Students and Alumni with Disabilities

Western Washington University’s Career Services Center provides a full range of tools and resources to assist students and alumni in any stage of the career planning process. The first step in any career search is to reflect on what is most important to you and how your personal identity connects to your career decisions. ​

​We provide a supportive and nonjudgmental environment where all students and alumni can ask questions and have conversations about their next steps in the career development process. The resources and information below are intended to help you make informed decisions about your career plans. ​

Frequently Asked Questions

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination.  ​

​As it pertains to career, the ADA:   ​

  • ​Helps people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities. ​
  • Applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and all state and local government agencies regardless of the number of employees. ​
  • Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do the job without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense). ​
  • Defines disability, establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, and addresses medical examinations and inquiries. ​
  • Regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  ​

​It is important to note that while you may qualify as being disabled under the ADA, it does not guarantee employment. You must meet the following criteria to be protected from employment discrimination: ​

  • ​You must be qualified for the job you are applying for and meet the employer’s requirements for the position related to skills, education, experience, and other job-related requirements. ​
  • You must be able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. These ‘essential functions’ are often what are listed as the responsibilities or job duties in a typical job announcement. 
  • Engaging in recruiting practices that discriminate against job seekers with disabilities. ​
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for a known disability during the interview process or on the job. ​
  • Asking applicants questions that would likely reveal an applicant’s disability prior to making a job offer. ​
  • Requiring applicants to undergo a medical exam prior to making a job offer. 

You do NOT have to disclose at any point in the process. This decision is entirely up to you and how comfortable you feel disclosing your disability.  If you do choose to disclose, there are multiple opportunities to do so:  ​

  • ​In your application documents (i.e. resume, cover letter, personal statement) ​
  • When contacted for an interview (if accommodations are needed during the interview process) ​
  • During the interview ​
  • After the interview (either before the offer or after the offer and before you accept) ​
  • Once you start the job ​

It is very common to see a question somewhere on an application page for a state or federal organization asking you to disclose your disability status. Many state and federal government organizations (Western included) must prove that approximately 7% of their workforce qualifies as disabled to obtain federal funding. This information is often kept on hand for data purposes but is anonymous and does not get passed along to hiring managers.  ​

We are here to help with this process! Feel free to schedule an appointment to talk to someone about which option might be best for you.  ​

If you decide to disclose, below are some details to include: ​

  • A brief description of your disability ​
  • Avoid using clinical or technical terms that can be confusing and intimidating. You do not need to thoroughly discuss your diagnosis. ​
  • An emphasis on your job-related skills and abilities ​
    • You want to convey the message that you’re a qualified candidate with great skills who also happens to have a disability, rather than focusing just on your disability. ​
  • A description of the functional limitations related to your disability that may interfere with your job performance. ​
  • Suggestions for accommodations 

“I have (preferred term for your disability). I can perform the essential functions of this job and bring (list of key skills/abilities). ​There are times when (indicate functional limitations) might interfere with my ability to (the duties you may have difficulty performing). It’s helpful if I have (specific accommodations you need).” ​

This is considered Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and often is only available to a Human Resources (HR) manager. The HR Manager may let the people hiring know you have an accommodation but cannot disclose specific information about the request. ​

​If you’ve been asked about a disability as part of an application process for a state or federal government position, this information is often kept on hand for data purposes but is anonymous and does not get passed along to hiring managers.  ​

Employers are prohibited from asking questions that will likely expose an applicant’s disability prior to making an employment offer. ​

The following are examples of illegal interview questions: ​

  • Are you disabled? / Do you have a medical condition? / Have you ever been on disability leave? ​
  • How severe is your disability? / What is your prognosis? ​

Responding to an inappropriate interview question can be difficult. Consider the intent of the question and respond in a way that addresses the question’s true objective. ​

  • Interviewer: Are you disabled? ​
  • Your Response: If you are wondering about my ability to perform the essential duties of this job, I can assure you I’m capable of performing the essential functions related to this position. ​

Requesting reasonable accommodations can help you perform your job to the best of your abilities once you are in an internship or job. Requesting accommodation is incredibly personalized, both for the person requesting, and for the organization. It often requires some form of medical proof (not of the disability, but that you are working with a medical professional) and some type of negotiation with your manager and appropriate human resources office. ​

For more information, you can check out the following resources on how to request accommodations:  ​

  • Examine the company website carefully: ​
    •  Is there an ADA or diversity-related statement?  ​
    •  Do the company’s mission and values align with your own? ​
    • Is there an active affinity group? ​
  • Connect with WWU alumni who may be current or former employees or other students who have interned there to get an in-depth look at the work culture. You may find LinkedIn helpful in identifying contacts. ​
  • Research employee reviews of the company on Glassdoor. ​
  • Review partners of Lime Connect, a nonprofit that works with leading employers who value the talent and strengths of employees with disabilities. ​
  • Check out Disability IN: to review disability inclusion for various businesses. The Disability Equality Index Report under “Resources” is a great starting point. ​
  • Gain more information about the hiring process from the organization, a recruiter, or hiring manager. ​
  • Can you ask to see the work environment or workspace during or after the interview process? 

Can’t find what you’re looking for?​

Please let us know what resources and information would be helpful to support you in your career planning and preparation by completing this form.​

Interested in a tailored presentation or workshop?​

A member of the Career Services Center team can provide a workshop or presentation for your student club!​ Complete this Presentation Request Form to find out more! ​