Creating an Inclusive Career Development Program

The number of students with disabilities entering and completing postsecondary education has increased dramatically in recent years, yet people with disabilities are still underrepresented in challenging careers.

Barriers to employment include inadequate 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 people with whom they interact.

Participation in work-based learning experiences, such as internships and cooperative education activities, can be integral to success after graduation. All students benefit from the opportunities work-based learning affords to network with potential employers, explore career options, apply skills learned in the classroom, and use specialized facilities not available on campus. However, for students with disabilities, the benefits of internships and other work experiences may be even greater than for their nondisabled peers.

Students with disabilities face unique challenges as they transition to employment. Like other students, they need to meet the specific requirements of their desired jobs. Unlike other students, they must be aware of accommodation strategies for specific situations and also know how to appropriately disclose and discuss their disabilities as they relate to the performance of specific job tasks. Work-based learning experiences allow students to develop methods for determining accommodations and practice disclosing and discussing their disabilities.

Although the number of students with disabilities entering and completing postsecondary education has been increasing in recent years, students with disabilities access campus work-based learning programs at a lower rate than their nondisabled peers. This publication is designed to help career services, internship, cooperative education, service learning, and other work-based learning offices better integrate students with disabilities into their programs and work experience opportunities. It summarizes legal issues related to the employment of people with disabilities, methods for creating inclusive programs, accommodation strategies, and tips for working with individuals with disabilities.

The following guidelines will help you create an environment that fully includes students with disabilities.

Physical Environment

Organizations typically design their services, facilities, and materials for the average user. "Universal design" refers to a more inclusive approach whereby facilities, programs, and materials are created for users with a broad range of abilities and disabilities. It is important to remember that your clients may have learning, visual, hearing, speech, or mobility impairments.

Designing a career center or cooperative education program that is accessible to all potential users begins with the physical environment. To ensure accessibility, make sure:

  1. Parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building are wheelchair-accessible.
  2. All levels of the facility are connected via an accessible route of travel.
  3. There is signage outside the building indicating which entrances are accessible.
  4. There are ample high-contrast, large print directional signs to and throughout the office.
  5. Elevators have both auditory and visual signals for floors, and elevator controls are accessible from a seated position and available in large print and Braille or raised notation.
  6. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well marked signs are available in or near the office.
  7. Aisles are kept wide and clear for wheelchair users and protruding objects are removed or minimized for the safety of users who are visually impaired.
  8. Lighting is adjustable by the individual.
  9. Window blinds are available to reduce glare, especially on computer screens.
  10. There are quiet work and/or meeting areas where noise and other distractions are minimized, or facility rules (e.g., no cell phone use) exist to minimize noise.
  11. Service desks are wheelchair accessible and at least part of a service counter is of height accessible to a wheelchair-user.
  12. Telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTY) are available.

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication.

Information Resources and Technology

Some students may require brochures, applications, and company materials in Braille, large print, or electronically. It is important to have a system in place to procure printed materials in alternative formats. The campus office responsible for providing academic accommodations to students may be able to help you determine the most efficient way to produce your materials in alternative formats when requested.

  1. In key publications and on your website, include a statement about your commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations. For example, you could include the following statement: "Our goal is to make all materials and services accessible. Please inform staff of accessibility barriers you encounter and request accommodations that will make activities and information resources accessible to you."
  2. All printed publications should be available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text.
  3. Printed materials should be within easy reach from a variety of heights and without furniture blocking access.
  4. Electronic resources, including web pages, should adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by your institution or your specific project or funding source. Section 508 Standards for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology and the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are most commonly used. 

For general information about making your website accessible to everyone, consult the World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design video and publication.


Many students with disabilities see internships and cooperative education experiences as optional program components that are not designed for them. To increase their participation, it may be necessary to directly market your programs to students with disabilities. The office that serves students with disabilities at your institution may be your best resource. They will not be able to give you the names of the students they serve, however many will have established mechanisms for advertising your services and activities to their clients. Provide this office with copies of your informational publications so that they can assist you in recruiting students with disabilities by posting and distributing your materials. They may be able to pass out program information to new students during orientation meetings and intake interviews. A ten-minute introduction to your services during an orientation will alert some students to the importance of participating in work-based learning experiences. The disabled student services office may also be aware of student groups that would welcome a presentation from your office staff.


Campus career development and cooperative education programs often host presentations, career fairs/exhibits, and interviews between students and employers. Design these activities so that they are accessible to all students, including students with disabilities. Although you are required to provide reasonable accommodations to participants with disabilities, you are not expected to guess what accommodations will be needed. It is each student's responsibility to request an accommodation in advance. Event announcements and publications should tell participants how to request disability-related accommodations.

