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UNIVERSITY STUDENTS WITH DISABILITY


15 STEPS TO GETTING YOUR DREAM JOB

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Using the Disability Officer and Career Adviser

Using the Disability Officer and Career Adviser

The Disability Officer is available to coordinate support and assistance that will enable you to participate more effectively and help you achieve your study goals. This includes assistance with negotiating reasonable adjustments and securing additional resources for lectures, tutorials, assignments, practicum, general studies and assessments. Wherever possible it is important that you contact the Disability Officer at your university prior to enrolment so that the necessary support and assistance can be organised before you start your degree.

The Disability Officer might assist you in accessing needed supports by:

  • Representing your individual needs, circumstances and aspirations to the university teaching and administrative staff.
  • Approaching your lecturers about alternative arrangements for examinations or alternative forms of assessment.
  • Arranging access to certain lecture theatres, tutorial rooms, workshops and other university facilities.
  • Identifying the availability of assistive equipment such as communication aids, audio loops, wheelchair adjustable desks, customised keyboards, and ergonomic furniture.
  • Directing you to computing facilities at the university.
  • Liaising with library staff for services such as photocopying, retrieving items from inaccessible shelves and interpreting small print on screen displays.
  • Organising sign language interpreters, note takers or scribes.
  • Arranging alternative formats, large screen magnification software or tape recorders.
  • Assisting you with your course selection, enrolment procedures, and general information concerning university.
  • Identifying student learning services to develop your reading, report writing and computing skills.
  • Organising personal carers or support workers/tutorial support.

If you are not sure about what units you need or want to complete, you should also make contact with the Career Advisor at your university. The Career Adviser will be able to suggest which units will best equip you to enter your chosen career.

Talking to your lecturers

Talking to your lecturers

You will need to talk with your lecturers to reach a mutual understanding of your individual needs and to clarify each other's responsibilities. If any of the following will make it easier for you to participate in class or gain better results, discuss them with your lecturer as soon as you have enrolled so that assistance can be arranged before you start your first unit:

  • Alternative forms of assessment and/or alternative arrangements for examinations such as the use of a scribe, extra time or alternative formats (Braille, oral, magnification);
  • Utilising assistive equipment such as communication aids, audio loops, wheelchair adjustable desks, customised keyboards, ergonomic furniture, tape recorders, large screen magnification; and
  • Utilising sign language interpreters, note takers or scribes.

You might also want to let your lecturers know that, other than the above, you wish to be treated the same as your fellow students. You may need to explain to your lecturers that it is important that you are not made to stand out or to look like you are getting special treatment that the other students do not get. This will help you to be welcomed and valued within the group.

Getting to know your fellow students

Getting to know your fellow students

Give your fellow students the best chance to get to know you. Try and become actively involved in one or more of the many clubs, groups and networks that cover a wide array of recreational, sporting, social, self-help, political, spiritual and cultural pursuits. Share your knowledge, skills, interests, aspirations and personal values that relate to you and your studies. Most people are far more interested in becoming friends with people who are friendly and engaging - people with interests, experiences and stories to tell. Hearing about these things from you will entice the others to want to get to know you.

It can also make things easier to anticipate questions that your fellow students might have about your disability. People often don't ask about things that they don't understand, because they do not want to appear ignorant or to offend you.

There is no need to use medical labels or terms. Use every day language to talk briefly about the impact your disability has on your study life. This may include mentioning the support that you will need to participate in classes. That way you will not look like you are getting special treatment.

Taking control of your own studies

Taking control of your own studies

The following is a list of strategies that will benefit most university students with disability:

  • Keep the focus on gaining employment, being included with your fellow students and accessing the usual training and assessments with flexible arrangements and assistive equipment.
  • Make sure lecturers and other students get to see the 'whole' you to make it easier for them to focus on what you 'can do' (i.e. share your skills, abilities, interests and personal values within and outside your studies).
  • Raise your interests, rather than your fears and concerns, with lecturers, Disability Officers and Career Advisers. Keep your focus on what made you want to make a particular request and what you would like to see happen. For example, 'If I am to learn to my best and feel that I belong in the group, it is important that I get the opportunity to participate in all activities' rather than 'I don't like it when you don't tell me, or let me take part in, the same things that the others are doing'.
  • Be flexible about the options that may provide you with appropriate individualised support, i.e. treat your own and everyone else's suggestions as a possible option. The more options you have to choose from, the more likely you will find the best choice.
  • Be persistent and committed. Never give in on making it work, graduating with the full qualification or finding a job at the end of your course related to your field of study.
  • Celebrate your successes with your lecturers and classmates, e.g. a short 'thank you' note, or drinks with a few fellow students makes everyone feel good and positive about the future.

