SSD steps in to help students with disabilities address challenges in finding employment

Stephanie Adeline

Like many students, Caroline Graves is concerned with trying to find internships to enhance her career. But as a student with a disability, Graves also has to ask questions on how accommodating the workplace will be.

“I don’t feel like I have the knowledge and skills directly related to disability-related matters,” government sophomore Graves said. “I don’t think it’s addressed very often in the employment world. I go to career services for my college and … they touch on that a bit but not a ton.”

Like Graves, many students with disabilities have concerns related to employment. To address these questions, UT Services for Students with Disabilities started “Disabilities and Employment” workshops in February to help disabled and differently-abled students make an easier transition from school to work life. 

The workshops will continue every Thursday until early April and cover topics such as resume writing, job interviews and disability rights in the workplace. In April, students will have an opportunity to meet with some company representatives at the Texas Recruitment + Interview Services, said Chelsea DeSimone, SSD intern and workshop leader.

DeSimone, a social work graduate student, said the workshops were a result of demand from disabled and differently-abled students. Some of the most common challenges students with disabilities face in the workplace include finding employers who can accommodate them, and not knowing when to tell their employers about their disabilities, DeSimone said.

“There’s a lot of concerns around … how to disclose if you have a disability,” DeSimone said. “Do you do it in the cover letter, do you do it in your resume, do you talk about it in the interview?” 

Graves said she has learned more in the workshop about how to talk with her employers about her needs, including accommodations for her service dog and how to address co-workers who might be allergic.

“One of the things they said that kind of stuck with me is if an employer … doesn’t seem incredibly receptive to giving you the accommodations … maybe you shouldn’t work there,” Graves said. “So it’s probably best to just bring it up and see what their response is.”

DeSimone said having conversations about such conditions in a job interview is very important, especially for students with disabilities that may not be easily recognized.

Steven Santoyo, a student registered with SSD as an individual with Type I diabetes, said when he had his first job as a teenager he was reluctant to tell his supervisor about his conditions. Santoyo currently has two on-campus jobs — as a resident assistant and in the Office of Admissions. He said SSD has helped him with being open to talking about his conditions and asking supervisors for accommodations.

“There have been times when stress does impact blood sugar levels for Type I diabetes, so there’s been moments when I have had to take a break, or talk to my supervisor about having a day off,” communication studies junior Santoyo said. “They were more welcoming and more understanding than I thought they’d be. I don’t know why I had built up this kind of fear in my head or this kind of anxiety about it.”