Career ideas for a bright teen with a physical disability?
January 19, 2013 9:39 PM   Subscribe

My 19-year-old-daughter is very smart, but due to her disability can't handle a school- or workday of more than 3-4 hours. Help me brainstorm career ideas for her as she completes high school.

Some details: my daughter is intelligent, friendly and a generally likable person. She also has Ehlerlos-Danlos Syndrome, Type 3 (hypermobility), which comes with a lot of challenges for her--unstable joints and frequent dislocations, chronic pain, circulatory issues (postural orthostatic tachycardia), digestive issues (gastroparesis), asthma, chronic fatigue, and frequent migraines. Because of her status she sleeps 12-14 hours per night, and has limited daytime energy. Her mobility is limited, as is her strength.

Despite only being able to attend school somewhat less than half time, she'll be graduating high school this year at 19, as we were able to combine homeschooling, public school attendance, and GED exams.

My daughter had a longstanding desire to be a doctor, but med school with her limitations seems implausible, and even a four-year college degree at less than half time probably not a good goal (especially since financial aid packages are not available for less than half time attendance, and she can't attend without financial aid).

So, do you have ideas for careers she can pursue that don't require a 4 year college degree, that will be open to her as a part-time employee, and that don't require much walking, strength, or repetitive motion? She's good at sciences, social sciences, and arts/crafts. She's been thinking mortuary science, but most of the funeral homes I see in our Midwestern city are family-run, and it might be difficult to gain entry into the business. I'd just like to generate a good list of alternatives.
posted by DrMew to Human Relations (51 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Does the limitation on repetitive motion include typing?
posted by zippy at 9:47 PM on January 19, 2013

Response by poster: My kid is fine at typing. Writing with a pen or pencil is a challenge for extended periods, but she types without much problem.
posted by DrMew at 9:52 PM on January 19, 2013

If she wants to be a doctor, I assume an alternate career would be close to that. What about medical research? She maybe could get accommodation in a lab setting more easily than a hospital.
posted by emjaybee at 10:02 PM on January 19, 2013

Re: careers, maybe she would make a good life coach... perhaps specializing in helping kids with disabilities.

Your state may have a vocational rehabilitation office that could help assess her interests and capacities and identify a good career match: that's what they do. Re: college, there are scholarship programs available for people with disabilities. It might be worth calling the local community college or state school. And have you determined whether your daughter's situation qualifies her as "disabled" vis-a-vis the social security administration?
posted by carmicha at 10:03 PM on January 19, 2013

Lots of non-college-needing jobs are going to be needing walking, strength, and repetition. But it sounds like she can answer phones and do other receptionist-style work which might give her an "in" at the funeral homes or the front-lines of other fields she might be interested in such as social work (counseling, etc.) or working at doctors' offices.

I'm seconding carmicha's advice that you investigate what her disabilities make her eligible for such as scholarships, etc.
posted by bleep at 10:12 PM on January 19, 2013

Response by poster: Our state vocational rehabilitation office hasn't proved very useful--my kid's caseworker only has contacts to set people up with a retail or untrained office work job. As for SSI, we haven't run that gauntlet yet; we've only negotiated the public school individual education plan system thus far.
posted by DrMew at 10:14 PM on January 19, 2013

Based on your update I want to reiterate that if she can't go to college (and perhaps even if she did), an untrained office work job is a really good (if not the best or only) starting point to a more interesting professional career, especially if it's in a field she likes.
posted by bleep at 10:27 PM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Freelance medical or science writing. She'd get paid to learn what she's interested in and could set her own hours. For now, she could do some unpaid work to build her portfolio, and later specialize (her unique insight into many issues could be a boon) and charge $$$. I bet she'd be awesome at it.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:32 PM on January 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

I have a friend with E-D who is a lawyer. Though she also has frequent dislocations and pain, she is able to work part time and do wills, trusts and other personal legal documents for people from a small office near her home.

