Disability Careers Office Highlighted as Nationwide Model

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Almost half of college graduates with disabilities in the U.S. are unemployed. UT is tackling this problem through a one-of-a-kind partnership.

The Disability Careers Office, established in 1999 as part of Career Services, links the resources from Career Services and the Office of Disability Services to assist students and alumni who have various disabilities to be competitive in their career search and connect to employers seeking a diverse workforce.

“It is the first program of its kind that truly bridges the gap between the offices,” said Russ Coughenour, director of Career Services which is in Division of Student Life.

The office is being presented as a model for other states at the National Governors Association institute to be held on May 10 in Pittsburgh and May 23 in Seattle.

The need for the liaison was recognized 14 years ago following UT research that uncovered a nationally pervasive disconnect between career services and disability services offices.

“This disconnect was negatively impacting our students seeking employment and the employers were having a hard time reaching this talent,” said Alan Muir, who conducted the research and co-founded Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, a consortium housed at UT of more than 700 higher education institutions and nearly 600 major employers.

Muir and Sarah Helm, DCO coordinator, will present the DCO as a best practice to governors during the session “Preparing Youth with Disabilities for the Workforce.” The presentation is part of a one-year NGA initiative with the goal of developing a blueprint of best practices to be implemented nationwide.

“We are presenting the only higher education–related best practices at the institute,” said Helm. “This is because the DCO is a successful and effective model that can be replicated at state universities across the country.”

The DCO dedicates a person to prepare college students and recent alumni to be competitive in the career search and to fully use the resources in Career Services. It counsels students on general career development as well as disability-specific topics, including self-advocacy, disclosure of a disability, requesting workplace accommodations, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could significantly affect career success.

“The DCO staff provided counseling on my resume and job search but also helped me better understand my disability,” said Mark Grove, a junior majoring in environmental studies, who has a learning disability. “The office offers many valuable resources for students with disabilities.”

The office sparked Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, which supplies a number of services and events designed to provide information, awareness, and expertise to higher education and employers, as well as matching college graduates with disabilities to employers.

“Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities is the only organization that continues the national conversation about college students with disabilities and gainful employment at major corporations striving to achieve their diversity goals,” said Muir.

For more information on the Disability Careers Office, visit career.utk.edu/dco.php.

For more information about COSD, visit www.cosdonline.org.

C O N T A C T :

Sarah Helm (865-974-6860, shelm1@utk.edu

Alan Muir (865-974-7148, amuir@tennessee.edu)

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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