Transition to Employment for Student with Disabilities
At some point, everyone must transition to the workforce. Whether it is in their teenage years as a student, or as a post-secondary graduate, employment is something every student thinks about. It can be challenging and scary to search for work and get a job, often even more so for students with disabilities.
For a student with a , the process of finding and retaining employment is typically the same as for any student. However, there may be additional factors that they will need to consider as they search for work:
- Does the nature of their disability limit the kind of tasks they can do?
- Should the student their disability to an employer?
- Will they need to perform their job?
- How can the student highlight their abilities?
- How can they ensure that they will be successful in the workplace?
These extra considerations may cause some students to approach the transition to work with some degree of apprehension. However, making use of career planning tools and putting effective job search strategies in place can ease the student’s mind and help them find and keep the job they want (Alberta Learning Information Service [ALIS], 2016a).
Where to Begin?
Beginning the job search process begins with the student doing an honest evaluation of who they are and what they bring to the table of a potential employer. What skills and experience does the student have that an employer will value? What type of work is a good match for their abilities?
One of the most important components of making a smooth transition into the workforce is knowing who you are and being able to effectively market yourself to a prospective employer. Effective marketing involves knowing the “product” inside out – what it can do, as well as its limitations. Similarly, students need to know themselves well to market themselves to an employer.
Being aware of your skills allows you to represent yourself well. Students will have greater success by picking job openings that require skills that they already have. Thinking about their skills in advance will help them choose jobs better suited to them, be more confident in interviews, write better resumes, and find a job that is more satisfying.
Students should think of themselves as their own brand. They need to ask:
- Who am I?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- Why should someone hire me?
- What do I have to offer, and why am I better than the other applicants?
Ultimately, they want to highlight their strengths and abilities and minimize the impact of any perceived weakness.
Knowing yourself includes knowing how your disability impacts the kind of work you can do. Many postsecondary students with disabilities will have documentation (e.g., psychoeducational assessment) from a medical or other professional stating the nature of their disability and the impact it has on their daily routine. If the student hasn’t taken the time to review this document in depth, now is the time to do so.
If a student needs help understanding their documentation they should make an appointment with someone familiar with such documentation. For instance, they can contact Accessibility Services at UPEI or the PEI Council of People with Disabilities:
UPEI Accessibility Services
First Floor, Dalton Hall, University of Prince Edward Island
550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 4P3
PEI Council of People with Disabilities
Charlottetown- Head Office
Unit #2, Landmark Plaza
5 Lower Malpeque Road, Charlottetown, PE, C1E 1R4
Students can also contact a disability services advisor, a career counsellor who has experience working with persons with disabilities, or the professional who conducted their assessment. If they have not already completed an assessment and would like to do so, advise the student that there may be a fee for conducting the assessment. The student can ask the advisor to explain what their diagnosis means and how it will impact important decisions they make in the future, including career planning. Their assessment should outline strategies and recommend that will support success in their academics and future endeavors.
Being armed with this knowledge will help the student determine the kinds of jobs where they will be most successful. Applying for positions that they know they are qualified for and will be able to perform will likely help them make a smooth transition into employment (ALIS, 2016a).
While you are supporting a person with a disability, a large part of this process is the student’s responsibility. You can be there to assist them, but the student must be the one to select which jobs to apply for, submit their applications, decide whether or not to disclose their disability, and request accommodations if necessary. The students must represent themselves during this process. They will see greater success in transitioning to the workforce if they can represent themselves confidently, understand their disability, and know their rights and the rights of the employer.
Alberta Learning Information Service. (2016a). Finding Work When You Have a Disability. Retrieved from https://alis.alberta.ca/look-for-work/additional-resources-for-specific-audiences/for-persons-with-disabilities/finding-work-when-you-have-a-disability/
Alberta Learning Information Service. (2016b). What Can Employers Ask You? Retrieved from https://alis.alberta.ca/look-for-work/interviews-and-offers/what-can-employers-ask-you/
The term disability is defined as a functional limitation caused by a long-term or recurring physical, sensory, mental, physical or learning impairment that restricts the ability of a person to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in learning or daily living. Disabilities can be visible or invisible.
Disclosure refers to the act of making information about a disability known. In the employment setting, disclosure would be the act of an employee informing their employer about their disability.
In this guide, accommodation refers to equipment, practices or policies that enable an employee with a disability to succeed in the workplace. Examples of accommodation include additional equipment or modifications to existing equipment, flexible hours of work or modified work schedule, additional training, modified work environment, and customized work duties .