Education to Employment Education to Employment

Section 1: Who are graduates with disability and what are their needs?

This section provides basic information about graduates with disability and their needs when making their move from Vocational Education and Training (VET) or university into subsequent employment. 

For all graduates, transition from tertiary education into their chosen field is a long anticipated move which can also bring anxiety, hurdles and frustrations. Graduates with disability have some additional considerations to take into account during this move, especially to make a successful transition.

Who are graduates with disability?

A graduate is someone who has recently completed a qualification. This resource refers to those who have completed their VET or higher education course, as well as students in their final year. 

Graduates with disability include those with a wide range of disabilities, medical conditions and/or mental health conditions (as defined by the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act); (see Section 5 on key disability rights and obligations).

Some of the main types of disability include:

  • physical
  • intellectual
  • psychiatric
  • sensory
  • neurological
  • learning disabilities
  • physical disfigurement
  • the presence in the body of disease-causing organisms.

The broad definition of disability covers conditions such as Cancer, Asperger's syndrome, Arthritis, Mental illness, Dyslexia, Multiple sclerosis, Diabetes, Depression, Anxiety disorder, Dyspraxia, Epilepsy, Hearing impairment, Learning disability, Mobility impairment, Bipolar disorder, HIV/Aids, Brain injury, Cerebral palsy, Schizophrenia, Crohn's disease, Chronic fatigue Syndrome, Post traumatic Stress disorder, Vision impairment, Muscular dystrophy, Eating disorder and Cystic fibrosis.

Destination surveys (showing where graduates move on to after tertiary education) show consistently that graduates with disability are significantly less likely to gain employment, employment in their field or employment at the level equal to their qualification.

One study found that 'almost two thirds of job-seeking graduates with disability remained unemployed six months after graduating, more than twice the unemployment rate of other graduates' (source 'Careers for Graduates with Disability' (2007) by Graduate Careers Australia).

This same study found that even if a graduate had found employment they were more likely to be working part-time, to be self-employed, or to not be earning significantly higher incomes than unqualified workers with disability.

What are the barriers to graduates with disability?

The barriers that prevent graduates with disability from gaining secure graduate employment are of course individual in each circumstance. However, there are some factors that are broadly recognised as playing a large role in reducing the chances of a graduate with disability being able to get and keep qualified employment. The following includes a few examples:

  • 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 misconceptions 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 traditionally 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.

What do graduates with disability need during their transition from education to employment?

The needs of students and graduates with disability are individual and varied. However, having an awareness of the most common experiences will help you to recognise and respond to individual needs when they arise in your service.
Graduates with disability still need the same career development assistance and/or employment-related assistance as other service users.

Graduates with disability may also need:

  • additional consideration, research, planning, preparation and/or time to get ready for leaving adult education and entering graduate employment. Making an early start will help
  • information about both graduate and disability related programs, services and activities
  • support and adjustments to access written resources, counselling, workshops and web-based tools or research. This may be in the form of 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
  • assistance from both a specialist employment service and a tertiary career service.

During transition planning a graduate with disability will need to consider:

  • how they will handle disclosing their disability to their future employer (see Section 8 on disability disclosure)
  • whether they will need workplace adjustments to meet the inherent requirements of the field and/or prospective jobs and if so, what type of adjustments (see Section 7 on workplace adjustments; and Section 6 on inherent requirements)
  • strategies they will use to negotiate workplace adjustments (if needed) with future employers
  • what services or programs may be available to assist them in their future employment (if needed).

Getting better results for graduates with disability: what can be done to improve the situation?

There are things that can be done to get better employment outcomes for graduates with disability. The following includes some examples of practices by employment and career services that can make a difference and help achieve better graduate outcomes.

  • Tertiary education career services to become more open to and inclusive of students with disability; share information with employers about becoming more inclusive of graduates with disability; and form better linkages with local Disability Employment Service (DES) providers
  • DES providers to become more familiar and open to the needs of tertiary students and graduates with disability; seek opportunities to network and provide assistance to local graduate employers; and form better linkages with local tertiary education career services
  • Work with and assist employers to develop inclusive employment practices and recruitment processes. Promote the business benefits of recruiting graduates with disabilities and the programs and services available to assist
  • Encourage and enable students with disability to register early with your service when planning their transition from tertiary education to employment
  • Assist students with disability to gain any possible work experience during their studies (where appropriate) and access mentor programs to help them get work ready before graduation.

Who can help?

Tertiary education career services can help students with disability to develop generic work readiness skills, such as resume writing, interview preparation and career planning. These services also provide free individual career counselling. You can find the career service of a tertiary education institution on their website (see Section 4 on tertiary education career services).

Disability Employment Services (DES) can provide specialist employment support to people with disabilities who need support to gain and/or keep employment. Depending on eligibility this support is available on a long or short–term basis. DES services can be accessed through Centrelink and can be found at the Job Search website (see Section 3 on Disability Employment Services).

Disability services at each TAFE or university are specialist student support services for students with disability. These services may also be a vital source of information and assistance when helping a student or graduate with disability.


Graduate Careers Australia website at as cited on 21 May 2010.

Careertips website at as cited on 14 May 2010.

'Building Diversity 2000: Transition from Vocational Education & Training to Employment for Graduates with Disabilities: Final Project Report' (June 2002) by Edge Employment Solution as cited on website at on 21 May 2010.

'Careers for Graduates with Disability' (2007) by Graduate Careers Australia as cited on website on 21 May 2010.