Wednesday, May 05, 2010

UIS launches a four-step program to increase employability for disabled students

The University of Illinois Springfield Office of Disability Services is launching a program to improve the transition from college to employment for disabled graduates called “Journey2Jobs”.

The program will include a mentoring program, instruction on issues related to employability, and job-related volunteer service and internship opportunities. During development, the program will include 8 to 10 students each year starting in the fall semester 2010. Students will sign up for the program after their first year on campus.

The mentoring program will bring together disabled students with disabled graduates who have successfully negotiated job seeking, the application process, and employment. During the first year, mentors and project staff will develop a mentoring handbook to help community members. The ultimate goal is to give students a much more willing, motivated, and optimistic attitude toward future employment.

“Such a mentoring program helps students think about what jobs they might like and succeed at, learn to articulate their skills, gain self-confidence in their abilities, and market themselves,” said Suzanne Woods, visiting director of the Office of Disability Services.

The program will also provide workshops, seminars, and discussion groups on topics that relate to employment—when to disclose disabilities, dealing with employers’ and co-workers concerns related to a disability, proving their value on the job, getting along with co-workers, interview skills, their legal rights, and much more. Disabled students are frequently behind their peers in job-seeking skills and need targeted workshops to help them gain confidence.

Disabled students need more experience in a job setting. They frequently have not had the same job experiences that their peers have had and therefore look less attractive to employers. Job-related volunteer opportunities and internships that provide experience in the kind of work students want to do after graduation build their resume and add experience, making applicants more attractive to employers. These opportunities also build confidence in the students and help students make informed choices about their ultimate career choices.

In February 2009, according to the U.S. Office of Disability Policy, “the percent of people with disabilities in the labor force was 23.0, compared with 70.9 for persons with no disability”. The Center for an Accessible Society found “For graduates of 4-year colleges, the employment rate, both men and women, has been 89.9%. For college graduates with disabilities, the employment rate is 50.6%.”

“These dismal disparities offer universities a tremendous opportunity to improve disabled college graduates’ transition into employment. At UIS, we would like to take up this challenge,” said Woods.

Following graduation, the Office of Disability Services will track students’ progress to learn about their job searching and employment experiences to give insight into how to improve the program. Eventually, if they stay local, students who were involved in the program will be invited to participate as mentors themselves.

The Journey2Jobs program was made possible by funding from an anonymous private donor. For more information contact Suzanne Woods in the Office of Disability Services at 217/206-6666 or

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