I also know people with severe physical disabilities who became doctors - perhaps not the sort of doctor who stands for hours in surgery, but maybe someone who works in a less hands-on role, such as a pathologist or hematologist.

It might take your daughter extra time to get through college and/or professional school, but there is no reason to think she can't do it with some extra accommodation. You describe her as smart and friendly, and it seems like it might be worth seeing how to help her pursue her dreams rather than helping her settle. Of course, you're her parent and you know what you're all dealing with more than strangers on the internet, but I hope you are not limiting yourselves as you consider the options.
posted by judith at 10:50 PM on January 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

You've probably done your research, but I would imagine that tons of colleges would be happy to give financial aid, and figure out a curriculum to work around her schedule. If not, could she take a course or two at a community college? I'm emphasizing the college aspect because that would be the best route into a professional career that doesn't require manual labor or long hours.

blazingunicorn's suggestion is good, since she's comfortable typing for extended periods. I know a few freelance science writers, and they seem to really enjoy their career. (But again, I think at least a couple of college courses in science or writing would be helpful.)
posted by redlines at 10:50 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing that you shouldn't rule out college yet. I'm a college student going part time, and I'm eligible for financial aid because I talked to the disability services office at my school and got an exemption. I'm pretty sure most schools will be willing to work with your daughter.
posted by nerdinexile at 11:15 PM on January 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

triple nthing that you shouldn't rule out college. Typically the courseload on any given school day is far less than that of a typical high school student. Even as a full-time student I typically only had 2 or 3 lectures per day, and didn't always have classes every weekday. That, combined with the disability services others have mentioned, make college extremely possible for someone like her.
posted by Sara C. at 11:51 PM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely look into college - not necessarily a full four-year extravaganza, if she doesn't feel she could do that yet, but a community college could open up a lot of fantastic options for her.

Medical transcription might be a good option for her - definitely something she could do part-time, at home, where all you need is to be able to listen and type. And it'd give her a good background in medical terms and style to transfer that knowledge into an awesome medical writing future.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:23 AM on January 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

I hope you don't mind this mild derail, but I think you may want to reconsider whether college tuition assistance is available.

New York State offers aid to part-time students with disabilities.

Smith College offers Federal tuition assistance to ADA students taking as few as 6 credits a semester, with additional aid available for students taking 8 credits.

This appears to be a more general FAQ on tuition and the ADA, and includes the following on accommodations and financial aid: "... students with disabilities who do not qualify for specific financial aid programs because their disability prevents them from taking the full course-load ... can be accommodated by adapting the full-time or part-time course-load requirements to a level appropriate to the individual's capacity."
posted by zippy at 1:05 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should have added: the threshhold seems like it may be less than half-time at some schools.
posted by zippy at 1:07 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What about a lab technician that runs tests and such on blood samples? In my area there are training programs that are less than a year long, and as her expertise builds she could move toward working in a research lab or something more specific to her interests. Medical transcription is also a good idea to start out with. She could build connections at various hospitals and potentially work into working for a specific doctor or clinic.

If there is a research university near you, would they hire her to work in their labs? Any hospitals nearby that do clinical drug trials? Sleep study clinics?

Also, Rehab Services in Arkansas will provide college funding for those who can't do manual labor and are college material (I know you may not be in AR, but if they have it other states should). I received funding all the way through my Masters degree because of my chosen field. I had to complete a battery of tests and had to do evaluations and meetings once a year but it was well worth it. You may want to ask specifically if funding exists (it may have dried up with the economy).
posted by MultiFaceted at 2:42 AM on January 20, 2013

The kinds of things you learn and do as a medical sciences technician who runs blood tests and stuff are generally not the kinds of things that will be at all useful in a research lab (plus: boring). Hospital labs are highly automated. I do know a couple of people who made the switch but only by going back to school to get a post-grad qualification, just the same as the rest of us with straight science degrees from undergrad.

