Helping People with Intellectual Disabilities find Jobs

Leonora Hall                                                                                                                                           Elon University Career Advising Fellow                                                                                           April 6, 2017


As a former teacher of adults with intellectual disabilities and as a current career advisor, I have come up with some thoughts and advice about helping people with intellectual disabilities find meaningful work. With colleges and universities offering programs for people with intellectual disabilities, helping the graduates find work is an essential next step.  Above is a picture of my sister who attends a program called Scholars with Diverse Abilities at Appalachian State University  (  She graduates in May and is starting to think about what is next.  It is important for people like my sister to have fulfilling work where they can contribute and are valued.  The following are considerations to make when helping a person with a disability find work:

  1. What does the person with an intellectual disability (job seeker) enjoy doing and how could they contribute?

Start with the basics, does the individual enjoy working with people or things? What do they like to do? What strengths and weaknesses does the individual have?

  1. Preparing Job Search Materials (job application, resume, cover letter)

It is important to help job seekers with their job application materials but also embrace their individual level of work.  Their resume should reflect their abilities.

  1. Safety is priority

People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable and it is crucial that they are in a safe and supportive work environment.  Career advisors could share established and recommended organizations and encourage the students and their parents or guardians to do informational interviews with potential employers.  Informational interviews are an opportunity to find out information about an organization and the work culture.  I mentioned parents and guardians accompanying the job seeker with an intellectual disability because it is important for them to have an advocate and someone who can get a sense of the organization’s environment, at least for the initial visit.  The following resource provides questions to ask employers

  1. Networking

Ask the job seeker if you can let others know that they are looking for a job and encourage them to do the same.  Do not ask for jobs for the job seeker but, instead, ask about opportunities.

  1. Necessary Accommodations

What accommodations will the job seeker need to be successful?  For instance, if an individual cannot tell time with an analog clock, they could use a digital watch to keep track of time.  Perhaps the individual could be paired with a mentor who looks out for them.  The link listed above also gives appropriate accommodations that someone with an intellectual disability might need at work.

  1. Self – Advocacy

Job seekers with intellectual disabilities need to know they can speak up and say, “I don’t understand” or “I need help.”

While paid work for people with intellectual disabilities is preferable, it is hard to find.  Volunteering is another meaningful option for people with disabilities so they can still give back and engage in work.  I believe that employers who hire people with intellectual disabilities will benefit from fostering a diverse and inclusive team while people with disabilities will benefit by developing their skill set and having a job they enjoy.




Leonora Hall, Career Advising Fellow


I remember the transition from college to a career a few years ago and have empathy for students feeling nervous about the transition.  I recall feeling the pressure and stress of looking for my first professional position.  In higher education, I believe we can support students when they are feeling overwhelmed by the job search by doing the following:

  1. Preparing Students:

At Elon University, career advisors give presentations to all first-year students to introduce them to the Student Professional Development Center and share what resources we offer.  Additionally, we have events such as the Job and Internship Expo and employers visit campus regularly so students can find out about opportunities and network.  When students come in for appointments, I remind them that our office is here to help them along the way in their career exploration and development journey.  Whether students want to take an assessment, have their resume reviewed or do a mock interview, our office can help.  The better-prepared students are for the job search, the easier it will be for them.

  1. Building Students’ Confidence:

Sometimes students’ confidence is challenged through a job search.  I remember one student who was job searching and getting numerous interviews but no job offers.  This particular student was also dealing with the loss of a loved one so he was not his usual self.  As a result, the lack of job offers was even more discouraging.  I believe this student needed to be reassured of his skills and reminded that every interview is a success.  Having an interview means that you are a top candidate but there may have been an internal applicant or someone who was a slightly better fit.

  1. Helping Students Consider their Options:

Though a career advisor cannot tell a student to take one job over another, we can ask intentional questions to help students consider their values and what they want to empower them to make their own decision.  When a student is trying to decide between two positions, we can ask about the pros and cons so they can reflect on their options.  One of my professors gave me advice that I found comforting when I was involved in the job search.  He said that when choosing a position, there is no right or wrong path.  There are just different paths.

