Education to Employment Education to Employment

Who are graduates with disabilities?

Check out this section to learn more about graduates with disability, their common experiences, what they can bring to graduate employment; the history of lower graduate employment outcomes and barriers faced when graduates with disability make the move from education into employment.

What do we mean by 'graduates with disability?'

A graduate is someone who has recently completed a qualification. We have also included in this category final year students who will soon have graduate employment. The Education to Employment Package includes graduates and students of courses in Vocational Education and Training (VET), including Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and TAFEs; or Higher Education, including universities across Australia.

A graduate with disability includes those with a wide range of disabilities, medical conditions and/or mental health conditions, including the following types of impairments:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Psychiatric
  • Sensory
  • Neurological
  • Learning disabilities
  • Physical disfigurement, and
  • The presence in the body of disease-causing organisms.

Examples of disabilities

Here are some examples of disability; you might be surprised at how broad and common disability is:

  • Cancer
  • Asperger's syndrome
  • Arthritis
  • Mental illness
  • Dyslexia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Dyspraxia
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing impairment
  • HIV/Aids
  • Learning disability
  • Mobility impairment
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Crohn's disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Vision impairment
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Eating disorder
  • Cystic fibrosis

To find out more about disability go to "What is disability?" section of our website.

Attributes and experiences

Graduates with disability are a diverse group, each with their own individual experiences, attributes and needs. No two graduates with disability (even if they have the same disability) will have exactly the same experiences, skills or expectations. However, there are some features that many (but not all) graduates with disability are likely to have in common.

Examples of common experiences

Here are some experiences that a graduate living with disability is likely to have faced:

  • Having to work extra hard through your course and overcome significant challenges inherent in the education system and/or your disability and its affects on academic study.
  • Living life as a person who is 'different' in a culture that does not always value difference.
  • Experiencing unhelpful communication, stereotypes and misperceptions.
  • Extra hassle of having to work around inherent limitations and external barriers.
  • Constantly dealing with the dilemma of disclosing your disability and the consequences. Having a disability commonly means having to expose very personal information about yourself and your disability repeatedly. This often includes discussions to strangers, your boss, co-workers and/or others we would not usually share such information with. This requires careful decisions about whether to disclose details of your disability, when, how, what and to who (go to the Disclosure website to find out more information)
  • Having to rely on help from others more often and sometimes from those you don't know very well or have an unequal power relationship with.
  • Often dealing with own feelings of grief and loss about having a disability, particularly for those with an acquired disability.
  • Extra hardship at home, such as financial difficulties, complicated logistical arrangements, strained personal relationships.
  • Being a 'Trail Blazer'' (sometimes involuntarily) because many people with disabilities these days are doing things in the community, at work and study that people with disability have never done before. This can mean a lot of explaining, potential exclusion at any minute; lack of experience and/or knowledge by you and others of how to do things; and/or lack of predictability about your future prospects.

Examples of some common attributes

Getting a tertiary qualification is still a massive achievement for a person with disability, even despite huge progress in the tertiary education system in supporting students with disability.

To complete a course, a graduate with disability has often needed more determination and personal resources than graduates who have not lived with disability, or some other disadvantage. Here are some of the skills and attributes that a graduate with disability will often gain from these experiences:

  • well developed and practiced communication and interpersonal skills;
  • high personal resilience and coping skills;
  • problem solving ability and lots of experience;
  • additional dedication to the job and employer, especially when the right workplace adjustments are in place;
  • insight into diversity and alternative views of the world;
  • high motivation, including a high sense of achievement and competence; and
  • appreciation of work as a place where you can be perceived as 'valued' by others and make a tangible contribution.

Moving successfully to graduate employment

Moving from adult education into graduate employment can be a challenging time for any graduate. Many of us know from personal experience that getting a good graduate outcome after studying is not simple and can be full of ups and downs. For graduates with disability there are often even more challenges and considerations to tackle before scoring the graduate career you have been working towards.