Instead I think you daughter should just go to University part time and get a science degree then get a part time job as a laboratory technician, either in a commercial lab or a research lab depending on what she likes and what works best for her. Working part time in a research lab is totally doable and I know a bunch of people who work three days per week or five hours per day or whatever. Lab work can be quite varied, which she might like, or if wet lab work is too difficult for her then she could focus on dry lab stuff like bioinformatics or science writing. Alternatively she could become a tech sales rep, trouble shooting experiments and visiting customers (and making money!).

The reduced hours most likely will limit her chances of advancement in a research career, so it's probably not worth her doing a PhD, and there will be challenges to finding somewhere suitable to employ her initially (that latter part goes for everyone though). But with a good BSc+experience or even a research Masters degree she can make a good living out of it all somehow. It really is possible to make a significant contribution without working crazy hours or even full time hours given enough intelligence and aptitude for the research subject (which, again, we all need anyway), and it sounds like your daughter has the latter part covered.
posted by shelleycat at 3:17 AM on January 20, 2013

Best answer: I have health problems that really limit my career options, I've worked for years as a freelance writer, and I didn't go to college. So, hopefully my experience will be relevant here...

The first thing I would tell her is that she needs to research the hell out of the career she's interested in. Read every website, read every book. Then cold call people who actually do the job, talk to them at length and ask them to be honest about how much it pays and how much physical work is involved. Then call somebody else and ask them the same stuff, and then somebody else.

Books and websites are good for a general overview, but they can give you a really exaggerated idea of how well a job pays, and they can make it sound much less physically grueling than it really is. Talking to people who actually do the job gives you a better idea, but it's still far from foolproof. When you say you have physical limitations they don't always grasp what that really means, and they'll say a job isn't physical because it's not physical to them. To a non-disabled person, having to stand up for half an hour at a time isn't a big deal. Having to crouch for five minutes won't make them spend the next day in agony. They don't get it.

So, research, research, research. Then, an internship. This doesn't have to be done through a school. If she calls around enough, she'll find somebody someplace, in almost any field, who will let her work for free. Getting experience on the job and seeing how she handles it (and likes it) is crucial, before she makes any long term career decisions. I decided to become a dental assistant years ago, and I did the research and the calls, but I skipped the internship. I went to a DA program in a trade school and hated every miserable second, but I thought it was just because the teacher sucked. Then I graduated, got a job, and hated it like I cannot describe. I sucked at it, it was too hard on me physically, every second was hell. From school to when I quit, I basically wasted like 16 months of my life.

So, she needs to do an internship. Ideally, she should volunteer at several places, to compare. (If she does a good job, it's also possible they'll want to hire her.) She needs to know what this job is really like, so she doesn't waste a lot of time, money and energy on something that won't work.

To be blunt, I don't think college is such a great idea in 2013. It's true, if she has a very specific career goal that absolutely requires a degree, then college is necessary. But otherwise, it's very expensive, takes a lot of time, and she could very well graduate and find that she still can't get a damn job. A lot of very qualified people are hurting for work right now, it's a boss' paradise. I'd say she should aim for getting the job as quickly as possible. Look for trade schools. Look for 2-year programs, if need be. But getting trained on the job is the best way to go. She should not spend years of her life in college, assuming that will be what gets her a job. Whatever professional problems I've had, I can say with confidence that none of them had anything to do with lacking a degree.

I wouldn't suggest freelance writing as a career for anybody. I've published literally hundreds of articles, in some publications you've actually heard of, and in a good year I was still pretty broke. I've been one of the lucky ones, and it's still been a crappy, desperate way to live. (It never paid that well, but it's gotten a lot worse as more publications shut down and websites increasingly expect writers to work for free.) Maybe she'll have better luck than I did. Maybe. But nobody can say I didn't work hard enough for it, and yet here I am middle-aged, broke and popping Omeprazole for an ulcer that just won't quit.

It's late, and I've rambled enough. My advice basically boils down to: she needs to find something that she thinks she can do, something that will support her, she needs to go out and try it, and then she needs to make that career happen as quickly as possible. College should be looked at as a last resort, and freelance writing is a lifetime of toil for little reward.

