RUSSO: Needing extra assistance
The University should make a greater effort to help disabled students find employment after graduation
With Final Exercises approaching, fourth-years are preparing to say goodbye to the University and embark on the next stage of their lives. Some will enroll in graduate programs while others will travel or start their first full-time jobs. The future for most graduates of the University — and any university for that matter — is uncertain but promising.
However, disabled graduates of the University face a unique set of challenges, largely more formidable than challenges faced by the majority of graduates. The stigma surrounding disabilities manifests itself in the hiring process. In addition, disabled college graduates may face underemployment, and struggle to find and maintain jobs that suit their educational training. Apart from professional challenges, the transition to independent living presents its own set of obstacles.
According to the National Council on Disability, 28 percent of the general population over 25 years of age have completed college, compared with only 14 percent of people with disabilities of the same age.
During their time at the University, disabled students are accommodated through the Student Disability Access Center within the Elson Student Health Center. SDAC emphasizes access to “the full University experience” and “strives to promote accessibility” for all members of the community.
Since I am not disabled myself, I cannot attest to how the challenges faced by disabled students at the University are met. However, it seems that the SDAC provides a multitude of resources that would help ameliorate some of these obstacles, such as housing and academic accommodations. The resources that currently exist at the University are in compliance with federal law, as stipulated by the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which require that students who have the capability to tackle the University’s academic challenges are not held back by restrictions posed by their disabilities.
That said, SDAC does not seem to provide resources that provide support in preparation for the transition to post-grad life. If the purpose of a University education is to ensure students enter graduate studies or the workforce aptly prepared for the demands they will inevitably face, special accommodations for disabled students should include transition counseling and preparation. In other words, accessibility is not sufficient.
The Virginia Department of Education has partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University in the creation of the Center on Transition Innovation. The mission of the CTI is “to assist all youth with disabilities to obtain integrated, competitive employment to the fullest extent possible through information, resources, demonstration and research on the different pathways to employment.” On the center’s website, John Eisenberg, the Assistant Superintendent of the Virginia Department of Education, says the CTI will “assist teachers and transition practitioners to empower students with disabilities with the skills and knowledge they need to live, learn, work, and participate in the communities of their choice to the maximum extent desired.” CTI also engages in research projects, funded by the Virginia Department of Education, with the goal of improving the path to employment for disabled students in mind.
The University should actively engage in the statewide effort started by the Center on Transition Innovation at VCU in an effort to increase the support that disabled students receive while here, and prepare them to graduate with prospects of employment that reflect the challenges they have overcome. The University consistently boasts excellence. We are the leading institution of public education in Virginia, a state with one of the best public school systems in the nation. As a community, we consistently strive to exceed the average, a value that manifests itself in positive ways around the University. This way of thinking should also apply to the support we provide for disabled students. As a leading institution of higher learning, the University is in the unique position of having the tools to change the status quo for what students with disabilities can achieve. We have the responsibility to ensure that all students who leave Grounds after graduation are aptly prepared to achieve their goals.
Mary Russo is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.