Getting work experience

Getting work experience

Frustrated job seekers are often heard to complain, 'I can't get a job because I haven't got any experience, and I can't get any experience because I can't get a job!' Sadly, this is increasingly the case - and it doesn't make a lot of difference these days if you are going for an unskilled or skilled position. Even in our own organisation, more and more new graduates and young professionals are approaching us and offering to work for no pay to gain some vital work experience and (secondly) to improve their chances of securing any future vacancy that emerges. Many have been successful on both counts. Employers respond very positively to people who show the determination and initiative to offer to work for nothing and who are able to make a positive contribution.

If you have disability, work experience (paid or unpaid) gives you and the employer a chance to check each other out. If you like what you see, you have a tremendous opportunity to impress the employer with your motivation, skills and dependability. Your disability will become of less and less consequence as the employer and co-workers get to know you better. The steps to securing suitable work experience are much the same as securing a job, which are described in detail in steps 7 - 13.

Work experience should bear some relationship to the job in which you're interested. This ensures that you can both increase your skills and demonstrate your suitability for employment in your chosen field. You should ask the employer who is offering you work experience the following questions:

  • What tasks are usually performed?
  • What tasks do you wish performed during the working experience?
  • When are each of these tasks to be performed?
  • Are certain tasks of higher priority?
  • How often is each task performed?
  • Are any of these tasks likely to change in the near future?
  • Who will be giving me directions or instructions?
  • Who will be checking the quality of my work?
  • What should I do if I have insufficient work to do?
  • Can I organise my work hours to fit in with my study schedule?

During your work experience you should seek regular feedback on your performance in addition to a formal evaluation when you complete the work experience. Some useful questions to ask when seeking feedback are:

  • Which tasks am I doing at the standard you require?
  • Are there any tasks that I am not completing adequately?
  • Have you any suggestions about how I could do any of my tasks more effectively or efficiently?
  • Is there any area where I would benefit from further training?
  • What relevant skills do you feel I possess now?
  • Am I seeking assistance appropriately and giving enough feedback about what I am doing?
  • Am I responding appropriately to advice, feedback and requests for assistance from my supervisor and co-workers?
  • Am I interacting appropriately with the others?

At the end of your work experience, ask the employer if they are willing to be a referee and to write you a reference. Also send a handwritten thank you note to the employer. It shows your motivation, loyalty, dependability and professionalism, as well as keeping your name and profile in front of the employer.

Another program that can assist university graduates is:
The ‘Stepping into’ Program
The Employers' Network on Disability is pleased to be able to offer university students with disability the most comprehensive range of internship opportunities yet, for the 2010 program.

To be eligible to participate in ‘Stepping into . . .’ students must have disability and be in the final or penultimate year of a relevant degree at a recognised tertiary institution. Students must also have the right to work in Australia.

Stepping into . . .’ is a four week paid internship program for university students with disability, running over the winter and summer semesters.

You can find out more about the WAM mentoring program and ‘Stepping into . . .’ by contacting ndco@edge.org.au.

Finding a mentor

Finding a mentor

We can all look back on our lives and think of people who were more experienced, or older or wiser than ourselves, who gave us some valuable advice, helped guide us in the right direction, believed in us, stood up for us somewhere, or opened a door for us. Without their support, things might have turned out differently or we might not have achieved what we have. These people are often called mentors.

Mentors are to be found everywhere. In tertiary education mentors assist in teaching, counselling, advising, introducing, networking, sponsoring, advocating, role modelling and encouraging their protégés (also known as mentees). The relationship between a mentor and a protégé can be more or less formal and structured, depending on needs and circumstances.

