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"Opening Doors to Success"

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Small Group Discussions

Workshop participants then broke into small discussion groups. Each group was assigned a specific question to consider.

What characteristics make a successful student leader?

To begin with, delegates had only to look around the room for fine examples of student leaders.

  • Energy
  • Self-confidence
  • Walking the walk, the ability to overcome challenges
  • Objectiveness
  • Team player and team builder
  • Broadly knowledgeable
  • Good mentor
  • Consultative, a good listener
  • Calculated risk-taker
  • Ability to be wrong
  • Visionary

Why do you think there is a high unemployment rate among graduates with disabilities?

  • Attitudinal barriers exist because of a lack of awareness. Employers may have unconscious negative preconceptions about people with disabilities. Although bona-fide occupational requirements exist for jobs, the line between what is essential and what may only be desirable can sometimes be fuzzy. Some employers may have a sense that it might not be safe or it might be more expensive, more work, and more risky to hire a worker with disabilities. If so, there may be instances of discrimination in the workforce.
  • Studies show that job applicants are considered more positive if they are similar to the employer, and many employers may not be able to empathize with people with disabilities very well.
  • Lack of knowledge amongst employers about disabilities is a contributing factor.
  • There is insufficient workplace affirmative action. Some may view affirmative action as discrimination in itself; however, people with disabilities have a bigger problem of discrimination to deal with and are truly very under-represented in the workforce.

Participants said that generally, people with disabilities do not know their rights well enough and do not challenge discrimination quite as much as they should.

What method(s) do you use to learn about possible employment opportunities?

  • Starting early, while still in school
  • Internet
  • University job advertisements, professors, career office, and counsellors
  • High school bulletin boards, teachers, and guidance counsellors
  • Career centres, counsellors, and career testing for interests and aptitudes
  • Newspaper help wanted ads
  • Job fairs
  • Conferences
  • Volunteer work
  • Co-op and internship programs
  • Disability organizations
  • Informational interviews with employers and people employed in one's career of interest
  • Word of mouth, through personal contacts and networks, parents, other family members, friends

What can employers and programs such as Ability Edge do to ensure that qualified students and graduates with disabilities learn about available job opportunities?

  • Offer internship programs that allow people to work in environments that reflect reality so they can gain experience and further their qualifications.
  • Provide mentors who understand jobs within different environments and who are willing to help students and graduates with disabilities learn about opportunities in their fields.
  • Advertise available job opportunities well.
  • Provide more internships and co-op programs for students, such as two-day-per-week practicums, starting early in high school.

Would you disclose your disability before and/or during a job interview? If so, why? If not, why not?

Reasons for disclosure:

  • Ensuring proper job accommodations.
  • Wanting to be truthful and not keep a secret.
  • Avoiding damage that may be caused by non-disclosure.
  • Having had mentorship and seeing someone with a similar disability succeed.
  • Wanting a chance to educate and remove some barriers.
  • Seeing that self-advocacy is best begun at the interview stage.
  • Wanting to show that one views the condition as an "ability," not a "disability."

Reasons for non-disclosure:

  • Being afraid of the employer's reaction, and possible uncertainty about how the applicant might work out.
  • Not wanting differential treatment.
  • Being afraid of the disability seeming like an excuse.
  • Wanting to avoid social stigma that may affect working relationships.
  • Being afraid of not getting the same opportunity as other applicants.
  • Wanting to get the job based on merits instead of the disability.
  • Stubbornness.
  • Being afraid of being pre-judged, stereotyped, and treated differently.
  • An uneducated employer.

Participants noted that for visible disabilities, whether or not to disclose might depend on the disability. Referring to learning disabilities, one participant paraphrased the saying, "if you can't see it, it doesn't exist."

All contents copyright , 2002,
National Educational Association of Disabled Students. All rights reserved.