Barriers to Employment for Disabled College Students

CW: Ableism

According to a 2016 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, students with disabilities are the fastest-growing population on college campuses. Nonetheless, only 16% of these young adults will graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 39% of their non-disabled peers. According to the Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America 2020, they are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed.

To address these gaps in degree attainment and employment for students with disabilities, a group of disability experts proposes significant changes in how career and disability services are delivered on many university campuses.

Too often, these college students’ career aspirations are negatively shaped by the limiting attitudes of family, campus policies, and society to lock in an identified career,” said Chang-kyu Kwon, a professor of education policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Chang-kyu Kwon is the first author.

Kwon’s co-authors included Sarah S. Guadalupe, an instructor and field coordinator in social work at the University of South Florida, as well as doctoral student Matthew Archer and Darlene A. Groomes, a professor of human development and child studies and associate dean of the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University.

“The framework we propose is targeted career services that provide individualized support to students with disabilities so they can make career choices consistent with their values and life purpose,” Kwon said. In a practice brief published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, the team detailed their proposed method and the multiple barriers these students encounter.

According to the researchers, some studies have found that ableist assumptions impact career services policies and programs for college students with disabilities. Unfortunately, this has been true in my experience.

I graduated from high school in 2018 and was looking forward to attending college. At the end of my freshman year at Westfield State University, the staff at the career center acted surprised to see me there. I felt unwelcome. Ableism shouldn’t prevent those with disabilities from being able to find work.

After looking at various opportunities, I contacted a woman who runs a publishing business. I was disappointed to learn that her office was inaccessible.

There is another barrier to employment that is not discussed enough. I require assistance with daily activities and hire PCAs to assist me with showering, toileting, and getting dressed, among other things.

The absence of a PCA is also a barrier to employment for people like myself who require assistance with activities of daily living. My PCAs assist me with toileting, dressing, and bathing. They also drive me around in my wheelchair van anywhere I need to go.

I wouldn’t be able to work without access to a PCA. I wouldn’t even be able to get to my workplace without their help. In addition, working 40 hours a week without using the restroom would be impossible. Non-disabled employees wouldn’t be expected to work full-time without access to a bathroom.

I went to college with hopes of expanding my worldview and obtaining a meaningful education that would lead to employment after college. Attitudes surrounding disabled people need to change. Disabled people can be valuable assets in the workplace.


Forrest, Sharita. “Colleges Must Reexamine Career Services to Boost Employment of Students with Disabilities.” University of Illinois , University of Illinois , 28 Apr. 2023,

“Personal Assistance in the Workplace.” Job Accommodation Network, Job Accommodation Network,

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