Finding internships and making the jump from classroom to workplace is easier said than done for many University students. The move poses additional challenges for students with disabilities.
University Disability Services is trying to ease the transition in a project called “Access to Work,” which focuses on experiential learning and community outreach.
Funded by a three-year federal special education grant, the group collaborates with the Office for Special Learning Opportunities to promote internships and volunteering.
“It makes a good bridge between the academic world and the work world,” said Carol Hill, project coordinator for Disability Services.
The program teaches participants practical skills like deciding when or if to disclose a disability to an employer.
While knowing personal rights and access to accommodations are familiar fare in a school setting, people often have questions about when to disclose their disability in the job market, Hill said.
Disclosure is a major issue for people with hidden disabilities such as learning or psychiatric, she said.
“A lot of times when people think of disability, they think of visible disabilities. That’s not always the case,” Hill said.
According to a 1996-97 report, while 1,910 University students have disabilities, at least 855 are hidden.
Chad Watts, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts with a learning disability, said the disclosure experience differs for each individual. As a student trainer in Access to Work, Watts speaks to faculty and advisers about how they should deal with disability rights issues.
As part of his hands-on learning project, CLA freshman Anthony Marchand, who is dyslexic, gathered information around campus to find what kind of accommodations exist for people with disabilities.
“We want to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to experiential learning,” Hill said.
The program aims to reach not only University students, but faculty, staff and the community, Hill said.
For example, the service provides training to career counselors on employment and disability law in the workplace.
Training sessions also help faculty and staff become more comfortable working with people who have disabilities. This includes etiquette issues, like understanding how to respectfully communicate with someone who is blind or who needs an interpreter.
In the community, the program provides technical assistance, training and free accessibility surveys to sites with Access to Work volunteers and interns.
Program volunteers go to North Minneapolis on Saturday to paint the Little People Day Care. The event, called “Take the Plunge,” includes disabled and nondisabled participants.
“Individuals can see that disability doesn’t hinder the ability to volunteer,” Hill said.