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Students with Disabilities

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As a student with a disability, there are important factors for you to consider as you search for internships or employment or apply to graduate school.

You may have questions about your rights, disclosure, accommodations, and which laws might apply to you. For rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please visit: http://www.ada.gov/workta.htm. Below are resources to help you in the career exploration and preparation process - this list is in no means exhaustive but will hopefully help you as you develop and achieve your career goals.

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What Students Need to Know

Speak about your disability with these goals in mind:

  • An understanding that an employer’s accommodations are reasonable and will effectively meet your needs
  • Be able to explain the accommodation that they need to do the job concisely, without dwelling on the details of their disability
  • Avoid giving too much information or requesting accommodations that are unreasonable

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What Students Should Do

  • Focus on your abilities to perform the essential functions of the job, not your disabilities
  • How you promote yourself in the interview is what will be key in determining if you are the right candidate
  • Ask to give a demonstration of how you can complete aspects of the job
  • If it’s practical, bring your own equipment (including software, hardware, assistive technology/ adaptive equipment AND do not anticipate being able to install into the employer’s system)
  • Utilize references who can testify to your abilities to do the job (previous teachers, employers, supervisors, etc.)
  • State that your requirements for the job are minimal and give examples of how your skills will merit the company’s small investment
  • Offer to provide some of your own software and equipment - you are not required to do so but the offer shows serious interest in contributing to the company
  • Keep in mind that agencies such as the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation or Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI) are eager to work with you to provide workplace accommodations such as software, hardware, and environmental modifications to assist you in obtaining and maintaining employment
  • Remind employers of the potential tax benefit if they work with an agency
  • Provide a list of companies and contact information of places that sell assistive technology and adaptive equipment

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Work-related Accdommodations

Federal law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

If you require accommodations from an employer during any phase of the employment process (from applying, to interviewing, to working in the job itself), it’s your responsibility to inform the employer that accommodations are needed (see Disclosing a Disability section for further information).

Prior to making a request for accommodations, it’s a good idea for you to think about the tasks for which you will need accommodations and learn about the accommodations you need – sharing this knowledge with your employer will demonstrate you have a solid understanding of your own needs and have already thought about possible solutions the company can implement to meet your needs. When requesting accommodations, you should be familiar with:

  • The specific accommodations required. (However, the employer doesn't have to provide the exact accommodation requested. If more than one accommodation is effective, the employer can select which one to provide).
  • The cost associated with each accommodation
  • Where the requested accommodations can be obtained/purchased

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an excellent resource for accommodation ideas. JAN provides an online database of accommodation options that is searchable based on disability-/impairment-type and specific functional limitations, and also offers information on where specific accommodations can be purchased. You can also contact a JAN consultant for free advice regarding job accommodations. http://askjan.org

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Disclosing a Disability

Disclosure means sharing information about your disability for the purpose of receiving accommodations.

If you have a disability, it’s your personal choice whether or not you share information regarding your disability with an employer. Disclosure is not required, and if you can navigate the hiring process and perform the essential functions of the job without accommodations, it’s typically not necessary. However, in order to receive accommodations or receive other protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you do need to disclose.

Check out this really great infographic:

Disclosure Preparation

Prior to disclosing your disability, you’ll want to prepare yourself for the discussion by taking the following steps:

  • Consider the pros and cons of disclosure, and the timing.
  • Review the phases of the hiring process that may present difficulties for you and/or the job duties you think will be difficult for you to perform due to your disability.
  • Come up with ideas for possible accommodations. These may be accommodations you have used in the past or accommodations you have researched (see the Work-related Accommodations section for further information).
  • Decide who you are going to disclose to (human resources representative, hiring manager, etc…).
  • Plan out how much you want to disclose and exactly what you want to say.

Disclosure Pros, Cons, and Timing

If you choose to disclose your disability, only you can decide when the right time is to share this information with an employer; however, it’s best to disclose prior to problems occurring on the job. Overall, the timing of your disclosure really depends on whether you will need an accommodation during any phase of the employment process.

Below are some pros and cons related to disclosure timing for you to consider when making this decision.

