Work-Based Learning

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, 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, troubleshooting, 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.

Educational institutions must make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities in 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 according to a student's needs, the job site, and the job requirements.

Some individuals with disabilities use the same accommodations at a work site that they use to complete academic work. For example, a student who is blind may 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 note takers 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 students, employers, instructors, staff, and support staff. There are several steps that they can take to facilitate beneficial work-based learning experiences.

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

  • register with work-based learning programs;
  • participate in available orientations, seminars, workshops and individual counseling sessions to enhance job search skills;
  • work with the work-based learning staff and special education or disabled student services counselors to determine needed accommodations.

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 disability-related issues.

Instructors need to

  • encourage students with disabilities to gain work experiences;
  • encourage employers to recruit students with disabilities for work opportunities.

Disabled student services or special education staff need to

  • encourage students to register and participate in work-based learning programs;
  • be proactive in student academic and career planning: let students with disabilities know how accommodations are provided in the workplace;
  • help work-based learning programs recruit and accommodate students with disabilities.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following example. A science student with a hearing impairment is planning a three-month 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 the 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 note taker during meetings.
  6. Use real-time captioning during meetings.
  7. Position individuals in a meeting to facilitate lip reading.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Provide a telephone with sound amplification.
    A telephone with sound amplification may be a reasonable accommodation for some students with hearing impairments. Talk to the student to determine which accommodations he needs.
  2. Provide access to a TTY.
    Providing a TTY telephone service is an appropriate accommodation for some individuals with hearing impairments who need to use the phone as part of their job. The student is the best source of information regarding his needs.
  3. Provide access to electronic mail.
    Access to electronic communication provides an alternative to telephone and in-person communication and may reduce the need for accommodations in some situations. Talk to the student about how electronic mail can be an effective communication mode for some of his work and about the other accommodations he might need.
  4. Use an assistive listening system with multiple microphones during meetings.
    Personal and group FM systems which amplify sounds can be used successfully to clarify sounds in a group setting for some individuals who are hard of hearing. With these systems, there is a direct input of sound from the speaker into a microphone that is then transmitted to the student's hearing aid. A central microphone can be used when the group is small. Multiple microphones are more effective with a larger group and can be passed from person to person as each speaks. Talk to the student about this and other potential accommodations that might be most effective.
  5. Use a note taker during meetings.
    A note taker can provide a summary of the meeting content. However, if he cannot adequately hear or lip read to follow the conversation, this strategy is not ideal because it does not support his active participation during the group interaction. Talk to the student to determine what accommodations he needs to fully participate.
  6. Use real-time captioning during meetings.
    Real-time captioning tends to be less effective in small groups or interactive discussions than in lectures. With real-time captioning, a transcriptionist types the discussion comments on computer-based transcription equipment. The speaker's words are typed into the computer and then immediately relayed to a laptop or projected onto a larger screen. The captioning also provides a transcript for later use. This may not be the best accommodation in small group meetings. The student, however, is the best source of information regarding his needs.
  7. Position individuals in a meeting to facilitate lip reading.
    Yes. This would be an appropriate accommodation if the student lip reads. The student is the best source of information regarding what accommodations are most appropriate for him

Work-based learning accommodations vary according to 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 the AccessSTEM website:

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.