Examples of potential accommodation requests include:

  1. a wheelchair accessible career fair location,
  2. the provision of a sign language interpreter for an on-campus job interview,
  3. Braille or large print handouts, and
  4. an FM amplification system that will allow a person with a hearing impairment to hear a speaker.

In some cases, it will be necessary for the institution to provide the accommodation. In others, the employer will do so. For example, a student who is deaf may require the provision of a sign language interpreter during an on-campus employment interview. The student may make this request to her career counselor. However, since the employer is conducting interviews for recruiting purposes, it is reasonable that the employer pay for the interpreter. Career counselors should work with a student to determine the best way to inform the employer of an accommodation request. Career counselors must have written permission from a student before disclosing his disability to a potential employer.

Working with Students with Disabilities

One of the most common barriers to academic and career achievement for students with disabilities is low expectations on the part of those with whom they interact. Maintain high expectations for participants with disabilities. Expect that they will succeed. Career counselors, cooperative education staff, internship coordinators, and employers can help students with disabilities develop and accomplish their goals by following these helpful communication hints.

Accommodation Strategies

Work-based learning offers an opportunity for students and employers to determine the best accommodations in a particular work environment. Many times, the necessary accommodation will be obvious. Other situations will require some research. As you work with students and employers to choose reasonable accommodations, ask the following four questions.

  1. What does the task or assignment require? Break down all of the components of the job. This will help you to determine the best way to fully include an employee with a disability.
  2. What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed? Compare the skills required to complete a task to the skills of the potential employee. Does a modification need to be made in order for the person to be successful?
  3. What components of the task require accommodation? Check with the employee to see which aspects they feel require accommodations.
  4. What accommodation options exist? The employee is your best resource. If they require assistance with answering this question, be sure to access campus and community resources.


A short video, Learn and Earn: Supporting Teens, as well as a publication with the same title, may be freely viewed online. It may also be purchased from DO-IT.

Frequently asked questions, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the AccessCAREERS Searchable Knowledge Base.


Charting the Course: Supporting the Career Development of Youth with Learning Disabilities
This guide includes reference charts, tables, and tools for counselors, career advisors, and other professionals who work directly with youth; and in-depth information on such topics as the types and impact of learning disabilities, needed supports, and research-based interventions.

Disabled Student Services (DSS)/ACCESS office
Most college campuses have an office that works with students with disabilities and faculty in determining and providing appropriate academic accommodations. They may also be able to assist you as you create an accessible program and determine accommodations for your participants. Check your campus directory for contact information at your institution.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology)
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 - FAX
509-328-9331 - voice/TTY, Spokane office
DO-IT serves to increase the success of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers. It promotes the use of computer and networking technologies to increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment.

ENTRY POINT - American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
202-326-6649 (voice/TDD)
ENTRY POINT! is an internship program for college students with disabilities majoring in computer science, engineering, mathematics, or physical science. Contact ENTRY POINT! to inquire about becoming a part of this program.

Great Lakes ADA Center
800-949-4232 (V/TTY)
312-413-1407 (V/TTY)
The Great Lakes ADA Center's mission is to increase awareness and knowledge with the ultimate goal of achieving voluntary compliance with the ADA. This is accomplished by providing customized training, expert assistance, and dissemination of information developed by various sources. They mainly serve Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconson, and are run from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
800-526-7234 (voice)
877-781-9403 (TTY)
JAN, a toll-free service, assists businesses and individuals with disabilities with questions about accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Office of Disability Employment Policy
U.S. Department of Labor
800-487-2365 (voice)
877-889-5627 (TTY)
The Office of Disability Employment Policy expands the previous programs and services of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Information about High School HighTech, the Business Leadership Network, Project EMPLOY is available. Technical assistance materials, resources for employers, and links to State Liaisons are also provided.

Out of Step
Out of Step with disabilities create better economic success. It is a free and innovative online marketplace and platform where people with disabilities can promote their business and gain resources for furthering their business-sense and career.

Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA)
RSA oversees programs that help people with disabilities gain employment, such as state vocational rehabilitation offices. State and local vocational rehabilitation programs are listed in your telephone directory.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
800-669-4000 (voice)
800-669-6820 (TTY)
The EEOC provides enforcement guidance on reasonable accommodation and undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Workforce Recruitment Program
866-633-7365 (voice)
877-889-5627 (TTY)
The Workforce Recruitment Program creates a database of screened candidates with disabilities seeking summer and permanent positions. Employers may request access to a database of applicants majoring in a variety of fields.