Students with disabilities deserve the same job opportunities as all other students


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By Lisa Lillianstrom

Students go to college to plan for the future, and after graduation, all students should have equal opportunities for a good career, even those with disabilities.

Only 18.7 percent of people with a physical or mental disability were employed in 2017, contrasting the 65.7 percent of people without a disability who were employed, according to a news release on June 21, 2018, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The statistics are very disappointing and alarming; this could be because some employers don’t want to take a chance on someone who is disabled, or they don’t want to make accommodations, especially when it comes to hiring people who have hearing problems.

“Within the 21-64 age bracket, 62.5 percent of deaf people are without full-time or year-round employment, more than 50 percent of deaf Americans do not work and people with hearing loss, 9.6 percent are actively looking for work, but not actively working,” according to the Communication Service for the Deaf.

One barrier for deaf students may be they don’t always have interpreters available for that one event that they need to go to, and interpreters have to be requested;  sometimes, people don’t find out about the event until the last minute, and they can’t go without an interpreter.

Disabled students can do jobs as anyone else can; just because they need a little bit of help, doesn’t mean they won’t be able to fulfill the tasks they are given.

“I think a huge barrier for deaf people getting jobs is often [because] people don’t think they are capable because we often have speech impediments, or we use interpreters,” senior fine arts major, Emma West and president of Deaf Pride, said. “I got denied a dog washing job because I cannot answer phone calls. That was such a small part of the job, and I physically wasn’t able to do it, so they wanted a hearing person to do it instead.”

Deaf Pride is a student group on campus that promotes deaf culture and awareness on campus with various events; their members are a mix of deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing.

Sometimes, it seems people with disabilities aren’t getting a fair shot at their dream jobs. Some people with disabilities are working part-time, minimum-wage jobs or relying on government-funded programs such as social security just to get by; however, not everyone wants that.  Some want to work full-time, and they want to have careers in something they actually want to do; they just need a little help getting there.

A Kessler Foundation survey showed people who are of working-age, with disabilities, want to work. Evidence shows that these individuals can be highly skilled workers. Their main obstacle is the stigma surrounding disabilities in the workplace. A few examples are  finance wizard Charles Schwab is dyslexic and scientist Stephen Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s disease and also uses a wheelchair, according to a July 26, 2015, Washington Examiner article.

The Disability Resource Center can help with accommodations, not just for classes but if an event NIU is hosting has a barrier that keeps a student from participating. The Resource Center can get accommodations for students who need it.

“Our office works to provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations for students and the campus community. Exam accommodations, classroom accommodations, reformatting of course materials and adaptive technology are a few of the accommodations we offer,” according to the NIU DRC webpage.
The Student Association also advocates for students who are disabled and believes that accommodations are important for helping students succeed in school and post college.
“The biggest issue is not making the right accommodations. For example, if there are not enough accommodations, then students aren’t going to be learning to the best of their ability, so they won’t be acquiring the skills necessary to understand what their career path entails and the information and education that is necessary to pursue that career pathway,” Cassandra Kemp, deputy speaker of the Senate, said. “And that could be that there isn’t enough information on accessibility, tools and what type of accommodations are available to the students; maybe a professor isn’t willing to cooperate with their accommodations, or the classroom isn’t set up to be accomodating.”
People who are disabled have the potential to do a great job like everyone else if they are given the chance to do so.
“We may have a learning curve at the start, but we are used to having to learn a new way around things,” West said.
What students and staff need to is support students in their journey to graduation and help them get the resources necessary to find the career they want and help them to get there.
“A disability does not hinder one’s ability to perform fast at their job; it just makes it more difficult to find these positions and find these similar experiences as other students, due to society’s misconceptions of what disability means and lack of acceptance,” Kemp said. “We really need to think about what we can do to support them, like how can we get rid of this stigma of what a disability is, because a disability doesn’t define a student; it is just one of the many aspects that makes them who they are, and we should never make them feel like that they are any less able than we are just because they have a struggle that may not be similar to ours.”