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There’s no denying that finding a career niche for an intellectually disabled person can be a difficult process. And there’s no one size fits all – because ID varies in every individual, so each case is unique and requires careful analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and a match if possible with the dreams and aspirations of the individual.

Depending on condition and symptoms, multiple jobs options may not be readily to hand. However, that said, there are multiple choices. It is a matter of knuckling down through a process of elimination and matching, training, and sheer determination to overcome obstacles.


In many instances, the environment in which an ID individual may be expected to work is important, and should be considered first when seeking employment or deciding on a career path. In general intellectually disabled people require:

  • Stability: A job that settles into its environment without any sudden changes or disruptive behaviour from people. It can be a library or laboratory, but it should be an atmosphere of calm and expected pattern.
  • Low stress: This doesn’t mean less work, it just means that pressure is minimal and direction and guidance clear and accessible.
  • Consistency: No rucks in the carpet. Consistency means an understood number of tasks to be done in a certain way at a certain pace, without sudden alterations. Simple, repetitive tasks are useful, but a stable environment and consistent outcomes can help an ID individual to cope with variance.
  • Structure: The ways tasks must be performed, and in what timeframe with the outcomes clearly defined, is important. Schedules and procedure are key. Haphazard approaches and too much variety can be a problem.
  • Routine: Tasks once learned can be well-managed if they are understood to be regular. Confidence is gained through the expectation of repetition. Having an organised plan each day makes it easier to learn and become comfortable with responsibilities.
  • Creativity: Bringing a sense of the artistic and contribution to design would be highly enjoyed, allowing innovation to play an important role in communications.
  • Emotional support: Especially in team work where ID persons like to feel a part of the whole, and that their role is valued.
  • Choice of tasks: This crucial to a feeling of being able to cope, and to not feel overwhelmed. The enjoyment of the work must be seen to result in efficiency.
  • Strict rules and behaviour: This is helpful to alleviating confusion about performance expectations. Rules if reasonable, are highly valued, and help to maintain focus and purpose.

Careers to consider

There is a difference between a job and a career. One can get a job as a waitron or washing dishes or sweeping floors – none of these would be considered serious careers. But if an intellectually disabled person could build specific training into a chosen vocation, and then build supportive experience into a sound knowledge base, then a career is certainly more than mere contemplation, it’s a path that may grow to various levels of success.

Depending on condition and level of capability, there are generally two spheres of occupation that appeal: either working with people in a collaborative or service capacity, or working in a quiet, fairly independent job. Across the board, there are many opportunities where passion and sound training can make a successful career.


This is both a creative and lucrative career. Once the camera has been properly learned, the world is your oyster, as they say. All you need is the right subject and the right angle, so to speak. Working as a photographer can be fulfilling work for people with intellectual disabilities because photography focuses on creative skills instead of problem-solving or strategic thinking. It opens up opportunity to create your own business as a wedding or events photographer.

Food industry

Here you can excel as a cook. If you love food and cooking, this could present one of the best careers around. Being able to work as a team and having set recipes to follow can help you be successful in the kitchen regardless of your abilities. Cooking is often routine, but also carries creativity. Working in an hotel or restaurant, or even working from home creating recipes or writing about food, hold numerous options for career development.

Computer programming

This can be one of those quiet, singular capacities where you would work to make codes for operating systems and software applications. Computer programmers use programming languages like Java, C++, SQL, C# and HTML to give instructions to the computer.

Computers work to set expectations – and as such present a structured work environment where new ideas are carefully tested over time, offering patience and concentrated involvement.

Veterinary Assistant

Many people with ID love animals. They find harmony and a special bond with furry friends, and this presents career opportunities where natural empathy, affinity and compassion may find perfect outlet. Working within a practice, a person with ID can assist the vet with simple medical tasks such as preparing animals for surgery, or might work with the owners of pets in an administrative capacity. It provides an essential industry with great job satisfaction.

Graphic Artist

If you have strong artistic talent, then consider a career as a graphic artist. There is a vital mix of structure, creativity and technology. You may design logos, advertisements, book covers and posters. There is a certain freedom in this kind of creativity – and you can find routine in the technology, but there may also be some measure of stress. There is however, the motivation of team work support and a strong sense of commitment.


Working with gardens or greenhouses, growing plants and vegetables, can provide fulfilling work for people with developmental disabilities. It’s an area that is stable and calm. Plants usually react as one would expect. Not only that, but knowledge of this industry is vitally important to food production. Whether growing food or flowers, there is an array of career opportunities to choose from – some which involve interaction, and others where working in the outdoors with plants and forestry can be solitary but also peaceful and fulfilling.

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za