How can a college or university career services office more effectively serve students with disabilities? Here at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a university in upstate New York, we in career services have found our success enhanced by collaboration with the disability services offices as we share the opportunity to serve students and support them as they search for and find cooperative work experiences or internships before graduation.
RIT has a unique population of students with various disabilities. One of the nine colleges within RIT is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), established at RIT by Congress in 1965 to provide more technical employment opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Today, over 1,200 deaf and hard-of-hearing students attend RIT with more than 17,000 full- and part-time other students, enrolled in 200+ career-oriented and professional programs. This number includes approximately 800 students with other disabilities.
As employers expand their diversity initiatives to better include students with disabilities, how do career services offices identify those students and let them know of these employment opportunities? One key way we have found is through the use of a voluntary release form, which the disability services office makes available to students when they request services. RIT’s Disability Services Office provides equal access to programs, services and physical facilities to students with disabilities. There is also a Spectrum Support Program offered to students with Autism Spectrum Disorders to assist them in college life. Students consent to have their name shared with the two career/employment services offices on campus, who then are able to e-mail them about targeted employment opportunities and programming.
Students with disabilities participate in cooperative education programming and also seek full-time employment, with the support of the RIT Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education, and the NTID Center on Employment (NCE) which serves RIT deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Annually, more than 38,000 RIT students work in over 5,700 cooperative education assignments with 2,000 employing organizations, all over the United States. Co-ops are required by almost all academic departments at RIT, and with the appropriate preparation and guidance, students with disabilities blossom. This increases their confidence and makes them more competitive for full-time employment after graduation. It also helps the students become more comfortable with taking advantage of the career services offices as alumni.
The Office of Career Services has a staff member dedicated to focusing on services to students with disabilities. She and representatives from NCE, Disability Services and the Spectrum Program form a “Community of Practice,” in which we pool our knowledge, expertise, and resources to better support students with disabilities in finding co-op and full-time work. Established protocols enable the sharing of student self-disclosure information, enhancing the ability of staff to serve the needs of these students and track their progress. We also share information about employers wishing to specifically seek out students with disabilities to hire. Together we provide programs for students to help them prepare for the job search and the workplace.
The “Community of Practice” worked together to develop web content for job seekers with disabilities that includes information on workplace accommodations, the disclosure process, employment rights under the ADA, interviewing tips, job search resources targeted toward job seekers with disabilities, and a list of employers that historically have provided an inclusive work environment. We also developed web content for the employer community with tips on recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees with disabilities, including accommodations.
Employers can obtain information, as well as individualized assistance to make their recruiting efforts at RIT a success, by visiting the RIT Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education website or contacting Janine Rowe, Assistant Director of Disability Services and Career Counselor at firstname.lastname@example.org, 585-475-6309. They can visit the NTID Center on Employment website to find out more about the deaf and hard-of-hearing talent pool, the award-winning employer workshop, Working Together: Deaf and Hearing People, as well as other services for employers. They can also contact NCE Employment Advisor Mary Ellen Tait at email@example.com, 585-475-6426.