Sorry if this seems cynical or self-indulgent, but I'd give almost anything to go back in time and give myself some of this advice.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:18 AM on January 20, 2013 [16 favorites]

I should point out that doing any kind of medical or laboratory research without at least an undergrad degree isn't really feasible. There are some really low level positions but she'd be competing with currently enrolled undergrads or freshly minted BScs for those, a high school education won't be enough. There are even full four year undergrad degrees for working in hospital laboratories doing the boring automated stuff these days. Other types of research are similar, social sciences etc, there are so many people trying to get into these areas that someone without qualifications will find it very difficult to compete in the hiring process.

But someone who is smart and likes science can totally make it through a science degree part time, even very part time (like one or two classes per term). If the early level lab classes prove too difficult then she can focus on dry lab stuff as I mentioned above, and she'd get accommodation for test taking and things like that (e.g. being able to type exams rather than write them). Then the resulting career options are totally compatible with flexibility and working part time forever.
posted by shelleycat at 3:29 AM on January 20, 2013

Sorry, I should've read other people's suggestions more closely. I skimmed and assumed everybody was talking about writing medical or scientific articles for mainstream audiences. (Like, trying to write freelance for Wired, let's say.) If you're talking about becoming more of a technical writer, that's a whole other gig I don't know anything about.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:32 AM on January 20, 2013

Two things to consider are a) what is the prognosis for your daughters condition, is she stable or likely to have increased problems in other areas as she progresses through life. I would hate to invest 8 years or more in something that I could only then do for a couple of years. Consider also b) given the energy limitations in place, have your daughter think hard on whether she wants to place her work as the central energy drain in her life. If I had a tight energy budget I think I would chose a less stressful job, and keep my energy for friends, family, travel, hobbies, etc. Even a kind of mind numbing job might not be too shabby if I were only doing it a few hours a day.

An interest in medicine, together with the option of not needing immediate extensive training, in a growing branch, with the possibility of part time work and with tasks that are made easier as assistive computing develops even further is medical secretary. If she digs it and wants to she can specialise.
posted by Iteki at 3:43 AM on January 20, 2013

Going to college full time is potentially feasible - a 12 credit full-time student (the 5 year plan) takes 3-4 classes per semester. If these classes were on different days, she could expect to spend 2ish hours a day in class, leaving a couple of hours for study and other stuff. The only pitfall might be lab courses if she's in a science, but I imagine that could be worked around. Many schools schedule classes on a Saturday.

One thing I recommend if she does go the college route is to forget about college rankings and look into which schools have excellent course planning tools and use multiple sections of required courses per semester.

At my undergrad school (Michigan State), the way courses are scheduled (many many smallish sections, meeting at different days and times) would have made it easy for her to spread classes out and make it work for her. At my current school (UC Davis), the way course scheduling is run would make her life a nightmare - major classes are offered at only one time and fill up fast, so she'd have almost no flexibility with her schedule.
posted by zug at 4:16 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm currently reading Life Disrupted: Getting Real About Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties by Laurie Edwards. There is a lot of good information in there that may prove useful to your daughter as she enters her next stage of life, including a profile of a young adult woman who has E-D. But I popped in to share something from the section about education with chronic illness. The book talks about colleges that are starting to offer programs that cater to the needs of those with chronic illness. I think it was DePaul University that she discussed, but they set up an entire program with accommodations such as extended deadlines and flexible schedules. I imagine they would be more flexible about financial aid as well. May be worth looking in to.
posted by bluloo at 5:30 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Ursula Hitler: if she doesn't have a great idea of what she wants to do, the doldrums of working something you _don't_ want to do is a great way to figure out what you want in a hurry.

I would look for the sorts of jobs that entail work from home and batch processing. Most of these will pay a pittance, but it's the fastest and easiest way to find something. I'd also look into local utility company call centers and other large organizations in your area if they offer education benefits to part time employees. You can parlay this into a certificate program at a community college that could end up being fully paid for.

