Breaking Barriers: Career Centers Reaching Out to Students with Disabilities

by Beth Lulgjuraj & Sarah Lucas Hartley

Through the years, the FSU Career Center has made efforts to create a more user-friendly environment for people with disabilities. As the number of students with disabilities increases, the need to learn more about disabilities, make information more accessible, and increase student awareness of career center services continues to grow. In addition, there is definitely a need to enhance the ability of individuals with disabilities to explore occupations.

Here are some suggestions to make a career center more accessible:

Have disability-friendly computer-assisted career guidance programs
Programs that make computer assessments and information accessible are valuable to clients with disabilities. Providing screen reading software, such as JAWS, and magnification tools, such as ZoomText, allows individuals with visual impairments to independently utilize career resources. In addition, knowing how to use these resources in conjunction with computer-assisted career guidance programs is of great importance. To assist staff members in feeling more comfortable with these systems:

    •Demonstrate how to use these systems together in a staff meeting.
    •Write operating instructions and post them in a readily accessible area.
    •Have staff use JAWS with a computer-assisted career guidance system and give feedback.

Work with community agencies to educate staff and increase awareness
To continue to learn about disability-related issues and how they apply to career services:

    •Invite speakers to staff meetings: Having representatives from community disability agencies speak with career advisors can provide staff with recommendations on when to refer individuals and respectful ways to work with individuals who have disabilities.
    •Visit disability centers: This will allow staff to learn more about the services and resources disability centers provide and help remind the disability center’s staff about services the career center provides.

Create or acquire resources for clients with disabilities

    •Disability module: An instructional handout can provide individuals who have a disability with relevant career planning and employment activities/resources.
    •Alternative formats: Make information easily accessible to everyone by providing resources in alternative formats, such as audiovisuals, Braille, enlarged copies, paper format, computer versions, providing information on disk, and having a variety of assessments.
    •Community referral directory: A community referral directory provides names of agencies that offer job and/or life skills training, advocacy, accessibility services, job placement, and career assistance to people with barriers to employment.

Have a staff member act as a liaison between career services and the campus disability center
A staff liaison can:

    •Increase awareness of career services.
    •Improve the relationship between the career center and individuals with disabilities.
    •Provide the disability center with a ready resource for career information.
    •Share information with the career center about special issues faced by individuals with disabilities.
    •Collaborate with disability center staff on the development of resources (e.g., workshops) targeted to students with disabilities.

Ensure that your Web site is user-friendly to individuals with disabilities
Become aware of existing accessibility guidelines, such as W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or the US government’s standards in Section 508. One way to ensure that a Web site is accessible is to get “Bobby Approved.” You can have your Web site evaluated on accessibility requirements by going to http://bobby.watchfire.com/bobby/html/en/index.jsp

Include disability-related issues in career workshops
Individuals with disabilities attend workshops to learn about a variety of topics such as creating resumes, interview etiquette, and job search techniques, but may also need additional information related to specific issues they face. Developing and implementing a series of customized workshops that contain additional information related to disability issues can be very helpful. These workshops may address advantages and disadvantages of disclosing one’s disability at certain points in the job search process, as well as when choosing a major or occupation.

It is necessary for career centers to maintain an awareness of the needs of individuals with disabilities in order to ensure accessibility for these potential clients. It is important for individuals with disabilities to independently utilize career resources and for career advising staff to be aware of how to interact with individuals who have disabilities. By having accessible computer programs, continuing to learn more about disabilities, making your Web site easy to access for all users, and by establishing and maintaining a working relationship with community and campus disability centers/agencies you can create a much more inviting and accessible career center.

Beth Lulgjuraj is the Assistant Director of Curricular-Career Information Service at Florida State University’s Career Center. She can be reached at bkegler@admin.fsu.edu.

Sarah Lucas Hartley is a counseling psychology doctoral student and a career advisor at Florida State University’s Career Center and can be reached at slh02s@fsu.edu.

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