Individuals with disabilities often have more difficulty than their nondisabled counterparts finding and keeping jobs.
So while you may already have your hands full ensuring the students your unit serves have the accommodations they need to succeed in college, you should also be thinking about how you can ensure that those same students are well prepared to succeed in the work force after graduation.
At Northeastern University in Boston, a partnership between the Disability Resource Center and Career Services helps students with disabilities gain co-op employment opportunities so that once students graduate, they’re better equipped to compete for jobs in a difficult economy and self-advocate with employers.
“We realized that both of those units were already working with the same students, so we figured we could better help the students by working as a team,” explained Veronica Porter, a professor and co-op advisor in the College of Science. She spoke at the recent Association on Higher Education And Disability conference in New Orleans.
The vast majority of students who attend Northeastern chose that institution because of its co-op program. After their freshman year, students alternate between full-time attendance and full-time employment, so that when they graduate, it’s with real-world work experience in their respective fields of study. Career Services is there to steer students toward co-op employment opportunities, offer résumé assistance, and help them develop job interviewing skills. But students are ultimately responsible for securing co-op employment.
It was a staffer working in the co-op program who created the Disability Resource Center. So from the very start, there was always a natural understanding that students who needed academic accommodations were also likely to need workplace accommodations, Porter said. But more recently, the institution began taking a formalized approach to assisting students with disabilities in the employment arena.
The fact that people with disabilities have higher unemployment rates, regardless of education levels, combined with the tightening job market, made that imperative, Porter said.
She and her colleagues understand that students with disabilities often experience difficulty performing well during job interviews. They also often don’t know their rights when it comes to disclosing disabilities and requesting workplace accommodations if they do land jobs. And that makes them less likely to succeed in the real world of work.
Today, when students visit the Disability Resource Center, they’re asked if they would like their information shared with the Career Services unit. That way, advisors in Career Services know from the get-go that those students may need specialized help.
With students’ permission, a special team is convened. That team may include staff members from both the DRC and Career Services, students’ co-op advisors, and staffers from external agencies, such as Vocational Rehabilitation.
Team members are there to consult on issues specific to each student. For instance, in the case of a student with a mobility impairment, team members may need to tackle the issue of disclosure and requesting accommodations so that the student can let employers know about his need for accessible office furniture.
The team is just one piece of the puzzle though. The second piece is advocacy. In addition to teaching students how and when to disclose their disabilities to potential or current employers, staff members maintain a list of disability-friendly employers and external agencies that can help students needing workplace accommodations. And in some cases, they even get involved directly with hiring companies.
For instance, if a student with Asperger syndrome has difficulty making eye contact or answering questions in full sentences, a member of his advocacy team may reach out to a potential employer with whom the student has a job interview.
That way, the person interviewing the student understands that the student isn’t simply being rude, and that his lack of social skills doesn’t mean he’s incompetent. The institution also invites employers to come to the institution and talk to students with disabilities about what traits and skills they’re looking for in job candidates.
They may talk about how to ace job interviews, and what to include or leave out of their résumés. They may even conduct mock interviews and then provide feedback that can help students hone their interviewing skills.
Based on the feedback employers provide, students’ advocacy teams decide what additional issues may need to be addressed.
Ultimately, the program ensures that when students graduate from the institution, they do so with real-world work experience so they can compete in today’s job market, and that they understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to seeking the accommodations they need to increase their chance of finding employment success.
For more information, you may contact Veronica Porter at email@example.com.
Wrap-around model helps students find employment success
Looking for a way to better help students with disabilities participate in internship opportunities so they’re better prepared to enter the work force upon graduation? If so, emulating the Northeastern University model may help.
The institution employs a community model that provides wrap-around support and services to students with disabilities seeking employment as part of its co-op program. The model starts with collaboration between the institution’s Disability Resource Center and Career Services unit, and expands outward to include external resources and employers, as shown in the diagram below.
Full article, including resources you can use to help students with disabilities who are seeking employment, is available electronically to current subscribers in the September issue of Disability Compliance for Higher Education.
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