As a protégé, a mentor can assist you in any or all of the following ways:

  • Improve your knowledge of available services at study, work and the wider community.
  • Help to instil and maintain positive attitudes to study and work.
  • Support you to get through your tertiary qualification.
  • Give you a greater sense of confidence and optimism about the future.
  • Provide advocacy support when problems arise.
  • Assist you to establish and achieve study and work goals.
  • Advise you on paid and work experience opportunities.
  • Improve your job readiness, job presentation and job search skills.
  • Help you link up with a suitable employment agency.

Mentors also say that they gain a lot out of being a mentor. They get to use their own life skills and experiences to assist students with disability. They notice that their own personal skills and self-awareness levels improve. They learn to relate to members of the younger generation on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. They feel they have made an important and meaningful contribution and experience a greater sense of self-worth.

Some disability employment agencies can assist students with disability to find a mentor whose own training and experience most closely matches the career of interest to your student. They can open the doors to their register of current employers of people with disability, as well as facilitate the mentoring relationship by providing knowledge in the personal and professional strategies that will assist students to establish a career in their field of study.

In Western Australia, there are two mentoring programs that have been specifically designed for university students with disability. The Graduate Mentoring Program, which was developed and is managed by the Disability Co-ordination Officer at EDGE Employment Solutions, operates in all of the universities apart from Curtin University. The Willing and Able Mentor (WAM) program, which was developed at Deakin University in Victoria and is being trialed at a number of universities around Australia, is available at Curtin University.

In both programs you are matched with a mentor who works in the profession that you are studying towards and is willing to meet with you for a series of approximately eight 1-2 hour meetings. Most of the mentors for both of the programs are recruited from major corporations and government agencies.

Some of the topics covered in meetings between mentors and protégés include:

  • Gathering information about the career environment you are heading towards.
  • Clarifying the essential requirements of job roles in the workplace.
  • Refining your interview skills.
  • Experiencing a workplace culture (e.g. by attending a staff meeting).
  • Developing better skills in presenting a professional profile (e.g. preparing your resume).
  • Building and using your own network to find work.
  • Anticipating employer concerns, disclosure and related workplace issues (e.g. use of assistive equipment).

If you would like to find out more about either mentoring program, contact ndco@edge.org.au.

Registering with an employment service

Registering with an employment service

The Federal Government funds a network of disability employment agencies throughout Australia that exist to assist people with disability to:

  • Determine which jobs are best matched to their abilities, circumstances and aspirations.
  • Locate suitable vacancies with suitable employers and represent job seekers to those employers.
  • Modify workplaces and arrange assistive equipment to minimise the impact of their disability on work performance.
  • Provide on-the-job support and provide ongoing back-up and advice.

It is advisable to register with disability employment agency before you complete your studies for a variety of reasons:

  • You have to be assessed by a Job Capacity Assessor (where applicable) to determine your eligibility, which can take some time.
  • A number of them have waitlists and you may not be able to register immediately.
  • The employment agency can help you to find part-time work (it would need to be a minimum of eight hours per week) whilst you are still studying.
  • The employment agency can help you to undertake some vocational development (such as, doing voluntary work in the area in which you are training) whilst you are still studying.
  • Once you do graduate, the employment agency will know you better and therefore be able to represent you more effectively to employers.

There are more than 30 disability employment agencies operating in Western Australia. They are located all around Perth and in regional centres such as Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Newman, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany, Bridgetown, Narrogin, Northam, Busselton, Bunbury, Collie and Mandurah.

Some of these disability employment agencies operate specific programs for university graduates with disability. You can find out more about these services by contacting ndco@edge.org.au..

Determining suitable jobs

Determining suitable jobs

The choices that you make about which jobs to pursue will have an effect on whether you gain employment in your field and a long-term career. You should start by thinking about yourself, rather than about any particular job, regardless of the type or severity of your disability.

