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EDUCATION MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Campus Voices: Navigating Career Services
by Karen A. Myers
St. Louis, Missouri
Welcome to "Campus Voices." In each issue you will hear the voice of a college student and learn about college life from the student's perspective. Each article will feature a composite of real life experiences taken from students with real voices. What is it like to be a college student with a visual disability? Let's listen in ...
Hello. I'm Daniel, a graduate assistant in the career services center at a private research university in the Southern United States. Several years ago I was involved in an accident that resulted in significant vision loss. I have no vision in my right eye and limited vision in my left eye, which means I am legally blind. I am working on my master's degree in student personnel administration and I was thrilled to receive the assistantship in the career services center. My goal is to become a director of career services at a college or university and this is exactly the experience I need to prepare for my career.
During my undergraduate years at a small public college, I did not have positive experiences with career services. At freshman orientation, the director of the career center spoke to us about the center's developmental approach to career advising. He encouraged us to visit the center as freshman to begin assessing our interests through career exploration. Once our possible career path was unfolded, we could take advantage of materials, workshops and courses that would assist us with resume writing, job searching, interviewing and transitioning into the world of work. As an eager first-year student, I took the director up on his offer and enthusiastically visited the center. I was undecided about my major, and I looked forward to utilizing the computerized assessment tools such as the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, Strong Interest Inventory and SIGI Plus (System of Interactive Guidance and Information) that not only would reveal my personality type but also would point me in the right direction to the career of my dreams. I looked forward to discussing my assessment results with career advisers, attending workshops and classes, preparing my resume and landing the perfect job after graduation.
Unfortunately, none of this occurred because my career center was not prepared to serve students with visual disabilities. Although I sheepishly mentioned to the staff a few things that might assist me, such as JAWS software and large print materials, I did not possess the self-advocacy skills needed to educate them on improving their services. I also failed to share my concerns about career services with the disability services staff who would have taken the necessary steps to ensure accommodations.
Since then I have found my voice and I am on a mission to make things better for other students. I am in my second month as a graduate assistant in career services and progress is rapid. Not only is the director interested in providing inclusive services, but she just completed a "Disability in Higher Education" course and is anxious to put into practice what she learned. Additionally, the director is adamant about including students with disabilities in the decision-making process. In order to make the center accessible for all students, including students with visual disabilities, she asks the students what changes they believe need to be made. One of my responsibilities is to conduct meetings and focus groups with these students. Their voices and their opinions are paramount to our director and to this process. How great is that?
Tips for Career Services Personnel
An inclusive environment is essential for satisfied and successful clients. Equitable access can be accomplished in the following ways:
1) Large, vivid, easy-to-read ADA compliant signage leading to the center, at the center itself, and within the center.
2) Barrier-free space leading to the center and within the center.
3) Adaptive technology, including an adaptive computer station comprised of an adjustable computer table, ergonomic chair, 21-inch computer monitor, screen ruler magnification strip, computer equipped with JAWS screen reader, Kurzweil text to speech, voice recognition software, scanner, braille embosser and printer, making all computer-based career tools accessible.
4) Audio description and open captioning on all newly purchased videos and CDs.
5) Accessible Web sites.*
6) Alternate formats for all online and hard copy documents and forms.
7) Statement on Web sites and all materials indicating that alternate formats are available.
8) Training in disability awareness and universal design for all managers, career advisers, staff and student employees.
9) Equitable access to all programs, workshops, courses and events beginning with effective promotion (preferably in the form of e-mail, Web and audio announcements) and alternate formats of visual aids and handouts.
This last piece is the one that presenters and event coordinators tend to forget. I can't tell you how many times presenters have said to me, "Oh, I'm sorry, Daniel, this is probably too small for you to see." And, it usually is too small. Unfortunately, that is where it ends. Most people do little to ensure that their program is accessible to everyone, including me. My goal is never having to say "I'm sorry this isn't accessible" to anyone--ever!
Tips for Students
Here is a list of helpful tips to successfully use your college's career services:
1) Review the career center's Web site. By doing so, you will discover the center's location, scope of services, number of the staff, equipment, resources and the calendar of events. You will also be able to determine the accessibility of the center and its Web site.
2) Call or e-mail a career services adviser. You can obtain the name of the adviser and contact information on the Web site. Introduce yourself and briefly explain your situation. You might say something like this: "Hello. My name is Daniel, and I am a freshman undecided about my major. I am interested in career exploration and would like to learn how to write a resume. I am legally blind and will need assistance in accessing your services. Can you assist me or direct me to someone who can? May we arrange a time to meet?" This initial contact will break the ice and open the door to continued communication.
3) During your first meeting or initial conversation, ask about the center's accessible equipment, alternate formats, etc. It is at this time you can mention the types of accommodations you will need.
4) When you visit the center, ask for a tour so that you can quickly learn the layout of the facility and location of offices, resources, computers and restrooms. By doing so, you will be more self-sufficient in future visits.
5) Check out disability career-related Web sites such as Job Accommodation Network; a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor (www.jan.wvu.edu), The Work Force Recruitment Program for College Students With Disabilities (www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/brochures/wrp1.html), and Monster Career Center: Workers With Disabilities (http://content.comcast.monster.com/build-job-skills/workers-with-disabilities/home.aspx).
6) Take advantage of workshops, courses, employer mentor programs and events. Our center offers a career decision-making course that provides insight into career path and information about selecting a major, internships, graduate and professional schools, career-related resources, decision-making skills and communication techniques. The center also offers career fairs, an etiquette dinner, a networking picnic, and other events that assist students in their career development. We are fortunate that our director has experience working with individuals with visual disabilities on resume writing, networking, interviewing, dress, etiquette and on-the-job behavior. She discovered that students with visual disabilities often have a difficult time "selling" themselves because of the automatic stereotypical barrier held by many employers, i.e., "How can you possibly do this job? You're blind." Students who are blind or have low vision must learn to accentuate their skills and experiences on their resume and during phone interviews--so much so that the employer is looking forward to meeting them in person and hiring them.
7) Once you have established a contact in the career services center, a point person with whom you can communicate, you will find navigating the career services system to be smooth and comfortable. So get busy networking!
* For Web site evaluation, see World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines (www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-TECHS/), W3C Markup Validation Service (http://validator.w3.org/), Accessibility Consulting (www.rampweb.com), and the BOBBY Accessibility Checker (http://webxact.watchfire.com/).
For more information about career services access, contact Kim Reitter, Director of Career Services, St. Louis University, email@example.com, or DO IT, University of Washington, Universal Design of Career Services (www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_cs.html).
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