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How College Students with Disabilities Can Look for Work at Top Employers

For more information about Lime, visit their website.

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For years, Proyecto Visión (PV) has had a job listings page with job opportunities at employers around the United States.  As part of this page, PV will now feature an “Employer of the Month.” Much like the “Opportunity of the Week,” which focuses on different educational or funding opportunities, the Employer of the Month will be a recurring feature that appears in between PV newsletters, noting how one employer is supporting employees with disabilities and reaching out to actively recruit disabled individuals to join its workforce. This feature will also appear on Proyecto Visión’s page on Facebook, where viewers can easily subscribe to the information and receive regular updates.

The Employer of the Month will concentrate on one particular employer and discuss why this employer is a good place for people with disabilities to work. The focus will be on major companies, such as those profiled by DiversityInc in its list of the “Top 10 Companies for People with Disabilities,” which includes IBM, Ernst & Young, Cisco Systems, and Procter & Gamble. This month, instead of looking at a specific agency, PV examines the federal government’s Schedule A process, which allows any federal agency to more easily hire people with disabilities. Read more about it in this month’s Employer of the Month.

In its Top 10 list, DiversityInc points out certain key traits that make an employer a good fit for its disabled employees:

  • Having accessibility programs/counselors that work with disabled employees.

  • Providing good health benefits.

  • Partnering with programs that help recruit employees with disabilities.

  • Funding training for employees, such as sign-language classes.

  • Allowing flexible hours and/or job sharing.

These and other aspects of employment, such as universally designed workspaces, can make the workplace much more adaptable for people with different impairments.

However, it is important not to just focus on how an employer is good for people with disabilities, but also on how people with disabilities can actually get jobs at that employer. In order to learn about some of the basic strategies young people with disabilities can use to get their foot in the door at top employers of people with disabilities, PV spoke with Susan Lang, President and CEO of Lime, an organization that helps students with disabilities make connections with major employers, such as Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, PepsiCo, Target, Goldman Sachs, and Google.

While Lang agreed  that all of the above-listed aspects are important to determine whether or not a company would be a good fit for disabled individuals, she stressed that the “mindset [of the company] is the most important thing.” In other words, for disability-friendly companies, disability is “just another element of diversity,” not “something nice to do.”  The common theme throughout our conversation was that a good employer for people without disabilities is likewise a good employer for people with disabilities.

Thus, the companies that Lime works with are not necessarily companies that are specifically looking for employees with disabilities. Instead, “Lime’s partners know there are talented people … whom they have not been able to reach before. They want talent.” They are looking for the best employees and don’t care whether those people have disabilities. These companies are working with Lime because they believe they can get a competitive edge by discovering talent that they might not otherwise learn about.

One reason why the companies working with Lime might not otherwise learn about students with disabilities entering the workforce is that many students with disabilities do not use their universities’ career counseling resources. According to Lang, only 30% of students with disabilities go to the regular career networking events at their universities. Many don’t go because of nervousness or feelings that they are less capable of meeting with recruiters. This can lead to underemployment after graduation, in which college-graduates end up working for family members or at unsatisfactory jobs.

The key for students with disabilities who want to go on to have successful careers is not to be intimidated by the process of looking for a job. Lang said that “Lime’s goal is to let students understand that these companies don’t care [about their disabilities].” She explained that by connecting with Lime and its partners, many students with disabilities become more comfortable and more confident about their job search. Lime holds events at universities around the country, and students with disabilities who do not attend the universities where recruitment events are held are welcome to attend events at universities that do. Students who do not live near where events will be held can contact Lime, submit their resumes, and get help with their job search.

There are many other ways that students with disabilities can be proactive in their search for employment.  Students who are still in college should make sure to use their universities’ career services offices. Career counselors can  help students with their resumes, do mock interviews, and prepare an “elevator speech,” a 2-minute sales pitch in which a job applicant can convince a job recruiter that he or she is a good fit for the company the job recruiter works for.

In order to convince potential employers to hire them, students need to research companies and find the ones their skills are a good match for. Additionally, Lang says disabled students should “know what [they] want to do.” When they contact a company or meet a recruiter with this information in mind, they will be able to “put [their] talent first and be aggressive. [They] have to show what [their] skills are.” This assertive approach to finding employment means that students can’t just wait for companies to offer them a job. Lang insists that students have to take the initiative, and that means that instead of asking if their skills are a good match for the company, they need to tell potential employers how and why they would be a good fit.

Finally, Lang also reminds all disabled students looking for employment that if they need accommodations for an interview or recruitment event, they need to request them! A disabled individual who tries to handle the job application and interview process without the accommodation that he or she needs is basically setting him- or herself up for failure. Lang gave the example of a young woman with a hearing loss who was interviewed by telephone. The company that interviewed her did not know that she had a hearing loss and thus could not understand why her answers did not correspond to their questions. They would have been happy to interview her in a different way or to provide a reasonable accommodation, but she did not explain that she needed one. People with disabilities need to be confident and assertive about accommodations they will need in order to participate in recruiting events and interviews. On the other hand, they do not need to reveal their disabilities if they do not affect the job application process itself. In the end, having the environment that allows disabled individuals to communicate best will make the interviewer more comfortable as well – it’s a win-win situation. As Lang said, the reality is that “companies are not experts in hiring people with disabilities,” and job applicants need to help them. When companies are open minded and job-applicants are assertive, both benefit, because talented people get jobs at good employers.

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