Photo of Krhystal shows Justin the goo project in the science lab

Although the number of people with disabilities entering and completing post-secondary education programs has increased dramatically in the past ten years, they are still underrepresented in the employment arena. In 1994, the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) reported that 73.9% of people with severe disabilities were unemployed.

In a world where technology is a necessary aspect of almost every business, physical ability is seldom a limitation. The prominence of technology in the business world translates into more career opportunities for people with disabilities.

It is difficult for talented young people with disabilities to succeed, or even imagine success, in higher education and employment. Obstacles include lack of adequate support systems; little access to successful role models; lack of access to technology that can increase independence and productivity; and, most significantly, low expectations on the part of the people with whom they interact. These barriers result in fewer capable high school students with disabilities attending colleges and universities and subsequently entering professional employment. To overcome these barriers there is a need for transition support for individuals who are intellectually capable of handling post-secondary education and/or employment, yet who encounter difficulties because of their disabilities.

The University of Washington (UW), with primary funding from the National Science Foundation, established project DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology). In 1992 DO-IT began its efforts to recruit high school students with disabilities into post-secondary education programs and careers. DO-IT provides students with electronic communication tools, mentors, and training; a live-in summer study program at the UW; and other activities to encourage and facilitate the pursuit of careers where people with disabilities have been traditionally underrepresented. DO-IT motivates students to fully exercise their intellectual and career potentials. The philosophy of the program is that talented students with disabilities can accomplish as much as their non-disabled peers, given encouragement, preparation, appropriate technology, and accommodations.

One challenge for individuals with disabilities is to make a successful transition from college to career. Gaining work-based learning experiences before graduation can make this step a success. Work experience can provide motivation for study and work, career clarification and confidence in career choice, increased maturity and self-esteem, financial resources to fund a college education, and a chance to prove their worth to potential employers. Yet, students with disabilities are less likely to access college work-based learning and career development programs than their non-disabled peers.

The AccessCAREERS (Careers, Academics, Research, Experiential Education and Relevant Skills) project was undertaken in 1996 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. It's purpose is to increase the participation of college students with disabilities in work experiences that will help them meet their ultimate goal of full-time employment in a challenging and rewarding career. The goal for each DO-IT participant is not simply job placement, but the pursuit of a meaningful career that matches the student's goals, interests, and abilities.

The purpose of the enclosed videotape and written materials is to help career development professionals become more aware of:

  • the rights, responsibilities and potential contributions of students with disabilities;
  • legal rights and responsibilities of institutions and programs for ensuring equal access to all students;
  • strategies for recruiting, placing, and accommodating students with disabilities in work-based learning programs; and
  • access to computing resources for students with disabilities.

Funding for the production and distribution of the enclosed materials was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs (#H078C60047). However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. We hope you find these materials useful in your efforts to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to explore career interests and participate in work-based learning programs.

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.
Director, DO-IT
University of Washington

Julie Smallman
Project coordinator, AccessCAREERS
University of Washington