Finding that first job after graduating college is difficult, to say the least, but for those with a disability the challenge is even greater. Employability is greater if one earns a bachelor’s degree; this is especially true for persons with a disability.
Those who graduate college and have a disability generally have a higher employment percentage than those without a college degree. Even with disability as a factor, the likelihood of finding employment increases significantly once a person obtains a four-year college degree.
The percentage of persons with a disability who are gainfully employed takes a relatively sharp increase with the attainment of a baccalaureate degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, the rate at which these college graduates are employed compared to their high school graduate counterparts is significant at 28.5 percent, compared to only 15.6 percent, respectively.
The National Center for Education Statistics has reported that about 12 percent of all individuals who graduate with a baccalaureate have a diagnosed disability. This segment of the population typically struggles to find employment after graduation. Compared to those without a disability, this group is often unemployed or under-employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 28.5 percent of college graduates with a disability were employed in 2018, compared to 75.5 percent of non-disabled graduates.
Once baccalaureate recipients with a disability graduate college, they have to navigate and find occupational opportunities. Frequently, these graduates are unaware of the resources available to assist in their job-seeking endeavor.
Post-secondary institutions have partnered with organizations that assist college graduates with a disability to secure employment. Those with a disability may have a hard time gaining employment, but this is usually due to lack of experience similar to their non-disabled counterparts. Unlike their peers, however, college graduates with a disability may fear being discriminated against because of their condition.
Another avenue for assistance can come via governmental programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation. Many believe that the services provided under this program are available only to veterans, but these services are for all individuals with a documented disability who wish to be gainfully employed.
Although the journey to acquiring a college degree is stressful, achieving such an accomplishment can raise confidence and self-esteem, which promotes self-advocacy. This is a key attribute in graduates obtaining employment and becoming independent members of society.
There are techniques that these graduates can apply to separate themselves from the pool of candidates vying for a job. Just as when they were applying to college, graduates should prepare for the job market by developing skills through diverse channels.
For example, network with professors, classmates, business partners involved with the university, Greek life and student organizations. Secure an internship while pursuing your degree because this may lead to a connection with a future employer or someone else in your field. Volunteer for organizations that relate to the career path you hope to pursue.
Following these suggestions before and after graduation will improve employability and increase opportunities for all college graduates, regardless of the presence of a disability.
Hawa Allarakhia, M.Ed., matriculated into college with a disability and is a doctoral student in the educational innovation program at the University of South Florida.