Work Experience, Specialized Services Are Key to Reducing Unemployment Among People with Disabilities

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Work Experience, Specialized Services Are Key to Reducing Unemployment Among People with Disabilities

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American universities dedicate millions of dollars each year to disability services, ensuring students have access to the accommodations they need to succeed on a level playing field with their peers without disabilities.

But does the relatively safe haven of higher education set students with disabilities up for failure when they graduate into the workforce, where accommodations might not be as plentiful beyond what the law requires?

Experts say young people with disabilities are more likely to go through college without work experience, and unemployment remains high among people with disabilities in the United States. In 2018, just 19 percent of Americans with disabilities were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But having a disability can be a benefit in the workplace for both employee and employer, says Emily Augustine, a 35-year-old mother of two and a high school math teacher at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri. She was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 13.

A job coach assists an employee with assembling a corrugated plastic tote. MDI offers personalized employment services for people with disabilities that include career plan development, on the job coaching, and résumé building.

The challenges Augustine grew up with as a student with a learning disability have only benefited her in her current profession, she says. She attributes this outcome largely to her mother's influence, an English teacher who instilled in Augustine that her disability was something "she had to deal with," but was never to be used as an excuse for not doing high quality work in a timely manner.

"For me, [having dyslexia] really harnessed and fostered a sense of organization, a sense of deadlines, which has done nothing but help me in education. I'm never putting things together at the last minute because I've just never been able to function like that," she says.

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