CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Recent college graduates with disabilities are as likely as their peers without disabilities to hold jobs, according to a national survey that suggests they have benefited from coming of age under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The survey by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability being released Wednesday also shows that recent college graduates with and without disabilities were equally likely to have prepared for careers by connecting with mentors and completing internships in college. Some differences emerged, though, once they landed jobs.
Recent graduates with disabilities were more likely to be hired as temporary or on-call workers, work fewer than 28 hours per week, hold jobs unrelated to their degrees, earn minimum wage and be looking for new work.
Graduates without disabilities were more likely to be hired as permanent employees, work 40 or more hours per week, hold jobs closely related to their degrees, earn at least $22 per hour and be satisfied in their current jobs.
Still the results likely are a testament to the ADA, the 1990 civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in schools, jobs, transportation and other areas of public life, said Kimberly Phillips, an assistant professor and the survey’s lead investigators.
“That’s a big deal,” she said. “When you look at all college graduates, the employment rates are lower and there’s still more of an employment gap. But with the younger group, what we’re seeing is encouraging.”
Anne Marie Veira, who has cerebral palsy, said the internship and practical experience she got while earning her master’s degree in education paved the way to her current job as a coordinator for disability resources at the School of Visual Arts in New York. But she described frustrating experiences after earning her undergraduate degree, including six years in a retail job in which she believes her employers used her disability against her.
“I kept being promised, ‘Yes, we’ll move you up, we’ll train you to do a management position,’ and it never happened. Toward the end of my tenure, I ended up training the person who ended up becoming my boss,” said Veira, 30. “And because it’s retail, the management was constantly changing over, so just when you feel like you’ve proven yourself to one manager, that person is leaving.”
Bryce Stanley, 24, a graduate student in economics at UNH, said he has had better luck finding employers who will accommodate his disability, a sleep disorder.
While he faced resistance as a teenager from high school officials who thought he was just lazy, he got through college by taking afternoon classes and working for startup companies that offered flexible schedules.
“To be successful in the workplace, I just need the people I work with to be understanding. I don’t need huge accommodations, I just need a slightly different schedule for the day,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to find bosses that have been like that.”
Among bachelor’s degree holders, survey participants with disabilities were more likely than those without disabilities to work in “helping” professions, such as counseling, teaching and social work.
Stanley said his own struggles inspired his goal of becoming an economist studying mental health policy. Likewise, Veira said she jumped at the chance to take on her current job helping connect students with important resources.
“I know what it’s like to have a disability,” she said she told her future boss. “If I can provide any support for anyone else before they get out into the working world on their own, I’d be thrilled.”
Michael Skibbie, policy director for the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire, said the report’s findings confirm that when they are included, students with disabilities are serious about making good use of the opportunities they are given.
“There is much work to be done, but laws like the ADA and the (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have undoubtedly made a difference in improving both the educational and employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” he said in an email.
The executive director of the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities said the results highlight the importance of career-related internship opportunities for students with disabilities.
“I am hopeful that this research will help bolster policies and initiatives that support students with disabilities in higher education so that we can continue to see progress in employment outcomes,” said Isadora Rodriguez-Legendre.
The UNH Institute on Disability conducted the survey for the Kessler Foundation, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that funds research and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people with neurological disabilities.
It questioned 4,730 people ages 20 to 35 who had graduated from college in the past five years, half of whom had at least one disability. Regardless of disability status, 80 percent were employed at the time of the survey, which was conducted Feb. 6 to March 13.