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Diversity

4 steps to help boost employment prospects for students with disabilities

Finding a job is challenging for everyone. Add in a disability or long-term health condition, and it can become even more challenging. It is not surprising, then, that graduates with disabilities are less likely to have obtained full-time employment than their non-disabled counterparts.

The challenges are many and varied, but they are not insurmountable. With expert, tailored careers advice, these graduates can develop their confidence to apply for jobs, positively position their disability and request the support they require to ace the recruitment process.

The following four steps are crucial if you are to successfully support students with disabilities with accurate information, resources and advice as they transition from education to employment.


Helen Cooke will be presenting a session at CERIC’s upcoming virtual Cannexus22 conference on “Disability Confidence in Careers and Employment.” Learn more about the conference, taking place Jan. 24-26, 2022, and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.


Step 1: Understanding the challenges

To provide the expert careers advice that students with disabilities require, careers advisers, employability teams, student support staff and academic staff must first understand the specific challenges facing students with disabilities as they transition from education to employment.

In a 2015 survey by MyPlus of 1,040 disabled graduates and undergraduates, respondents highlighted the following challenges:

  • Fear of discrimination: the belief that an employer will reject them for a role once they know the candidate has a disability or health condition
  • A reluctance to disclose: individuals are not just concerned that they will be discriminated against because of their disability – they also don’t know how to disclose it; they don’t know what information to share, when to do so or how to position it.
  • A fear of being seen as a nuisance or causing a hassle if they ask for support / accommodations during the recruitment process
  • They don’t want to be treated differently, particularly in front of other candidates
  • Concerns about the assumptions that may be made about their capability / support requirements

These challenges are very real for this group of individuals and, unless they are supported to overcome them, will act as an obstacle to finding employment.

Step 2: Positively positioning disability

One of the biggest confidence builders for students with disabilities is when they realize that, if they position their disability positively, they can stand out for all the right reasons.

Too often students will see their disability as a weakness; they focus on the things that they may find difficult to do or can no longer do. They are equally concerned that others will see their disability in this negative way and will therefore be judged to be a less capable candidate than those who don’t have a disability. However, if we can challenge this mindset and instead get them to identify and focus on skills and abilities that they have developed as a result of acquiring and / or managing a disability, it can be a game changer.

I always say: I don’t believe I’m any more special than anyone else. But I do believe my disability has given me something extra; it’s given me a ‘plus.’ And these are the skills and abilities that I have had to develop to manage my disability on a day-to-day basis in a world that is not always geared up to it – skills such as determination, problem solving and interpersonal skills. When we look at any job description, these are the attributes that employers are looking for.

The resources page of our Students’ Club website details the approach we advise when writing a strengths statement.

Step 3: Writing an openness statement

“Disclosure” is a really unhelpful word. It makes it sound like we have a horrible secret that we are keeping under our hat. At MyPlus, we instead talk about “openness” or about sharing information.

In our 2015 survey, we found out that 76% of students didn’t want to tell an employer about their disability. 76% is an awful lot of fear and it’s important for two reasons.

One is that student may choose not to apply for jobs in the first place – I’m just not ready to share information about my disability, so I am not going there. Or they spend a lot of time applying for jobs, but because they aren’t open about their disability, they are not requesting the support they need to demonstrate their potential. This results in them being rejected for roles that they are more than capable of doing.

To make it easier to share information with an employer, students should write an openness statement: a short, factual statement that – rather than focusing on the person’s disability – emphasizes the support / accommodations they require and why they require them.

Our resources page details the three-step approach we take when writing an openness statement.

Step 4: Becoming an expert

The final area that I advocate focusing on with your students is that they become an expert in their disability and what it means for the recruitment process.

Too often, students don’t know what accommodations they require during the recruitment process, and they look to the employer for guidance. However, an employer can’t be expected to be an expert in all the different types of disability and what a person requires. So, the student needs to become an expert in what they need and feel confident to request this.

It won’t always be easy, particularly if it is a newly acquired disability, or if their condition fluctuates or if they haven’t yet been through a recruitment process. However, if they are serious about wanting a career, they need to spend some time considering what support / accommodations they may require to successfully navigate online tests, interviews and assessments.

By understanding the challenges that students with disabilities face as they transition from education to employment and how they can overcome these, these talented, bright, ambitious students will find it easier to navigate the recruitment process and to realize their career potential.

Helen Cooke Author
Helen Cooke, CEO and Founder of MyPlus, is recognized nationally in the UK as a leading expert in disability and graduate recruitment. Helen is passionate about ensuring that having a disability or long-term health condition will not prevent anyone from having the career that they want to have. This was recognized by the Shaw Trust’s inclusion of her in the 2021 Power 100 list of the most influential disabled people in the UK and on Cranfield University’s School of Management Women to Watch for 2021.
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Helen Cooke Author
Helen Cooke, CEO and Founder of MyPlus, is recognized nationally in the UK as a leading expert in disability and graduate recruitment. Helen is passionate about ensuring that having a disability or long-term health condition will not prevent anyone from having the career that they want to have. This was recognized by the Shaw Trust’s inclusion of her in the 2021 Power 100 list of the most influential disabled people in the UK and on Cranfield University’s School of Management Women to Watch for 2021.