Seven School-to-Work Lessons for Students With Disabilities

By Jim Hasse

You are about to make the transition from school to work. At this point, finding a job that is appropriate for your skills and temperament and that provides you with an opportunity to grow in your career is a huge step.

How you take that big step toward independence is a key to building a meaningful career. In fact, I’ve learned that making the transition from school to work is not just one step but a journey, a series of steps which may take years to complete.

Here are seven lessons I’ve learned from my own journey.

Risk-taking. I discovered that the key to developing my career was the willingness to take risks. I didn’t know photography when I got out of college (and didn’t think I could do it with crutches), but I eventually found a way to use a portable tripod (with a camera perched on top of it) as a substitute for one of my crutches to carry out an essential task in my work as a company journalist.

Self-esteem. I found that the foundation for taking such risks is a healthy self-esteem. The self-esteem I have today stems from the positive reinforcement I received from my parents, teachers and mentors. Even with that encouragement, I had difficulties. But I grew from a shy kid to an assertive adult (after many struggles along the way).

Leadership. I learned a healthy sense of self-esteem is a critical element in effective leadership. I wasn’t ready to lead a work team until I felt good about the work I accomplished as an individual. As a perfectionist, it took years for me to realize I was doing good work.

Voice. I became aware that, to be an effective leader, I needed to find my professional voice. After several periods of either melting into the woodwork at the office or being too overly aggressive, I gradually learned how to effectively support senior management people. I provided them with sound advice about how to communicate with employees on the plant floor. That advice was backed by customized, professional communication research I proposed. I won approval of that research from the executive staff because I finally had found my professional voice.

Relevancy. I realized that finding my professional voice advanced my career. I became a vice president and earned certification by the International Association of Business because, over the years, I showed results which mattered to management. I was relevant to the company’s mission (and the CEO’s personal success).

Relationships. I’ve found that, yes, results within a workplace matter when you’re looking for a job and working to hold a job. Always highlight your accomplishments in terms of measureable results.

But, looking back on my career, I also now realize that I’ll be remembered by my boss, my co-workers and those I supervised not so much by what I did or accomplished (which soon became outdated and irrelevant in today’s fast-paced business environment) but by how I did it. It’s how I related to people as individuals who mattered to me because they, as human beings, needed to be treated with dignity and with fairness.

To me, that’s paradoxical. To get a job interview, I needed to clearly and briefly highlight what I had accomplishment in measureable results.

But, once I obtained a job interview, hiring decision makers wanted to know whether I was a team player, whether I had effective interpersonal communication skills and whether I had social intelligence.

And, my prospects for advancement in my career depended in large part on how I interacted with people -- more than the “results” I tried to show as proof of my worth.

Teamwork. There’s plenty of time to grow after you obtain your first job. But, you’ll be steps ahead of your able-bodied competitors in finding a job, if you can find, at an early age, what role you can best play in a team effort.

That’s why volunteering for a service organization or just working as a member of the homecoming committee as well as holding several paid, part-time or full-time jobs while in college is so important. Each work experience gives you an opportunity to discover your “teamwork voice.”

In fact, learning how to take risks, building your self-esteem, flexing your leadership muscles, finding your on-the-job voice, developing your business savvy and building solid relationships with at-work colleagues all prepare you for learning how to effectively serve as a team member.

There’s also another, faster way to discover your teamwork voice.

Allen Fahden and Srinvasan Namakkal studied teamwork for decades. Their Innovate with C.A.R.E. Profile (now called Team Dimensions Profile®) can help you clarify your potential role in a team setting.

According to Allen Fahden and Srinvasan Namakkal, successful team members do the right thing at the right time -- not the same thing at the same time. While team members work together toward a common goal, individuals still must play their individual parts in the process.

Fahden and Namakkal's instrument can help you identify your most natural team role so you can work from your strengths. The Team Dimensions Profile®, a product of Inscape Publishing Inc., a leading provider of DiSC® assessments, is available through authorized distributors of Inscape’s products, including Teambuilding, Inc.,  The Center for Internal Change and  Resolution Management.

Here's a glimpse at the components of Fahden and Namakkal’s original Innovate with C.A.R.E. Profile:


  • Generates fresh ideas and original concepts that often defy generally accepted rules.
  • Is not constrained by fear of failure.
  • Hands off tasks to an Advancer.


  • Recognizes new ideas in the early stages.
  • Chooses the direct and most efficient means to achieve objectives.
  • Hands off tasks to a Refiner.


  • Challenges concepts and ideas, often playing the "devil's advocate," to detect flaws and potential problems.
  • May hand ideas and plans back to an Advancer or a Creator before handing off tasks to Executor.


  • Lays the groundwork for implementation in an orderly, well thought-out manner.
  • Prefers that others take the lead but enjoys the responsibility of final implementation.


  • Monitors how well individual team members are contributing to the team effort.
  • Identifies the need for hand-offs from one role to another.

You often hear a Creator say, "I have an idea," while an Advancer might say, "I hear an idea I like." The Refiner will likely tell you, "I can poke holes in your idea so you can make it better," while the Executor often volunteers to gather the information so the idea can be implemented. The Facilitator on your team is your "deal maker," who is concerned about handing off the team spotlight from one role to another at the right time.

A balanced team (one where the members complement one another) is more likely to achieve breakthrough performance, according to the creators of the Team Dimensions Profile.

Discovering your optimal team role during your college career will give you an opportunity to show prospective employers who are seeking to balance their teams that you have the savvy to help them do just that.

At that point, your ethnicity, gender, sexual preference -- and disability -- will be irrelevant.


Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, ( has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (, New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent ( Jim is founder of, the comprehensive career coaching guide for parenting youngsters seven to 27 years old who have cerebral palsy.