The following is a list of factors that you should think about:

  • Motivational Factors: What tasks do you really enjoy doing regardless of what others say? Are there any tasks that you really do not like doing? What do you, or don't you, like doing about them?
  • Support Factors: What are the expectations of others who are a part of your life? They need not be positive about your choices, but it is important that they support you trying to find work in your field - if not, it will help if you can find a mentor.
  • Disability Related Factors: Is there anything about your disability that would impact on you doing a particular task safely? Is there any task that you are sure that you could not do? Do you have epilepsy, asthma or allergies and, if so, are there any triggers to avoid in the workplace? Do you take any regular medication that causes side effects that make some kinds of work unsafe?
  • Social Factors: How do you respond in stressful situations? How well do you accept and understand feedback? How do you cope with people (bosses, colleagues or customers) giving you only verbal directions or instructions, or yelling at you? Do you get along easily with others? Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?
  • Transport Factors: Will you be using public transport or your own vehicle? Can you get there on time every day? Are you willing to spend that time and money getting to and from work?

When considering jobs that are suitable for you, remember that most people with disability are working without the need for any assistive equipment, adaptations to existing equipment or workplace modifications. In many instances they are able to overcome any difficulties by changing the work methods or sequences that are being used. However some people may be unable to complete a work task competently and safely without assistive equipment or modifications to their workplace. The most common accommodations that need to be made are: non-slip surfaces or grips, magnifying systems, voice recognition systems, one-handed tools, trolleys, adjustable ergonomic work stations, doorway widening, ramped surfaces and jigs or clamps to hold materials.

Disability employment agencies that are funded by the Federal Government have access to workplace modifications and other funding to enable you to work more productively and independently. Using this funding, employers of a person with disability may be eligible for financial assistance to purchase, hire or lease essential special or adaptive equipment and/or make necessary modifications to their workplace.

Locating suitable jobs

Locating suitable jobs

Research has shown that 80% of people find jobs through networking, and only 20% of people find jobs through applying for advertised positions. Most positions are never advertised. Research has also shown that you can improve your chances of finding work by:

  • Mailing out your resume or an introductory letter to employers (10%).
  • Contacting employers directly by phone or by visiting them (15%).
  • Asking for a work experience or a fact-finding interview (20%).
  • Using your family/friend network (55%).

You can get a list of potential employers to network with from:

  • Trade or business directories and shows.
  • Employer associations, e.g. Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Business Ltd, Employers First Association.
  • Employee associations e.g. unions, academic staff associations.
  • The Internet, e.g. www.seek.com.au
  • The Yellow Pages.
  • Local councils, e.g. building approvals, licence holders.
  • Membership lists, e.g. professional or trade journals, registration bodies.
  • People you know through studies, leisure, sport, church, etc.

Make sure that your family and friend network know what type of work you want and ask them if they know anyone or places with work that might relate to your career interests. Remember each of the people that you know has his or her own connections, and so on. More people find work through this network than any other way.

If you know more about the company and its operations, you will be in a much better position to sell yourself to an employer. It is a good idea to ring employers and ask for a five-minute appointment, or as a last resort, ask them your questions over the phone. Participating or volunteering in functions for the business community is also a good way to meet employers to find out some information. A good way to start is to tell them that you are highly motivated to work in their industry, but need help from a specialist in the field to get more information. Always mention it if someone they know has referred you to them.

Focus on finding out about the company or a particular position. The information that you seek should supplement information that you have collected through the company's annual report or web-site. This demonstrates your resourcefulness and initiative to the employer. Typical questions that you might ask include the following:

  • What starting positions do you offer?
  • Can you tell me more about what the job involves?
  • What skills/ and experience do you look for when you recruit for the job?
  • What are the most important qualities of an employee in that job?
  • Are you satisfied with the quality of applicants seeking positions with your business? Why/why not?
  • Can you tell me about other local employers in your field?
  • Do you know anyone in this industry who is currently hiring? Who should I speak to?

Remember to always stick to the five-minute agreement. When ending the conversation it is important to thank them for their time and for providing 'such valuable information'. Wait for them to get up and make sure that you send them a thank you note (preferably hand-written) or formal application to keep you in their mind.

Getting an interview

Getting an interview

When telephoning an employer, your primary goal should be to get an appointment - not a job. A successful call does not take up much of the employer's time - most appointments are gained within two to three minutes. Try to say as little as possible about yourself so that you do not give them a reason to say 'no' or raise objections.

There is no need to ask the employer if they have time to speak (it gives them another chance to say 'no'). Simply introduce yourself and then tell them something positive about their company to gain their attention and create a positive feeling. For example, 'I understand that you're a Quality Endorsed Company.' Wait for confirmation or just tell them the reason for your call and go straight on to list three of your work experiences, skills or references. For example, 'The reason for the call today is that I am very keen to work for you as a .... I have up-to-date ... skills and have excellent references from ...'.