Don't know how large your Midwestern city is and/or what industries are there, but a certificate in Digital Forensics could be used to start doing some consulting work for an IT security shop, possibly picking up some overflow work. IT security is completely a meritocracy, and some good project work in the certificate program + a good showing in an internship + going to some local security community events to meet people could easily end up with some work opportunities. There are also a ton of ITSec shops in the major midwestern metros.

She would need to be passionate about it, though. Academic programs are notorious in industry for teaching you the bare minimum. Given her inability to work full time, she's going to have an uphill climb. Excellent command of the finest technical details is the way to address that.

If this sounds like something she's interested in, feel free to MeMail me. I work tangentially with forensics (though frequently enough that I'm probably going to start in a certificate program this year), but I know a lot of the folks from those midwest ITSec shops, and may have a few other ideas on jumpstarting a career in that particular specialty.

Unemployment is very low in my field, and almost nonexistent amongst folks with technical chops.
posted by bfranklin at 5:44 AM on January 20, 2013

Is she shy in front of a camera? I know several video bloggers who record a 5-10 minute personal-style chat about their day every day, and are able to make a living off it. It takes a white to get established and gain subscribers, but if it can pay the bills.. YouTube shares profits with ad revenue to people who upload videos regularly and can draw hits. I'm frankly baffled that more people haven't taken up the task, but I understand being camera shy.

A good example of this kind of video blog is a personal favorite, Dexterity Bonus who also has a periodic video-game-related "vlog" about random gaming news she personally finds interest to comment on -- and manages to pay the bills (in California, no less).
posted by Quarter Pincher at 6:19 AM on January 20, 2013

You and she might go to talk to the office of disability services at your nearest university to get an idea of what they offer. Start with the website but in my experience school websites don't always correlate with the quality of the actual services. They may be able to give you a better sense of both what support services and what financial help are available. Obviously talking to financial aid offices will help too.

Computer science might be another path for her to look at in terms of fields.
posted by leslies at 6:22 AM on January 20, 2013

have you checked cchecked on USAJOBS? working in a federal office might offer more opportunities for her because of their ability (rrequirement) to offer accommodations. plus they're now searching by ccompetencies which makes it easier to figure out what type of work you can do
posted by spunweb at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2013

Just wanted to chime in again about college. I bet there are accommodations she could get to make a 4 hour day work for part-time enrollement. For instance, she could stay at home and attend lectures via video conference, and maybe get extra time to complete homework and papers. The average college student doesn't actually spend much time on homework, so if she could cut out some of the stress and impact of having to travel to and from campus and sit for classes, I bet she could do it. One two-hour lecture a day and two hours of homework could get her far!
posted by yarly at 6:57 AM on January 20, 2013

I would suggest that she shoot for a BA, even if she has to go part-time or partly from home and take a few years more to complete it, because most of the more sedentary jobs that allow for part-time and flex-time work require a college degree (IME).

Can you find a career counselor specializing in guiding people with disabilities? There is a website called Chronic Illness Coach run by a woman who is a career coach with multiple sclerosis - she's also written a book called Keep Working, Girlfriend!

I mention a career coach, getting a BA, and exploring a wide range of career options because so many people in your daughter's situation feel that their only opportunities for earning money are either freelance writing or blogging - and those fields are so saturated and competitive that I would think of writing or blogging as a hobby, not a money-maker.

Good luck to your daughter - there is a place for her in the world of work, even if it's only part time, and being able to work and bring in an income will make her feel more like a real grown-up and less dependent on family.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:10 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by tabubilgirl at 7:32 AM on January 20, 2013

I have a very smart cousin who has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She's had a lot of success keeping bees and selling the honey. It involves a fair amount of science, but it also involves having a lot of bees flying around so, you know, proceed with caution.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:49 AM on January 20, 2013

At my current school (UC Davis), the way course scheduling is run would make her life a nightmare - major classes are offered at only one time and fill up fast, so she'd have almost no flexibility with her schedule.

