1999 Conference Proceedings

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APPLICATIONS OF THE INTERNET TO THE EMPLOYMENT PROCESS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Kurt L. Johnson, Ph.D., C.R.C.
Associate Professor and Head
Division of Rehabilitation Counseling
Project Director, U.W. Assistive Technology Resource Center
Internet: kjohnson@u.washington.edu 

Dagmar Amtmann, M.A.
Project Manager
Assistive Technology Resource Center
Internet: dagmara@u.washington.edu 

Thomas Zeiler, MLS
Information Systems Specialist
Assistive Technology Resource Center
Internet: tzeiler@u.washington.edu

University of Washington
Box 357920
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and University Affiliated Program
Seattle, WA 98195-7920
Voice/TTY/Message: (206) 685-4181, FAX (206) 543-4779

The Internet is now widely available to people throughout the U.S. Approximately 30% of households report that they have a computer with Internet access. For people without Internet connections at home, access is often available through the workplace, public schools, libraries, and other venues. The Internet can serve as tool to enhance the employment process for people with functional limitations associated with many disabilities.

Internet as Assistive Technology

With adaptive interfaces, access to information may be greatly enhanced by using the Internet, providing that information has been stored in accessible formats. For example, people with vision disabilities can elect to use large print, synthetic speech, or Braille output to access information on the screen. Speech recognition systems and other adaptive interfaces allow people with limited dexterity to access information without the requirement of handling paper. People who have limitations in mobility and/or who have significant fatigue or lack of endurance may gain considerable efficiency by engaging tasks online rather than in person. The Internet offers significant advantages to people with communication disorders.

For example, individuals who are unable to speak or who have speech which is difficult to understand may use online communication to facilitate a job search. Also, using the Internet may assist people who require additional time to compose their messages, such as persons with some kinds of learning disabilities or for whom English is a second language.

Using the Internet for Career Exploration

Career exploration is an important first step in the job search process. Much of this process can be accomplished using online resources. For example, in the state of Washington, the Washington Occupational Information System ( www.wois.org ) is online and allows users to fill out an 'interest inventory' worksheet, learn about activities associated with various jobs, review labor market and wage information, and link to other employment resources. Authorized users can identify individual job listings and complete applications for employment. Occupational Information Systems are available in all states and are linked to the U.S. Department of Labor. A variety of other resources are available for people exploring careers, as well ( www.usacareers.opm.gov , www.uhs.berkeley.edu/CareerLibrary/links/occup.cfm ).

Informational interviewing gives job seekers a chance to learn more about the "real world" of work by interviewing individuals performing work of interest. Informational interviewing can also be useful in establishing networks for a job search. Informational interviewing can easily be accomplished by email, often with greater efficiency for both parties.

Online support and virtual job clubs may be useful as well. A number of these are available to the general public ( www.careermag.com, www.sftoday.com/enn2/jobcentral.htm ). We and our colleagues have been experimenting with using virtual job clubs to support the employment efforts of people with disabilities, in particular.

Identifying Employment Opportunities Online

Many employment opportunities may be identified using online resources. For example, a number of web sites provide nationwide access to jobs generally ( www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Employment/ ) or specific classes of jobs ( chronicle.com/data/.ads/.links.htm ). In Seattle, local job listings may be found in a variety of places, including the online classified ads from the local paper ( www.seattletimes.com ). State government listings are all online ( www.wa.gov/employ.htm ) and the University of Washington as well as many other employers no longer provide hard copies of employment listings ( www.washington.edu ). Job seekers can target specific employers as well ( www.microsoft.com/jobs/default.htm ). Many employers also allow applicants to apply for jobs online (www.microsoft.com/jobs/default.htm, www.prioritystaffing.com/application.html) and some employers, especially those in high tech industries, require that applicants submit applications online. This process is often to the advantage of people with many kinds of functional limitations.

Working

Job seekers acquire skills by using online resources in their job hunt that will serve them well on the job. Many employees use the Internet and intranets daily as tools in their work. Also, online resources can be helpful in finding bus schedules and getting information about accessible transportation options for getting to work ( transit.metrokc.gov ). Finally, as telecommuting is becoming more common, the Internet can be used to work from home.

Conclusions

The uses of online resources described above clearly can be of value to all job seekers. However, online resources provide a particular advantage for people with disabilities with many kinds of functional limitations by increasing the independence with which people can explore the world of work, identify and apply for employment, and participate in the work place. Job seekers also gain increased computer and Internet skills through this process. It is the responsibility of educators, vocational rehabilitation counselors, advocates, and employment specialists to ensure that they are fluent with the advantages of using online resources in the employment process.

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