Next close the conversation by giving them a choice of times to meet. For example, 'I have some free time in the morning next Tuesday and Thursday. Will you be there for around 10 minutes on either of those days?' If they say no (at any point) respond by saying, 'Since I'll be in your area next Tuesday, anyway, I'll drop in my resume for your files. That way when you have a vacancy you will be able to contact me quickly to see if I am still available'. When you drop in your resume simply hand it over 'as promised'. Some employers will ask you in, and if not, phone them 2-3 weeks later to show them that you are still interested and motivated to work for them.

It is also not unusual for an employer to be out when you are trying to reach them. The quality of any message that you leave for them may determine whether or not you get a response back or are put through when you next call. If you are not ready to leave a message, don't. Call back after you have prepared the message that you wish to leave.

Disclosing your disability

Disclosing your disability

It is better to have a short conversation with a prospective employer about your abilities than a long one about your disability. After all, you are seeking the job because of your abilities and it is important that this how you are known! For this reason it is usually more effective to disclose your disability for the first time when you meet with a prospective employer rather than over the phone.

There is no need to use medical labels or terms. Remember you are there to get a job, not to advocate for people with your type of disability. Use everyday language to briefly describe the impact that your disability might have on your job. For example, you may say something like, 'It has always been hard for me to walk steadily so I will use a wheelchair to move around your office' or 'I have always taken a little bit longer to learn complex tasks, but once I do I am very accurate and flexible with doing different tasks.'

It also pays to raise any support that you will need to perform your job to the employer's expectations. 'I am registered with a very good employment agency and, at no cost to either of us, they will provide any needed support such as access to funding for the seating that I need.'

That is usually about as much as you will need to say. If you are asked any further questions relevant to getting the job done, respond honestly. Irrelevant questions may require a response like, 'That's not an issue to me in doing this job, but I'm happy to talk about such things once we become better acquainted.' If you are having difficulty getting the employer to focus on your abilities, consider offering to do a short work trial. It will take the pressure off both of you to know that it does not hinge on a single interview and there will be an opportunity for either of you to change your mind if things aren't working out.

It is to your benefit to anticipate questions that employers might have. Employers often don't raise important concerns to them, such as how your disability will relate to your job performance, because they don't want to appear ignorant or discriminatory. If the employer does not raise your disability in the workplace, raise it yourself.

Where the employer does raise concerns or objection, try not to take it personally. Use the following process to address each concern:

Listen - encourage them to give you more details about their concern by using active listening statements like 'aha' or 'I see' and pausing to allow them to fully explain themselves.

Clarify - ask at least one question to clearly establish the underlying issue.

Resolve - make sure you direct your response to the underlying issue. If you cannot think of a solution, ask them, 'How do you think we might be able to deal with that?'

Confirm - check that your response has overcome their concern. If the answer is 'no' or the 'yes' sounds unconvincing, say to the employer 'You seem a little uncertain. What is it that is still troubling you?'

For example, an employer may say that 'It wouldn't be safe'. You may ask, 'What safety factors are there in this job?' The employer may say that the job involves occasional lifting of heavy folios or equipment. You may be able to offer one of the following solutions: that your particular disability does not preclude lifting heavy objects, that you have been trained in manual handling and know how to handle such weights, or that you could ask a co-worker to swap this task with one of their tasks that takes the same time or effort. Finally you would ask, 'Does that sound suitable to you?' or 'Would that sort of teamwork succeed here?'

To assist you to prepare responses, the most common concerns that you may hear include: it wouldn't be safe; I can’t afford the insurance; there is nothing light here that a person such as yourself could do; poor attendance is a problem for getting this job done on time; there is a lot of complex training involved that make this sort of position unsuitable; the pace here is too quick; I tried it once and it didn't work out; I can't afford the extra training and supervision time; it might project the wrong image to our customers. It will help you to succeed if you practice overcoming these objections using the process above. The myths and misconceptions section of Career Advisers part of this web-site provides information about what research on employees with disability has actually shown, which will assist you to address and overcome many of the common objections.

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