Career Resources for Students with Disabilities
Searching for internships and jobs can be stressful and overwhelming for any student, but there are many resources to help you navigate the process as a student with a disability. Review this guide and meet with one of our career coaches to prepare for the application and interview process.
Know your rights
Students with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity in employment. Under this law, disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” All individuals with a disability who are qualified for a job (i.e. have the required skills and education) must be given equal opportunity to work. As such, you have a right to request a reasonable accommodation throughout the hiring process and on the job.
What is a “reasonable accommodation”?
According to the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to the application process or the work environment that would allow individuals with disabilities to apply for the job, perform it effectively, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace. There are many types of things that may help people with disabilities work successfully, but only you know what is best for you. Some of the most common types of accommodations include:
- Facilities changes, e.g., installing a ramp or modifying a workspace or restroom.
- Sign language interpreters for people who are deaf or readers for people who are blind.
- Providing a quieter workspace or making other changes to reduce noisy distractions.
- Training and other written materials in an accessible format, such as in Braille, on audio tape, or on computer disk.
- Equipment modifications, e.g., different keyboards, monitors, etc.
- Time off or modified work schedules.
Disclosing your disability to an employer
It is your personal choice whether to disclose your disability or not during the hiring process or on the job; the law does not require you to do so. However, you may want to consider how your disability could affect the specific functions of the job and the potential accommodations you may need. Employers oftentimes have misconceptions about hiring someone with a disability and the accommodations they may need, so it is important for you to be able to communicate your needs clearly and in a positive manner. It is also your choice to decide the right time for you to disclose and ask for accommodations. You may request accommodations at any point before or after being hired. While it is not recommended to disclose your disability on your resume or cover letter, you may ask for accommodations for a face-to-face interview. Keep in mind that accommodations will only be provided to you if you disclose your disability. If you do not need accommodations, you do not have to disclose your disability.
Unless a job applicant has disclosed a disability or has a visible disability (such as using a wheelchair), an employer is prohibited by law to make any inquiries as to whether a job applicant has a disability or not. Even after disclosing, the employer is not allowed to ask about specifics or the severity of your disability. However, they may ask about the types of accommodation you may need and if you are able to perform all essential job functions.
If you choose to disclose your disability in the hiring process, keep in mind the following guidelines:
- You have a lot to offer to an employer. Describe yourself by your skills and job qualifications, not by your disability.
- Articulate and demonstrate how you can perform the essential functions of the job.
- Do not volunteer any information about your disability that could potentially be perceived as negative.
- Emphasize positive activity and how you have overcome challenges in the past.
For more resources on disclosing your disability, take a look at the following resources:
Outside of the US
The ADA only applies within the United States, of course. Around the world, legal protections for and attitudes about people with disabilities vary widely. In some other countries that are, like the US, more individualistic, legal protections and attitudes about accommodating individuals to allow for self-sufficiency may be similar to what we have here. In other locations, the local culture may be more communitarian, and attitudes may hold that the community in general is responsible for removing obstacles as they arise (e.g., whoever is nearby may assist a person in a wheelchair to board a bus without a chair lift, etc.). In some other locations, people with disabilities may still be looked upon poorly and more or less excluded from full participation in employment and other social activities.
Both international and US students with disabilities are encouraged to research specific locations and employers of interest to learn about both legal protections and local attitudes and practices.