A poster created in 1951 recognizing what we know today as National Disability Employment Awareness Month read, “America needs ALL of us.” Now, the tagline for workforce inclusion for the 2018 National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” For 73 years and counting, the United States has officially recognized and celebrated diversity in the workplace, dating back to when then-president Harry Truman declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Meanwhile, job seekers with disabilities face the same struggles in getting hired as they did in 1945. The discrimination against workers with disabilities is why programs such as the one run through the UC Berkeley Career Center are so necessary.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, employers cannot discriminate against workers with disabilities. But a 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor report shows that only 29.3 percent of people aged 16 to 64 who have disabilities are employed, compared to 73.5 percent of nondisabled people in that age group. To address these issues, the campus career center has implemented a unique initiative to enhance career clarity, challenge career competitiveness and establish career connections in collaboration with the UC Berkeley Disabled Students’ Program.
We need to make the career search more equitable and accessible to students with disabilities if we want to eliminate these disparities. We target this problem directly with specialized, one-on-one, person-centric career counseling, and career-forward networking and group learning events that promote opportunities for the disabled community.
It is critical for all students to identify their future direction by exploring and documenting peak educational, leadership and employment experiences where individual skills, talents and personal values ignite vocational passion. Handshake — UC Berkeley’s career portal — has an immense list jam-packed with job search workshops that streamline the career search. But when applying a disability lens to career clarity, accommodations are necessary. The disabled student must then evaluate how these accommodations transfer from college to career. The Job Accommodation Network is a great resource for providing information related to accommodations protected by ADA.
Students with disabilities need personalized attention in developing career competitiveness. We help students increase marketability in the workforce by guiding each of them in developing a well-rounded portfolio including a resume, cover letter and references that highlight quality work, internship and volunteer experiences. Our career counselor helps students who are having accessibility issues with Handshake so they can navigate the job and internship search and be visible to employers. In the career competitiveness phase, we help job seekers with disabilities prepare strength-based disclosure statements so that, if and when accommodations need to be requested, they are submitted in the most positive light possible. A strength-based disclosure of disability allows a person with a disability the opportunity to introduce, educate and present their condition on their own terms.
Considering UC Berkeley’s history in the disability movement, we are proud to have this program. Without this program, students with disabilities could be forgotten and lost in the process. Students with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than their counterparts with no disabilities. We are able to tackle this problem by connecting students to other professionals with disabilities. Making connections with alumni, employers and fellow students who have knowledge and experience in the fields these students are interested in is so helpful. By connecting job seekers with disabilities to individuals who have similar access needs and have achieved employment, we help students in achieving their career goals and answering their questions. Knowing they are not alone is useful in navigating the disability landscape in the workforce.
Job seekers at UC Berkeley with disabilities can increase their career clarity, competitiveness and connections at the career center with a counselor who is mindful of disability. They can also master alternative techniques that maximize productivity, develop a strength-based disclosure of this ability, and identify mentors with disabilities to create an empowering network that supports a sense of belonging in the workspace. Without this program, job seekers with disabilities could continue to fall through the cracks in the career-guidance phase of higher education. If we’re trying to bring that employment rate up, then this program should be expanded, promoted and utilized. The U.S. workforce needs us all!
Ricardo Flores is assistant director for students with disabilities at the UC Career Center at Cal