Individuals with disabilities have similar needs for job satisfaction as
typically developed individuals. Jaggar et al. (2009) highlights the importance of
fitting the right personality to the right role for people with disabilities, a group
often offered extremely limited vocational opportunities. It is because of this that career
counselors strive to better serve this largely forgotten population. This means
counselors need to be prepared to develop new skills such as creating alternative
communication styles, improvise technological assists, implement behavior
plans, and generally think “outside the box” clinically.
The first step to carreer counseling individuals with disabilities is to understand the
nature of the disability as it effects in individual. Understanding the
client’sdisability is not only done for the sake of the counseling relationship, but
also for social functioningas a whole. For instance, Canu (2007) suggested that
counselors would do well tofocus on the importance of workplace safety when counseling
males with ADHD, as their study found that such men placed less emphasis on safety than
control. General service providers such as One-Stop Career Centers may not be able to
address the unique needs associated with a disability and, without some early work
experiences, individuals with disabilities slip further and further behind (Gilson,
Generally, there are three categories of disabilities that will be discussed in
this paper: physical, psychological, and developmental. Where some disabilities fall
easily into one category or another, such as an amputated limb, depression, or fetal
alcohol syndrome, others are more of a combination. Autism, phantom limb pain,
and learning disabilities are just a few such ambiguous disabilities. Most disabilities
are persistent and have compound effects over time. As career counseling considers
not only the person, but also their environment, individuals with disabilities need to
be considered in their context. They are affected by everything typically developed
individuals are (e.g. family, friends, society, job market), but they are also charged
with maneuvering a sprawling and often confusing service delivery network
(Gillbride & Hagner, 2005.)
A vast majority, 90%, of typically developed individuals leaves high school
with some work experience. For persons with intellectual disorders that number
drops to 36%, for people with autism it’s 15%, and 22% for individuals with
multiple disabilities. Research has also shown that individuals with disabilities have
improved outcomes later in life if they have early work experience. Researchers
suggest that opportunities for disabled individuals are not often known to primary
care givers and that vocational counselors need to collaborate actively with their
community to make the most out of all available opportunities (Carter et al., 2009.)
Individuals with disabilities face many external barriers to success on top of
their internal ones. These include discrimination, stigmatization, low pay, and
underemployment. Though these barriers are real and profoundly obstructive,
internal perceptions of barriers such as a low sense of self-efficacy and self-esteem
play a major role in counseling these individuals. In a study of the perceptions of
career barriers for such individuals, Fabian et al. (2009) found that gender, work
history, and educational background played roles in enabling the development of
such internalized barriers to progress. These barriers were best broken down
through strong social support, however. Social support is key, and it also plays a
major role in one’s ability to transition into a new work environment, and is often
accompanied by accommodations like assistive technology and training by unique
learning challenges (Luft et al., 2001.)
The Americans with Disabilties Act (1990) gives workers with disabilities the
right to reasonable workplace accommodations (Barclay & Markel, 2009.) For
instance, businesses are required to accommodate a person in a wheel chair by
installing ramps and wheelchair accessible bathroom. Hutchinson et al. (2008)
highlights the need for career counselors to teach individuals with disabilities how
to maximize their rights in order to perform at their highest potential. This is best
accomplished through educational vocation experiences that teach the students the
value of social support, physical accommodations, technology-based assistance,
cognitive accommodation, as well as teaching and learning accommodation. Larger
still, it is the value of increased self-efficacy and esteem that improves the lives of
these individuals over time.
<As mentioned, autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a developmental
disorder with many physical and psychological correlates. ASDs effect an ever-
growing segment of the population and are characterized by deficiencies in
language and social interaction combined with restrictive and repetitive behaviors,
which can be both physical and cognitive. The challenges facing individuals with ASD
are many, from educational, communicational, social, to motivational (Suomi, 1993.)
Considering contextual factors, other staff members often need to be oriented or
trained in managing the overt and subtle needs of their colleague with disabilities.
Vocational training for individuals is often based on behavior therapy, particularly
applying behavior analysis to the conditioning of work-related skills.
Successful placement for individuals with ASD depends on presence of a
second disability, age of the client, and years of education. Counselors are largely
needed to help with finding jobs, facilitating placement into those positions, and
maintaining the client in those positions (Shaller & Yang, 2005.) Perhaps this
speaks to a cultural developmental disorder, but Shaller & Yang have also found that
placing white individuals with ASD to be more successful than minority clients,
pointing to the fact that multiple barriers present themselves for all persons and
For individuals with learning disorders, Dipeolu et al. (2007) assert that
typical quantitative measures used by career counselors may not be at all
appropriate. The outcomes on even the Strong Interest Inventory may be skewed
simply due to an overall problem understanding the questions or difficulty in self-
expression. On the other hand, quantitative assessments for learning disabilities
may greatly enhance the efficacy of counseling. Kasler & Fawcett (2009) found that
their test for dyslexia was reliable and suggested that it be used to identify
individuals who may struggle undiagnosed and untreated.
Individuals managing the sometimes-debilitating effects of a psychiatric
disorder can present unique challenges to the career counselor but also offer an
opportunity for the counselor to explore less conventional avenues of support. For
instance, Tillyer & Accordino (2002) suggest that specialized creative arts programs
be developed to help artists with psychiatric disorders participate successfully in
their local art scene. Such programs may help minimize the opportunity for such
individuals to experience the discrimination present in more conventional
Barclay & Markel (2009) discuss the ways in which applying the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to people with mental disorders is a difficult
process, as it pushes the boundaries of what is considered reasonable
accommodations. Though the ADA explicitly prohibits discrimination and hostility
in the workplace, the degree to which employers must bend to accommodate
individuals with a mood or thinking disorder is less clear. For instance, should an
employer who is willing to fire an employee for missed days due to depression or
schizophrenic episode be required to offer an alternative avenue of support?
Similarly, should a school like Marist College hold students to an attendance policy
even though they refuse basic physical/mental health services to their otherwise
uninsured students? This not only asks for a more progressive understanding of the
employer/employee relationship, but it brings up issues related to health care, insurance,
work-related stress, and the importance of productivity. One of the remnant
stereotypes from before the period of deinstitutionalization is that individuals with
psychiatric disorders are simply unable to work. An ecological view of psychiatric
disorders may support the idea that it is only through productivity and positive
social interaction that a person could successfully emerge from a psychologically
vulnerable state. But, the prevailing view is a traditional clinical one and holds
firmly to the idea that these individuals are diseased. Only by shedding the self-
righteous “I’m the expert” attitude of the past can career counselors serve this
population successfully and ethically.
Though service delivery to individuals with disabilities is taxing and
unconventional, it is also extremely rewarding. There are many types of disabilities
but all efforts are impeded by issues of funding, scheduling, staffing, and poor
evaluation of service delivery (Slade, 2007.) Career counselors are charged with
understanding the clinical implications of a diverse range of disabilities, but also be
willing to shed their preconceptions and welcome the individual fully into the
process of vocational development.
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Cole, O. (2009). Conversations that matter: Engaging communities to expand
employment opportunities for youth with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional
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attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: An exploratory study. Journal of
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disabilities: Support for the utility of three vocational measures. Journal of
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