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Co-Op and Employment Rights and Responsibilities

Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

College to Career Transition for Students with Disabilities

Co-op is the first step of your professional career and is intended to be a positive, learning experience using your strengths and skills to focus in on your career path and develop networking possibilities.

Students with disabilities are sometimes apprehensive about co-op. Perhaps it is about 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-Ops and students entering the career world after Drexel. However, please note that the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) at Drexel should be involved in this process with you, should you wish to disclose while on a Co-Op job. ODR 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.

Legal Rights

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
  • 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
    • Hiring
    • Firing
    • Advancement
    • Compensation
    • 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.

The Determination of 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 may do what they can to accommodate but may not provide accommodations that would be more costly.
    • 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 stairs
  • 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

To Disclose or Not to Disclose a Disability to Your Employer

You should strongly consider disclosing if:

  • ..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 Self-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!

For More Information

Office of Disability Resources  
Americans with Disabilities Act
Jobs Accommodations Network