Yeah, but folks with disabilities get first priority in signups for classes over pretty much everyone else there. It might not be quite as bad as it sounds?

But in general, I agree that in her case, I wouldn't go for a college degree unless it was absolutely necessary. Get the amount of schooling you need for the job you want, but most folks are going into whopping amounts of debt they'll never pay off already--and those are folks who could work full time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:10 AM on January 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the various thoughts, MeFi friends. I am actually a college prof myself, and I believe it would be very hard for my daughter to complete a B.A., because what looks like plenty of flexibility and accommodation to a person who isn't disabled looks quite different from the position of someone for whom just walking between classes is a challenge. So I'm really interested in responses that suggest careers that don't require a B.A. (let alone advanced degrees).

I do have to say, as someone who writes and blogs all the time and has never made any money off of it that I'm not sanguine about writing careers other than technical ones.

If anyone has experience with careers in embalming, phlebotomy, dental assistance, (paid) lab technician, or something that seems related, and has any advice they'd care to share, please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by DrMew at 10:59 AM on January 20, 2013

I am actually a college prof myself, and I believe it would be very hard for my daughter to complete a B.A., because what looks like plenty of flexibility and accommodation to a person who isn't disabled looks quite different from the position of someone for whom just walking between classes is a challenge.

You really and truly ought to check in with the Disability Services office at your school. Someone there can give you a much better idea of the potential.

I went to college with quite a few disabled people, for whom mundane aspects of the college experience like getting around campus or understanding a spoken lecture were a challenge. The school worked with them to enable them to get a degree. And I did not go to a fancy university, by any means. If my school had this, the school you work at most likely does as well.

There are also a lot of online offerings via traditional universities, nowadays. I know plenty of people who opted to take the big 101-level lecture courses online rather than having to go sit in a lecture hall on campus.

Obviously you know your daughter a lot better than we do, but the limitations you describe don't sound like they make college impossible. They might severely limit her future career options, but there's no reason she can't ever become qualified to have one.
posted by Sara C. at 11:36 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quadruple nthing not to rule out college. I work at a college and there are students with any number of disabilities, including quadriplegia, dialysis, etc. It's probably not a cakewalk but I think your daughter could find reasonable accommodation at most colleges, especially if she is willing to take full advantage of the school's disability services and use a scooter or wheelchair to help get around.

A college degree will open her future up tremendously. Attending medical school part-time does seem like an iffy prospect--but let her get through college first and see if other interests catch her fancy.
posted by elizeh at 12:36 PM on January 20, 2013

>If anyone has experience with careers in (...) dental assistance

Seriously, based on my experience I would strongly caution a disabled person against going into chairside dental assistance. It sounds sedentary, but it's anything but. You have to hurry around to disinfect instruments and clean everything between patients, and you have to spend a lot of time standing, bent over, squatting. You're assisting while children are getting teeth extracted and stuff, and there's a lot of stress and blood and it can pretty hardcore. (Also, yay constant bloodborne infection risk!)

It was also much, much more technical than I was led to believe. Maybe your daughter would breeze through that aspect of it, but it was murder on me trying to do x-rays and remembering what a million little silver sharp pokey things are called. It taught me that there really are different kinds of intelligence, because in dental school people who seemed much, much less intelligent than I was were just running circles around me. That sounds snobby, but literally, I overheard some people telling the old kids' joke about how 6 is afraid of 7 because 7 8 9, and this one girl (who was absolutely destroying me in class) did not get it. I wanted to scream, HOW CAN YOU BE SO MUCH BETTER AT THIS STUPID JOB THAN I AM, AND NOT NOT UNDERSTAND A CRAPPY PUN LIKE 7 8 9?!

I literally have nightmares about my time as a dental assistant. My shrink says I have mild PTSD. I think that's a bit extreme, but I will say that I would take a bullet in the gut before I'd go back to dental school.

Front office is much more sedentary, but the pay is much worse. (And chairside never paid me as well as I was led to believe it would.)

