entails so it is always best to be open and verbal about it without any hesitation. This would also help the employees to make the job suited for the person such as availability of ramps, seating, and other environmental adjustments, etc
  • Roleplay the job – If one is unsure of how to go about the job at the workplace, the person can take help from friends and family and do a role play at home to see how comfortable they would be in performing a certain sequence of work that the job would need.

Woman on a wheelchair

Famous Accomplished Quadriplegic People

Some people have managed to reach the pinnacle of their careers and work even after becoming paralyzed. Such people continue to inspire millions across the globe thanks to their truly undying spirits. Some of these people are,

  • Stephen Hawking – as mentioned earlier, he has made tremendous contributions in astrophysics even after his paralysis.
  • Christopher Reeve – a renowned American writer, producer, and director and well known as ‘superman’ was left paralyzed after an equestrian competition. Despite that, he directed a movie, wrote his autobiography, and even started a foundation.
  • Curtis Mayfield – a famous American singer who was paralyzed neck down after an accident on stage. However, he continued doing vocals for many years even after this extreme disability.
  • Nick Vujicic- a famous motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare condition in which arms and legs are absent. He is not only a world-renowned speaker but also a New York Times bestselling author, a coach, and an entrepreneur.

These and many other names such as musician Teddy Pendergrass, baseball player Roy Campanella, politician Steven Fletcher and many more continue to be an inspiration for people struggling with some extreme disabilities such as quadriplegia.

Thus, to sum up, thanks to advancements in technology, quadriplegics now have many avenues for rehabilitation. Even those with severe physical limitations can exert control over their lives and take up jobs that improve both their morale and quality of life.

Quadriplegia should not at all de-motivate people from discovering their passions or making use of their skills to go out into the world again and reach for their life goals. Though it may require some effort initially, one should keep the hope alive and make the best of opportunities with the help of whatever resources are available. With some motivation, consistency, and perseverance quadriplegics, like anyone else, are sure to succeed in whichever field they decide to venture in.