Upon graduating from college, all students are faced with difficult decisions about their future. Should you pursue more education or go into the workforce? If you pursue more education, what type of degree should you pursue? If you enter the workforce, what types of jobs fit your background? Here are some specific issues both about graduate education and the workplace that students with disabilities may want to consider when weighing these decisions.
Most employers, just like colleges and universities, are required to comply with the ADA. This means that employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities and must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. This applies to employers offering full-time jobs to college graduates as well as employers offering summer internships to students still in school.
Sometimes students and employers might be unsure what reasonable accommodations are needed. Unlike college, some employers may not have any employees with disabilities, or, even if they do, may not have employees with similar disabilities as the student looking for a job. Furthermore, reasonable accommodations for an employer may be different than reasonable accommodations for a school, even though both are governed under the ADA. A restaurant hiring waiters probably does not have to make any accommodations for waiters with dyslexia because waiters with dyslexia can perform their jobs and have just as many opportunities at the workplace as waiters without dyslexia. Schools, however, need to accommodate students with dyslexia by, for example, granting extra time on reading intensive tests. The law being applied is the same, but the different situations require different accommodations. When employers have little experience with the student’s type of disabilities, and the reasonable accommodations needed at the workplace may differ from the reasonable accommodations needed at the schools, the best strategy is to use accommodations made by the schools as a baseline and then adjust the accommodations based on how the schools and the employer differ.
Additionally, two ADA exceptions arise for employers that do not apply to schools. First, employers are permitted to make decisions based on “essential job functions.” For example, an employer would not violate the ADA for refusing to hire a blind person as a crane operator. This decision would clearly be made on the basis of disability, but it is permissible because, even with some form of accommodation, the disability prevents the person from performing an essential job function. Second, a few ADA exceptions exist for small businesses. Employers with fewer than fifteen employees are not required to comply with the ADA, and no employer is required to make accommodations that place an “undue hardship” on the business. While important, neither the essential job function exception nor the small business exception is likely to prevent students with disabilities from gaining employment. Most small businesses are welcoming of students with disabilities even if they are not required to do so by law, and many accommodations are inexpensive and do not place an “undue hardship” on businesses. Thus, students with disabilities should be aware of the exceptions that exist under the ADA for employers, but they should not be discouraged or feel that they cannot get the job that they want.
While it depends on disability type, many students with disabilities searching for employment find it beneficial for a variety of reasons to actively disclose their disabilities and discuss them with employers. First, by actively disclosing the disability, a student can address any concerns an employer may have about ability or accommodations, and the student can frame the disability as an example of his ability to work hard to overcome obstacles. Second, actively disclosing the disability enables employers to understand a person with disability’s needs and how to make accommodations.
Graduate and Professional Education
Graduate school presents a more rigorous academic challenge, but most of the questions, issues, and concerns that students with disabilities had for undergraduate studies still apply. A student with disabilities still needs to think about what accommodations he needs, and he should work with Disability Services staff to secure those accommodations. Similarly, graduate schools must comply with the ADA just like undergraduate schools. Thus, reasonable accommodations must be made throughout the graduate school experience- from taking admissions tests in preparation for applications to access to academic opportunities once a student has been admitted. Because graduate school and undergraduate schools have similar requirements and opportunities, reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities are likely comparable if not the same. Likewise, disabilities are treated the same in graduate schools admissions and financial aid awards as they are in undergraduate schools, and graduate schools may not discriminate against students on the basis of disability.