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Work-Based Learning

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Work-based learning experiences can help a student make career decisions, network with potential employers, select courses of study, and develop job skills relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of work and study experiences, students can enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation.

As future employees, college students with disabilities face unique challenges. They must find a way to meet specific qualifications of a desired job, as well as demonstrate transferable skills such as communication, trouble-shooting, decision making, leadership, and problem solving. They must also determine whether or not they will need accommodations to help them succeed in their jobs. Work-based learning experiences can help students with disabilities explore different accommodations, as well as provide opportunities to practice disclosing their disabilities and requesting accommodations from employers.

Postsecondary institutions must make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities in all work-based learning opportunities they offer. These may include internships, cooperative education, job-shadowing, service-learning, and independent studies. Specific work-based learning accommodations for students with disabilities will vary based on the students' needs, the job site, and the job requirements.

Some individuals with disabilities will use the same accommodations at a work site that they used to complete academic work. For example, a student who is blind will need Braille, audiotapes, or an adapted computer system to access printed material. Likewise, a student with a mobility impairment may need an accessible workstation and/or adaptive technology to complete computer-related job duties. For other students, new responsibilities and environments will create new challenges and potential barriers. For example, flexible attendance requirements for a student with a health impairment may need additional consideration in a work-based setting. Students with learning disabilities may need to replace notetakers and outlines with requests for written memos or recorded instructions to help them organize information. Transportation to and from the work site may also create unique challenges for some students with disabilities.

Successful work-based learning experiences require cooperative efforts between the student, the employer, faculty, staff, and the disabled student services office. There are several steps that students, employers, faculty, and disabled student services can take to facilitate beneficial work-based learning experiences.

Students with disabilities interested in work-based learning experiences need to:

  • Register with campus work-based learning programs.

  • Participate in available orientations, seminars, workshops and individual counseling sessions to enhance job search skills.

  • Let the work-based learning and disabled student services coordinators know what accommodations are needed.

  • Access local support networks and disability-service organizations that may be able to aid in the job search process.

Employers need to:

  • Update position announcements and notify work-based learning coordinators of new positions.

  • Work in partnership with work-based learning centers to proactively develop strategies to encourage students with disabilities to participate in the work environment.

  • Educate staff regarding diversity-related issues.

Faculty members need to:

  • Encourage students with disabilities to gain work experiences.

  • Invite staff members from cooperative education, career services, and other campus programs to speak to your classes.

  • Encourage employers to recruit students with disabilities for work opportunities.

Disabled student services needs to:

  • Encourage students to register and participate in work-based learning programs on campus.

  • Be proactive in students' academic and career planning. Let them know how accommodations are provided in the work place.

  • Help campus work-based learning programs recruit and accommodate students with disabilities.

Check Your Understanding
Consider the following example. A business student with a hearing impairment is planning a three-month marketing internship with a large company. As part of her essential job requirements, she needs to participate in various meetings and communicate daily with customers and staff. What accommodations might be needed to help this student succeed in this internship? Choose a response.

  1. Provide a telephone with sound amplification.

  2. Provide access to a TTY.

  3. Provide access to electronic mail.

  4. Use an assistive listening system with multiple microphones during meetings.

  5. Use a notetaker during meetings.

  6. Use real-time captioning during meetings.

  7. Position individuals in a meeting to facilitate lip reading.

Work-based learning accommodations vary based on the needs of each individual and conditions related to the work-based learning opportunity. For additional information on specific disabilities and academic accommodations that may also be applicable in work-based learning programs, see the following sections of this website:

Consult The Faculty Room Knowledge Base for questions & answers, case studies, and promising practices.

Reference: The content of this web page is from the DO-IT publication and video It's Your Career. Comprehensive content can be found at the AccessCAREERS website at http://www.washington.edu/doit/Careers/