I know you said you wanted people to email you, but I posted this publicly to warn everybody against dentistry FOREVER. Next time you get your teeth cleaned, tip the dental assistant 50 bucks. She deserves it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:45 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One career option I haven't seen mentioned at all is either programming or mid-tier technical support. Both have some options for working at home or telecommuting in ways that have been a lot more flexible with friends with various disabilities or specific rest/access/mobility needs.

If she wants to get started programming, a combination of a course or two at a local community college (somewhere to give her some projects to get started + test the water and see how feasible it would be to consider long-term formal education goals) might be a good start, and would give you some more information about what choices might work.

The trick is that finding the paid positions that will let you be flexible can take some doing: one of the classic paths is to volunteer for one of the open source projects that provides decent mentoring, and learning stuff, and then making connections that might lead to a job (or at least, developing a portfolio/examples one can use when applying to jobs.)

Another trick here is that some projects are a lot more friendly to women than others: I'd recommend checking out the Ada Initiative for general resources ). The project I'm most familiar with re: commitment to mentoring is Dreamwidth where the majority of contributors are women. (Feel free to MeMail if Dreamwidth's of any interest: I'd be glad to put you in touch with some useful contacts there who are navigating the chronic medical stuff + work piece.)
posted by modernhypatia at 1:00 PM on January 20, 2013

I'm a research scientist and before I did my PhD I worked as a laboratory technician in a couple of different research organisations. It was in New Zealand but we all had some kind of post-grad degree, even just an honours degree was fine but you needed something more than a BA or BSc to be hired. I also know people who work in labs in hospitals or doing commercial lab work of various types and, in recent times anyway, they all had undergrad degrees at least. Even my lowest level lab tech job where I was cleaning out cow sheds and filing journal papers for my boss was usually held by someone a few years into their undergrad degree, except when someone even more qualified like me was doing it. A high school level education doesn't really work these days, there are too many people willing to work in a lab for free to increase their chances of getting into grad school or whatever.

But I have also taught undergrad science and laboratory classes and it is very modular, very possible to do in small chunks. If there is some way your daughter can take even some classes at a community college or whatever to increase her skills and help get into lab work it can be a very flexible career. And really, if she's not able to do that then she won't really be able to work in a lab or do scientific research in any capacity anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 1:13 PM on January 20, 2013

Best answer: Having worked as an admin assistant and as a medical receptionist, I wouldn't really recommend secretarial or reception work. These are jobs where accommodations are not given (I've sometimes been expected to show up even if sick) and where people expect you to fetch and carry for them on command, regardless of how you're feeling.

If medical paperwork appeals to her, transcription sounds like a much better option.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:15 PM on January 20, 2013

Response by poster: Really appreciating the additional career thoughts. More ideas for careers that require neither a B.A. nor physical labor are appreciated.

People, please believe that I understand the value of a college education, and that it is now considered a basic qualification for many many jobs. But two college classes at a time is about equivalent to the workload she's been able to handle thus far. At a state college like the one at which I teach, that course load isn't considered half time, and this disqualifies a student from financial aid or living in a dorm (yes, I've asked). This would mean it would take her 9 years to get her B.A., we'd have to pay for the whole things ourselves (not plausible), and she'd have to live at home. Concrete information about specific private colleges that don't require a half-time schedule would be welcome. Other than that, technical programs that typically take a no more than two years (preferably less), or careers that require no degree are what I'd love to hear about. Thanks!
posted by DrMew at 2:08 PM on January 20, 2013

I wouldn't rule out digital forensics on account of the suggestion to get a certificate. A college certificate is the non-firehose method of learning forensics. One can also go the route of on-demand training (on your schedule via the web) plus an exam through the SANS institute to earn the GCFE credential.
posted by bfranklin at 2:14 PM on January 20, 2013

I would hate to see your smart, well-adjusted daughter sacrificing her intellect in an office job when she has much higher aspirations.