Time of Disclosure

Pros

Cons

Notes

On resume, cover letter, and/or employment application Peace of mind for you – you’ve been up front with the employer. Draws attention to your disability rather than your skills. May disqualify you from the job before you have an opportunity to present your skills/abilities. Generally, disclosure on your resume, cover letter, or employment application isn’t recommended. However, some companies have employment programs specifically for applicants with disabilities; you will likely need to disclose your disability during the application process to be considered for these programs.
When employer contacts you for an interview Peace of mind for you – you’ve been up front with the employer. For visible disabilities, reduces potential “shock factor” when you arrive for the interview. May distract the interviewer from your skills and ability to do the job, so you may not be seriously considered for the position. Disclosure at this stage may be necessary if accommodations are needed during the interview process. For example, if you use a wheelchair, you will want to make sure the interview site is accessible. Also, if you need to utilize a sign language interpreter, you’ll need to plan for this ahead of time with the employer.*
During the interview Peace of mind for you – you’ve been up front with the employer. May enable you to present your disability in a positive and personal manner. May distract the interviewer from your skills and ability to do the job, so you may not be seriously considered for the position. Could make the interview more nerve-wracking for you.  
After the interview, before the offer Peace of mind for you – you’ve been up front with the employer. You and the employer were able to focus on your skills and abilities during the interview. Employer may feel you should have been up front about your disability earlier in the hiring process – you can address this concern by indicating you needed to learn more about the essential functions of the job prior to disclosing. You may not be seriously considered for the position.  
After the offer, before you accept If offer is rescinded, you may have legal recourse. Employer may feel you should have been up front about your disability earlier in the hiring process – you can address this concern by indicating you needed to learn more about the essential functions of the job prior to disclosing. This is often the best time to disclose.
After your start the job Gives you an opportunity to prove you’re capable of doing the job. If disclosure impacts your employment status, you may have legal recourse. Disclosure often becomes more difficult the longer you wait. Your job performance may suffer without appropriate accommodations. Employer may accuse you of falsifying your qualifications. You may not have legal recourse against unfavorable changes in your employment status. Changes in your job responsibilities after you start a position may result in you needing to request accommodations.
After a problem on the job You’ve had a chance to prove your capabilities related to the job. Relationship with employer and co-workers could be damaged. Employer may accuse you of falsifying your qualifications. You may not have legal recourse against unfavorable changes in your employment status. It is highly recommended that you disclose prior to problems occurring on the job.
Never Your disability doesn’t become a factor in hiring decisions. Employer doesn’t need to know about your disability as long as it doesn’t impact your ability to do the job. If disability is discovered, employer may accuse you of falsifying your qualifications. You may not have legal recourse against unfavorable changes in your employment status.

Who to Tell

In the workplace, you should only disclose your disability to those who need to be involved in the accommodation process. This may include:

  • Human Resources
  • Your supervisor
  • Employee Assistance Program counselor – If you’re already working, have started experiencing problems, and need assistance determining how and to whom to disclose

Disclosure Script

To help you plan out exactly what you want to say and feel more comfortable with the disclosure process, prepare and rehearse your disclosure script in advance.

Your disclosure script should include:

  • A brief description of your disability – Be concise and avoid using clinical or technical terms that can be confusing and intimidating. You do not need to thoroughly discuss your diagnosis.
  • An emphasis on your job-related skills and abilities – You want to convey the message that you’re a qualified candidate with great skills who also happens to have a disability, rather than focusing just on your disability!
  • A description of the functional limitations related to your disability that may interfere with your job performance.
  • Suggestions for accommodations.

Utilize the following guide to prepare your own disclosure script:

  • Description of my disability
  • The key skills and abilities I possess related to this job are...
  • My functional limitations are...
  • The accommodations I need include...
  • Now, combine the sections above to create your disclosure statement

Here's a sample disclosure script for additional ideas

“I have (provide the preferred term for your disability). I have (list your key skills/abilities) and can perform the essential functions of this job, but sometimes (indicate your functional limitations) might interfere with my ability to (describe the duties you may have difficulty performing). It’s helpful if I have (describe the specific accommodations you need). “

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Your Employment Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination. If you have a disability, you must meet the following two criteria to be protected from employment discrimination by the ADA:

  • You must meet the employer’s requirements for the position related to skills, education, experience, and other areas.
  • You must be able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and all state and local government agencies regardless of the number of employees. (Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government).

Examples of prohibited employment practices under the ADA

  • An employer cannot engage in recruiting practices that discriminate against job seekers with disabilities. For example, if an applicant with a learning disability requires extra time to take a pre-employment test, the employer must modify the test to accommodate the applicant’s needs.
  • An employer cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for a known disability during the interview process or on the job.
  • Prior to making a job offer, an employer cannot ask applicants questions that would likely reveal an applicant’s disability (however, these types of questions can be asked after a job offer has been made as long as the employer asks the same questions of all applicants offered the same type of job).
  • Prior to making a job offer, an employer cannot require applicants to undergo a medical exam (however, an employer can require a medical exam after a job offer has been made as long as the employer requires this of all applicants offered the same type of job).

