Co-op is the first step of your professional career. It is intended to be a positive learning experience, providing the opportunity to identify strengths and utilize skills, network with professionals, and develop career focus.
Students with disabilities are sometimes apprehensive about co-op. They may experience feelings of uncertainty regarding the job search or interview process and if/how they will disclose their disabilities. Students may be concerned about how they will advocate for themselves once on the co-op job, not knowing how to ask for accommodations.
The information below is to be used as a college to career transition guide and is relevant for both co-op level students as well as students preparing to enter the career world after Drexel. However, please note that Disability Resources at Drexel should be involved in this process with you, should you wish to disclose while on co-op. Disability Resources ensures that students receive reasonable accommodations on the job and can act as an advocate for students who struggle in communicating effectively with the employer.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities in the realm of employment. Protective legislation covers employers with 15 or more employees and prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. This means employers who function under the ADA cannot ask if an individual has a disability at any given time and they cannot penalize an employee based solely on the existence of a disability in any of the aspects of a job listed below:
- Job application
- Job Training
- Job Duties
- Other Terms, Conditions, and Privileges of Employment
- Requires that reasonable accommodations be provided to eligible employees who submit their request and supporting medical documentation substantiating a disability
Students should contact Drexel's Disability Resources at 215.895.1401 with questions about determining reasonable accommodations.
The following factors are taken into consideration when an employer determines if a specific accommodation is reasonable:
- Manner and Duration of the Condition – A person must have an ongoing or chronic condition/impairment for six months or more that is significantly impacting on a daily basis.
- Size of the Company - If the company employs 15 or more individuals, they are required to comply with the federal legislation. Smaller companies that are not required to comply with federal legislation may or may not make accommodations depending on available resources.
- Does the accommodation directly mitigate limitations - Any approved accommodation must serve to eliminate barriers that exist in the work environment for that specific person.
- Undue hardship - An accommodation cannot cause an unreasonable financial or administrative burden on the employer
- Does the accommodation allow the person to fulfill their essential job functions.
- Accommodations must not prevent a person from being able to perform the essential functions of their position.
Some Examples of Accommodations
For many co-op students, the work accommodations you request may be the same as (or similar to) the accommodations you need in academic settings:
- Elevator access to parts of buildings that are accessible to other employees by way of stair
- Adaptive equipment or software (phones, keyboards, desks, chairs, computer programs)
- Sign language interpreting during an interview and on the job
- Regularly scheduled breaks during the day for managing medications or health related obligations
- Flexible leave to undergo medical treatments
- Modification of work schedules, working from home
- Job restructuring
Students should contact Drexel's Disability Resources at 215.895.1401 for any questions about disclosing a disability to an employer
- You will need accommodations on the interview. In this instance, you will want to disclose before your interview (i.e. to arrange for a sign language interpreter, ensuring the location is wheelchair accessible).
- You know you will need accommodations in order to perform the essential functions of your job. Typically it is recommended that an individual is offered a position before disclosing the need for accommodations.
- You have a "visible" disability (i.e. blindness, physical disability). You may wish to address this during the first face-to-face interaction with your employer. This approach can put you in control of your identity and can allow you the opportunity to focus the attention on your strengths and skills, rather than on your disability.
- If you have an "invisible" disability (i.e. learning disability, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, mental illness, chronic illness), you may wish to have more discretion in who you disclose to and how it is approached. See below for tips on when to disclose.
Tips for a Successful Disclosure
Disclosing is only required if you are requesting accommodations. Otherwise, it is up to you to decide if and when you tell anyone at your workplace of your disability. Disclosure always carries with it the potential for unnecessary bias and discrimination, but if done correctly and in the right situation, disclosure can relieve the person with the disability of associated anxiety and bring colleagues closer together. Here are tips for a solid and successful self-disclosure:
- Should you decide to disclose, you may do so at any time. Most people do not disclose before getting an official job offer unless they A) need accommodations on the job, or B) have a visible disability. However, you may disclose in your resume or cover letter, interview, post-acceptance, or anytime you feel like it would be appropriate.
- Your personal philosophies on disability and social justice may contribute to when and how you decide to disclose. Some feel that hiding their disability hides too much of who they are. Additionally, some decide to disclose because they want to know that they are working for an open-minded, equal opportunity-focused employer.
- Should you decide to disclose to your employer, it is recommended that you spend a small portion of your time speaking on your disability and any related accommodations that you are requesting. It is best to follow that information with a great deal of focus on your strengths, experience, education, skills, and interest in the position