Higher Education Consulting


Disability-Inclusive Diversity

Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

The University of Tennessee Knoxville Disability Careers Office

Higher Education Campus Collaboration Program

Executive Summary

Since its founding in 2000, COSD identified a need to focus career-planning services on students with disabilities.  Historically, there was little connection between the disability services and career services offices, limiting the exposure of students with disabilities to career preparation, including opportunities for internships or other experiential learning that is vital to the career success of college graduates with disabilities.  A major component believed to improve the career prospects of students with disabilities was to form a stronger link between career services and disability services.  Research was conducted to identify the best method of integrating students with disabilities into career services and for that office to work more closely with disability services.

After visiting more than 30 campuses and finding no "model" program, the University of Tennessee set out to implement an innovative and comprehensive program to more effectively integrate college students with disabilities into the existing career services infrastructure.  The result was the creation of the Disability Careers Office (DCO) that continues to be successful in assisting students with disabilities to more effectively use all features of the career services office.

The DCO at the University of Tennessee is a full-time liaison position between the offices of career services and disability services that has been held by Dr. Sarah Helm since 2005.  The office serves students registered with disability services and / or supported by Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation.  The DCO assists individual college students and alumni with various disabilities by providing career planning and guidance pertaining to specific disability related issues.  These issues include self-advocacy skill development, techniques for potential disability disclosure during the career search process and methods of requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace.  General career counseling services including major exploration, resume creation and interview techniques and preparation are also provided.  The overarching goal of the DCO is to encourage the use of existing resources on campus by college students with disabilities, including career services.

As a result of the original research visits, it was evident that the issue of low career employment for college graduates with disabilities was a national problem and was not isolated to a small number of university campuses.  It was abundantly clear that the two diverse sectors of universities and employers had a common interest in this issue and a need to meet to share ideas to progress toward solutions. 

Concurrent with the development of the DCO, Alan Muir co-founded Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD).  The mission of COSD is to increase the career employment rate for college students and recent graduates with disabilities and to provide a solid pipeline of qualified and well-prepared candidates.  


COSD and the DCO are offering a comprehensive approach to the collaborative model of bringing disability services and career services to work together to encourage college students with disabilities to participate in career development activities and thereby increase the opportunities for these students to attain a career of their choice upon graduation.  The program consists of the following:

1. Interactive workshop to be presented to disability services, career services and any other office on your campus that has direct contact with students with disabilities. The elements of this presentation can include the following:

- Overview of the Collaboration Model and the role of the DCO and COSD;

- Discuss the difference between self-advocacy for students on campus and in the workplace;

- Highlight practical tools for teaching students how to identify whether there is a need to potentially disclose their disability to an employer and how to do so in the most effective manner;

- Provide examples of appropriate requests for workplace accommodations, with emphasis on the concept of self-accommodation;

- Facilitate interactive table discussions with reality-based scenarios designed to help professioinals from disability services and career services to understand how they can work together for the benefit of college students with disabilities;

- Identify the benefits of experiential education for students and examples of internship programs targeted at this population;

2. Working lunch with disability services, career services and other administrators to network and further work on scenario exercises.

3. Interactive workshop designed for college students with disabilities on your campus.  The goals of this presentation can include the following:

Highlight the desire of many major employers to recruit and hire college graduates with disabilities;

Recognition of the fears and concerns students have when thinking about a career, particularly in the areas of disclosure;

Explain self-advocacy and how to develop skills to be more self-aware and have a full understanding of the student's own disability;

Discuss disclosure of a disability and how to request appropriate and reasonable workplace accommodations;

Highlight the basics of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the subsequent Amendments Act;

Promote the benefits of experiential education;

Facilitate networking exercises.

For more information, pricing and scope of consulting, please contact either:

Alan Muir at 865-974-7148 or amuir@cosdonline.org or

Dr. Sarah Helm at 865-974-6860 or shelm1@utk.edu.

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