Making a good move into graduate employment for a graduate with disability requires multiple factors to be in place, including:

  • the graduate needs to have an awareness of their own disability-related needs in employment;
  • a plan on how they will address these issues in their future employment; and have developed the skills, knowledge, experience and attributes required in their chosen field;
  • the support services available to assist the graduate with disability, such as employment and career services, need to recognise and address both the disability-related and professional needs of the graduate with disability; and
  • Graduate employers need to be open to recruiting a graduate with disability and have inclusive work practices.

Essentially the graduate with disability needs to be well prepared, have access to good quality career advice and employment seeking assistance; and have graduate recruitment opportunities open to them.

4 things a graduate can do to make a successful move

  • Get an early start! Do not leave it until after finishing or even your last semester to start making plans of how you will secure employment after graduation. That can be too late. By your final year you need to have already started your preparations. 
  • Include consideration of your disability at each step of your transition and career planning. This is the time to reflect and think about what, if any, impact your disability is likely to have on your future employment, even if you decide that your disability will have no impact and you need no additional support to address your disability-related needs. Doing this now gives you time to find out about and plan the adjustments you can create to manage any affects of your disability in your new career.
  • Find out about essential facts that affect you at work. Check out the details on disability-related rights and responsibilities in employment; available disability services, programs and technology which level the playing field for people with disability in employment. Also explore graduate recruitment, including what graduate employers are looking for in their new recruits, and recruitment programs, activities and processes going on in your industry.
  • Make use of the services available to you to help with career planning, making workplace adjustments and securing employment.

When considering any impact of your disability on future graduate employment, make a start by thinking and finding out about the following:

  • how to handle the question of disclosing your disability to future employers;
  • whether you will need workplace adjustments to meet the inherent requirements of your field and/or prospective jobs and if so, what type of adjustments;
  • strategies you will use to negotiate workplace adjustments (if needed) with future employers;
  • what services or programs may be available to assist you in your future employment (if needed).

4 things an employment or career service can do to help graduates make a successful move

Employment and career services have a critical role to play in the success of a graduate's transition from education to employment.

  • Remember that additional considerations, research, planning, preparation and/or time is likely to be needed for the student to get ready for leaving adult education and entering graduate employment. Making an early start before the student finish their course will help.
  • Provide the graduate with disability with information about both graduate and disability related programs, services and activities.
  • Offer adjustments to accommodate a graduate's disability. Adjustments may be needed for the person to access written resources, counselling, workshops and web-based tools or research. This may include computer equipment with specific assistive technology software; a sign-language interpreter at face to face workshops or counselling; extra time to process written information; and/or accessible parking close to your service. You can find out what the person needs by asking them directly and where appropriate, consulting the Disability Services team at the TAFE or university.
  • Facilitate assistance from both a specialist employment service and a tertiary career service, where this is likely to be useful.

4 things a graduate employer can do to make a successful move

  • Recognise and take advantage of business benefits graduates with disability could bring to your organisation.
  • Promote your inclusive workplace features and disability confidence when recruiting graduates.
  • Remove any discriminatory barriers to graduates with disability in your existing graduate recruitment and development processes.
  • Universally ask during graduate recruitment whether any workplace adjustments will be needed and explain the process in your workplace for negotiating any necessary arrangements.

Common challenges

The barriers that graduates with disability face when trying to get and keep graduate employment are individual and relate to each specific circumstance. However there are some factors that are more commonly experienced and play a big role in limiting the overall success of graduates with disability.

Examples of common challenges

Here are some examples of common barriers:

  • Graduates with disability often have less experience in any type of workplace. This is usually because a student with disability may need more time or personal resources than others to complete their course work and therefore are less likely to have time and/or personal capacity to work and study.
  • Employers sometimes have misperceptions about people with disability in the workplace. This can be particularly the case in qualified employment where the employer may doubt the ability of a person with disability to perform at the higher professional level required in graduate employment.
  • Services designed to assist graduates with disability to find and secure employment have often done so poorly. Some of the issues have been:
    • under-recognising the person's disability related needs; excluding the person because they have a disability;
    • specialised employment services having less experience and understanding of graduate employment than other types of employment; and/or
    • specialised employment services and tertiary education career services not working collaboratively when helping a student or graduate with disability.