Career Counseling Individuals with Disabilities

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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 &amp; Yang, 2005.) Perhaps this

speaks to a cultural developmental disorder, but Shaller &amp; 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 &amp; 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 &amp; 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

vocational placements.


Barclay &amp; 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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Career Counseling Individuals with Disabilities 9

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