Nearly 11% of undergraduate students have a disability, according to recent statistics released by the U.S. Census.
These students face unique challenges in their job search. Despite 20 years of antidiscrimination legislation, applicants with disabilities have lower rates of employment than the general population. If you have a disability, the following techniques and resources will help you overcome these barriers.
Connect with vocational rehabilitation services. Every state offers these services to help individuals with disabilities find a job. The federal government has also designed Vet Success to assist veterans with disabilities with securing employment.
Pursue experiential education early. Consider volunteering or take advantage of internship opportunities. The U.S. Department of Labor actively recruits students with disabilities on college campuses through their Workforce Recruitment Program. Other internships can be found through Emerging Leaders and the American Association of People with Disabilities. The latter also hosts a national mentoring day.
Know your rights and responsibilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities, unless such accommodations would pose an undue hardship. You are responsible for requesting an accommodation if it is needed to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. View example accommodations at the Job Accommodation Network.
Identify organizations that value diversity and actively recruit individuals with disabilities. Several websites, such as the U.S. Business Leadership Network, list disability-friendly employers. Federal agencies have a Selective Placement Coordinator or Special Emphasis Manager who informs people with disabilities about current vacancies and the application process. Individuals may also apply for non-competitive appointment through the Schedule A (5 C.F.R. 213.3102(u)) hiring authority.
Use job banks to locate and apply for positions. Websites designed specifically for individuals with disabilities include AbilityLinks, ABILITYJobs, Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) Disaboom Jobs, Gettinghired and HireDisabilitySolutions.
Decide when you will disclose your disability. Mentioning a disability during the application or interview process is voluntary. Some elect to share their disability, especially if it or the accommodations they use are visible. Others do so because it permits them to explain either gaps in employment or relevant strengths. Generally, you should only share information if it is pertinent to the job functions and demonstrates your qualifications.
If you need to request changes or adjustments to the application or interview process, you may do so verbally or in writing. You can also ask for accommodations once you have been offered a position. Remember that employers may need time to arrange some accommodations, such as interpreters, alternative format and readers.
Before you reveal your disability, prepare a script and practice explaining the accommodations you need. (View an example written by George Washington University.) Avoid sharing a lot of details and carefully anticipate any follow-up questions they may have. Once you share a disability, employers may ask about any limitations related to the essential functions of the job.
Emphasize your abilities. Unfortunately, some people have prejudice about employees with disabilities. Dispel their concern by sharing specific examples or work samples that prove your ability to perform the job. Provide evidence to illustrate your qualifications. Describe an award you won, positive feedback you received or the results you generated in your last position. If you have shared that you have a disability, emphasize the problem-solving ability or adaptability you have acquired as the result of it. Depending on the nature of the work, you might also demonstrate how you would perform the job with or without accommodations.
Implement the best practices in job searching. For example, every applicant should dress professionally, prepare an effective resume, network and avoid grammatical mistakes. The Job Accommodation Network offers specific tips for job seekers with disabilities. Tap into their Employment Guide for information on finding, securing and keeping a job.
Respond politely to inappropriate questions. While employers can inquire about your ability to perform the duties of the job with or without accommodation, they cannot ask you or your references about a disability or your medical history. If you are asked such a question, you have a variety of options. You could explain that you are not comfortable answering the question or, as Valerie Lipow from Monster suggests, respond by saying, “Nothing in my personal life will keep me from doing an outstanding job in this position.”
Once the interview is over, you should assess if any inappropriate questions reflect the culture of the organization and, if so, the degree that you are comfortable working in such an environment. If you think an employer has denied you a job, refused your request for reasonable accommodation, or asked you illegal questions, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Be persistent. AS COCD states, “Some employers feel uncomfortable hiring the ‘disabled.’ Some do not.” If you feel discouraged, read the success stories of others at What Can You Do and contact your local campus career or disability services office for individual consultation.
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