If college becomes doable at all, maybe she could become a pharmacist.
posted by Kerasia at 4:06 PM on January 20, 2013

Maybe this thread could help

posted by auntie maim at 5:24 PM on January 20, 2013

Could she tutor high school students in biology, chemistry. etc?
posted by selfmedicating at 8:55 PM on January 20, 2013

embalming, phlebotomy, dental assistance, (paid) lab technician

These all sound like really terrible job ideas for her! All of these jobs require spending a significant portion of your day on your feet, fetching/carrying things, repetitive motions, and odd angles. These are jobs that physically exhaust healthy people on the first few days until they get used to it.

Something to think about for college/further training: Can she spend more than 4 hours a day working if you subtract the time it takes for commuting/stress of moving from class to class? I know a lot of people with health issues that find just getting to class/work to be one of the most difficult parts of the day. My university broadcast virtually all of its courses (except labs) online - which would be great if she had the mental ability to focus and type 8 hours a day but just not physically sit in class and move around.

I think programming, as mentioned upthread, would be a really good fit because it is primarily mental, and can be done from home if you find the right people to work with. It is also one of the most mentally driven fields that does not require a degree in all cases. Plus, she could tie in her interest in medicine by workings on some of the really cool work that is being done in bioinformatics.

Another option is working the front desk of a medical office. I know someone with a chronic medical condition that does this successfully and is well supported by the office. Admin work at the University you work at could also be a good fit - plus you already have the connections.
posted by fermezporte at 5:37 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are lots of medical programs offered through Community Colleges, many of which will offer some courses on-line.

One think that came to mind was Nursing. An RN program is only two or three years, and can be attended part-time.

While typical nursing is a very physical job, there are jobs within it that do not require a lot of physical activity. Husbunny worked in a call-center talking with Athsma patients. Also, Case Managers for insurance companies are pretty sedentary. There are also telephone/triage nurses that work for health insurance companies.

I think a nursing program, working in conjunction with the disabilities office at your local Junior/Community College might be a good fit for your daughter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:01 AM on January 21, 2013

Given what you've said about severe physical limitations, think white collar. Blue collar workers of any stripe have far less flexibility about their careers and scheduling. A dentist has a lot more freedom than a dental hygienist, for example (although given what you've said I don't think either is suitable).

Computer programming/QA testing/tech support are probably some of the best-paid jobs (well, maybe not tech support) that don't require formal education or physical labor. Coursera (free online college courses) could plausibly teach her all she needs to know to get her foot in the door somewhere. There are several freelancer websites where she could get started once she has the basics under her belt.

One thing that's bothering me about this question is that there's no mention of her own interests at all. What kind of career would *she* like? That is way more fundamental than anything we can say about jobs for somebody we only have a short description of.
posted by zug at 9:48 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

translation service and public notary (she would need to become fairly fluent in another language, which can be done on her own schedule)
posted by WeekendJen at 11:10 AM on January 21, 2013

Some careers that seem like good fits, like translation or transcription, might not have much of a long-term future. Translating and speech recognition programs are getting better all the time. Right now both technologies make plenty of mistakes and most translators and transcribers seem confident their careers will still exist in 10 years... but I suspect that by 2023 there will be devices that can translate and/or transcribe even better than people can. At best, a small group of people will probably serve as quality control, and they'll take care of the occasional problems that machines can't handle.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:24 PM on January 21, 2013

I was coming here to post about programming and in particular the Ada Initiative and Dreamwidth. Here's something your daughter might like to know about co-founders at each of these organizations: they are women, they are incredibly accomplished and wonderful people and they share her dx.

Val Aurora, Ada Initiative

Denise Paolucci, Dreamwidth
posted by rdc at 1:00 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've only skimmed through the prior answers and I'm not sure if this would be too physically taxing, but in the medical/hospital genre of ideas what about becoming an ultrasound technician? There are two year programs, and while it's usually a full-time job I have heard that it doesn't have to be...
posted by celtalitha at 2:27 PM on January 22, 2013

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