When students are well prepared for the job search, confident about their skills and have reflected on their options, they are closer to finding meaningful work.  One of the best parts of advising students is finding out that the student you advised got the position they were hoping for.

Tweaking Something Until It Works

Leonora Hall, Elon Career Advising Fellow

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In the Student Professional Development Center, there are constant changes so we can better meet students’ needs.  We are also persistent in adapting what we do in order to make improvements.  This includes reflecting on and discussing what could and should be tweaked.

Events are constantly tweaked each year based on what went well and what did not.  For instance, we tweaked how we gathered survey information at the Job and Internship Exposition because we wanted more clear and detailed responses from students.  As a result, a co-worker and I orally asked students survey questions as they were leaving the event.  This allowed us to ask follow-up questions, get clarification and ask for additional detail.  Although we collected less surveys, we received more quality and informative feedback.

During graduate school, I worked in an office where I planned service events for students to participate in.  It is probably not a surprise that fifteen students might sign up for events and three might actually attend. One of my mentors at Elon University helped me make a change to events to avoid low attendance.  My colleague suggested I partner with a student club or organization for events to ensure attendance.  I really wish I had thought of this in graduate school because this change makes a huge difference.

Additionally, our office has tweaked career advising for students. We offer evening advising to students at a student apartment club house.  One obvious benefit is convenience for students to get advising where they live.  Additionally, if students are intimidated to visit the Student Professional Development Center, this is a great way to casually meet them where they are comfortable.

Continuously tweaking what we do allows us to grow ourselves as an office and reach more students.  As a result, we can get more students involved with our office and resources.

Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover

Leonora Hall, Elon Career Advising Fellow


Sometimes I am surprised by the maturity of a first year student or the lack of motivation of a junior.  After reflecting on a couple appointments, I am reminded of the differences among students. Each students is unique and we can best help and support them by meeting them without judgment.

I met with a student who had 28 appointments with the Student Professional Development Center.  This particular student, who was obviously proactive, wanted to consider graduate school options.  I made the usual suggestions and quickly realized, he had already done everything I recommended.  For instance, he asked me to help him find a contact he could reach out to at another university and when I found one, he said that he had already talked to this person several times.  When the student left, I felt that I had not really helped him beyond listening.  How do we advise students like this one? Perhaps they just need someone to be a sounding board and say it’s okay to not know what’s next.  The important part is continuing to explore options.  Despite my initial reaction that this student was visiting the Student Professional Development Center too much, I realized this student is simply taking advantage of our resources which is exactly what we encourage students to do.

In contrast, I had a senior come in for her first career advising appointment and she brought one of her parents.  With a background in student development theory, this situation is not ideal. Prior to meeting with the student and her Dad, I made an assumption that the Dad was overly involved.  My goal is to empower students to make their own decisions without the influence of parental pressures, regardless of how good the intentions of the parent are.  Luckily, the parent of the senior let me have a conversation with his daughter and simply listened.  The parent was there to be supportive and help his daughter feel comfortable.  It is easy to make assumptions when parents come into appointments with their son or daughter in college.  However, after the appointment, I realized that I appreciated that this Dad encouraged his daughter to visit our office.  Furthermore, I wonder if she would have come in for an appointment without her Dad’s influence.  As a result, I am reframing how I think about parents coming in with college students for appointments.  If the preceding scenario is a way for us to get more students in our office, I think it is important to consider the benefits of a parent helping their son or daughter take a first step to career development, coming into our office.

Though in the same academic year, the two preceding students were clearly in different developmental places in considering options for after graduation. The preceding scenarios remind me of the importance of meeting students where they are and avoiding assumptions.  By meeting students where they are, career advisors can encourage and empower students to take important next steps, make their own decisions and consider their different options.  Whether students visit often or with their parents, there is value in them having career advising.