More information regarding the ADA is available at http://www.ada.gov/ and http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing the ADA. If you think you have been discriminated against in an employment situation on the basis of disability, you should contact:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
http://www.eeoc.gov/
(800) 669-4000 (Voice), (800) 669-6820 (TTY)

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Interviewing Tips

Before the Interview

If you require an accommodation during the interview process, be sure to notify the employer well in advance so they are prepared to meet your accommodation needs. For example, if you use a wheelchair, you will want to make sure the interview site is accessible.

Also, if you need to utilize a sign language interpreter, you’ll need to plan for this ahead of time with the employer. For off-campus interviews, you will need to ask the employer to make arrangements for an interpreter; further information on this process is available at http://www.ntid.rit.edu/nce/employers/interpreters and a list of interpreting service providers can be found on the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or in the Yellow Pages under Deaf Organizations & Services.

Visit the Work-related Accommodations and Disclosing a Disability sections for more details on requesting needed accommodations.

During the Interview

The ADA restricts the types of questions an employer can ask during an interview; overall, employers are prohibited from asking questions that will likely expose an applicant’s disability prior to making an employment offer.

Examples of Appropriate Interview Questions

Examples of Improper Interview Questions

Can you perform the essential duties of the job? (Interviewer should provide a description of the job duties before asking this question) Are you disabled? / Do you have a medical condition? / Have you ever been on disability leave?
Can you describe or demonstrate how you will perform the essential duties of the job? How severe is your disability? / What is your prognosis?
After you have disclosed you have a disability, it is appropriate for the interviewer to ask:
• Do you need a reasonable accommodation?
• What type of reasonable accommodation will be needed?
Do you need accommodations to perform this job? (This question is only appropriate after a job offer has been made or after you have voluntarily disclosed that you have a disability)

Chart adapted from Legal Q&A: Handling Improper Interview Questions by Nancy Conrad and Tanya Salgado, December 2007 NACE Journal

If you encounter an improper interview question such as those listed above, try not to take it personally – the interviewer most likely does not realize that the question he or she is asking is inappropriate. So, how should you respond?

When responding to an inappropriate interview question, you typically want to avoid answering the question directly, as you may provide information that could negatively impact your chances of getting hired. Likewise, you usually don’t want to outright refuse to answer the question, as this could result in making both you and the interviewer feel uncomfortable for the remainder of the interview.

The best course of action in this situation is to do the following:

Consider the intent of the question, and instead of responding to the improper question directly, respond in a way that addresses the question’s true objective.

  • For example, if the interviewer asks, “Are you disabled?,” you can interpret that the intent of this question is really “Can you perform the essential duties of this job?”. So, you may want to respond by saying “I’m assuming you’re asking this question because you want to know if I’m able to perform the essential duties of this job, and I assure you I’m capable of performing the essential functions related to this position.”

If you aren’t sure what the intent of the question is, ask the interviewer to further explain what it is he/she is asking.

  • For example, if the interviewer asks, “Have you ever been on disability leave?,” you can say, “I haven’t been asked this question before. Can you tell me more about what it is that you’d like to know?”

It’s important to note too that an employer can’t ask you to take a medical exam prior to offering you a job. However, after you have been offered a job, the employer can make your offer contingent on you completing a medical exam, but only if all applicants offered the same type of job have to take the exam. The employer can’t refuse to hire you due to disability-related information discovered during the exam if you can perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation.

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Additional Resources to Explore

Career Guide for Students with Disabilities: Explore this career guide specifically tailored to assist students with disabilities

Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP): Connects undergraduates, graduates, and recent graduates to paid internships and full-time jobs - private sector employers and federal agencies

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities:  COSD assists students and recent graduates in becoming more prepared and competitive with their career searches

Lime Connect: This organization assists student with scholarships and professional development webinars along with information about internships and full-time job opportunities

Entry Point: American Association for the Advancement of Science program that offers internship opportunities for students with disabilities

disABLEDperson, Inc.: Resource for job listings and scholarship information

Emerging Leaders Summer Internship Program for College Students with Disabilities: Internship and leadership development opportunities

The American Association of People with Disabilities: Provides a Congressional Internship Program for College Students with Disabilities for undergraduates, graduate students, and recent grads

Our Ability Connect: A digital profile created to promote future employment for people with disabilities through mentor networking, social engagement, and personal empowerment

 

Inspired in part by: Syracuse University Career Services, Cornell Career Services, UC Berkeley Career Center, and RIT Career Services