Challenging Appointments: Ideas for Supporting Students

Leonora Hall, Elon Career Advising Fellow


Career advising appointments can be fairly predictable.  They often start with building rapport, inquiring about the student’s goals, sharing relevant information/ resources and discussing the next steps for the student.  However, challenging and supporting students is not always easy.  Recently, I advised a student who wanted me to answer questions that I could not answer because he needed to make the decisions on his own.  Our conversation seemed to go in circles because the student pressed for answers and repeated the same questions.  Furthermore, he wanted me to edit his resume for him.  The student had very little involvement for an upperclassman and voiced his concern about his limited experiences.  He said he felt overwhelmed balancing classes and involvement.

After collaborating with another professional, I received the following ideas to help guide the next appointment to be more productive:

  1. Find out more about the student’s goals (does he want to work for a big or small company?).
  2. Determine what skills the student already has with the activity below. Hopefully, this will build the student’s confidence by helping him recognize skills he does have and help him feel more at ease.
  3. Discuss how the student can develop skills he does not have yet.

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I was prepared and looking forward to meeting with the student a second time.  Unfortunately, the student missed his follow up appointments.  My new plan is to follow up by email and check in with the student.  Furthermore, I considered that the student might be in Perry’s early stage of development which would explain him wanting someone else to give him the answers.  I cannot do the work for him but I can try to help him take the next steps by reaching out.

How would you handle this appointment?  I would love to hear your ideas because I am sure there are many effective approaches.

3 Ways to Support International Students:

By Leonora Hall, Career Advising Fellow

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International students are embarking on an educational journey when they study abroad.  Their transition to a new institution and country is impacted by professionals at the university they are attending.  How can student affairs professionals better support international students while they study abroad?

After talking to an experienced professional who works with international students, I recognize the importance of actively listening to students, especially those who are studying abroad.  When immersing themselves into a new culture, students must learn to navigate cultural differences. For instance, in Congo, age is a sign of wisdom and a source of pride.  On the contrary, it is common knowledge to most Americans to avoid asking a woman her age.  Additionally, my friend from China pointed out differences in dating between China and the states. In China, when a man is dating a woman and walks her to her door, it indicates the relationship is moving to the next level.  Though it is exciting for students to be immersed into a new culture, the cultural differences can be overwhelming, confusing and challenging.  However, student affairs professionals can support students by listening to their experiences so they can help students with their experiences abroad.

As a career advisor, I have considered how I can better accommodate international students in one-on-one appointments.  After talking to professionals , I recognize the importance of meeting students where they are.  For example, advisors can ask students intentional questions like, “what do you want to gain from today’s appointment?”.  A student may have an appointment to prepare for an interview.  Instead of jumping into common interview questions, the advisor should ask where the student wants to start.  The student may have questions about how to do their makeup and what kind of eye contact is considered “normal” in the states.  Let the students guide the appointment and meet them where they begin.

Students studying for a semester abroad are not abroad from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.  They are abroad all twenty four hours of each and every day.  One student affairs professional shared an experience about an international student being hit by a car while studying abroad in the states.  The professional immediately arrived at the hospital and was there for the student constantly, within and outside of normal work hours.  While the student was recovering, a faculty member welcomed the student into her home because the student needed certain physical accommodations after the accident.  Furthermore, the student had to attend court with the driver who hit him so the student affairs professional attended these court dates too.  Obviously, the student needed support outside typical business hours. Especially with family living half way around the world.  The professionals provided that support by being available, flexible and prioritizing the student.

Student affairs professionals who take the time to listen, understand and are available to international students are invaluable.  Whether a student is learning what behaviors might be offensive in a new country or dealing with a crisis, professionals are supports that greatly impact an international students’ experiences.  As advisors and educators, we want international students’ experiences to be meaningful, educational and positive which we can achieve by offering support.