Career Development and People with Disabilities:
Understanding Disability First!

Welcome to this course on “Understanding Disability First”, the first of the courses on career development and people with disabilities.

For career development professionals in any setting, having some familiarity with disability law; what is a disability, guidelines on disability etiquette and categories of disabilities should prove helpful. Why? In the United States, the 2010 census documents that there are 54 million people in the US with a disability. This represents 19 percent of our civilian non-institutionalized population. Working in many diverse settings, as career development professionals, we are sure to meet and work with someone with a disability. Being informed about the history and law that protects persons with disabilities will guide and empower us in the work we do.

Our course will take us through some vital resources of the Federal Government. We will take a look at the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, truly landmark Civil Rights legislation which has withstood countless tests of the courts. Many of us are familiar with Section 504-Part D and E, which have to do with K – 12 and higher education, respectively. We will take a look at the ADA and more recently look at the ADAAA, because it is the ADAAA which so dramatically expanded the definition about what is a disability.

Whether you’re a private practitioner, a college or university professional, whether you are employed in workforce development or in our elementary or secondary education systems, this information is essential for serving the career development needs of all individuals. So take a look at this video to see what’s in store.

Course Objectives

At the conclusion of this course you will be able to:

  • Identify categories of disabilities
  • Become familiar with famous people, worldwide, who are challenged because of a disability
  • Use disability etiquette [eg. Mary is not learning disabled; rather, Mary is a student with a learning disability.]
  • Understand the history of the disability law and elements thereof.
  • Identify the difference between disability and handicap.
  • Identify and use resources available to career practitioners when working with individuals with disabilities.

This course has nine major parts with each part related to the learning objectives stated above. As you move through each part, you will be asked to read information, view videos, and answer questions on your worksheet. You have 30 days to complete the course.

Specific directions to view a video, read an article, or answer questions are listed in red.

Successful completion of this course will earn you 5 clock hours for your professional development. You have 30 days to complete the requirements. The best way to assure completion is to set aside 1-2 blocks of time when you can fully concentrate on the course requirements. Just as a reminder, the materials in this course are copyrighted and are available for your use in the course only.

Download the worksheet now on your computer and complete the items as you go through the course. Worksheet

When you have completed the worksheet, send it to course author/instructor Malka Edelman as noted at the end of the course. She will review your worksheet and recommend that you be issued a certificate of completion with the associated clock hours.

You will be asked to complete an evaluation at the end of the course. One of the questions relates to the time it took you to complete the course requirements. Please be sure and keep track of the time so that we have an accurate reflection of the workload.

We hope you learn from the course and enjoy it as well so let’s get started.


Some time ago I said to someone with whom I work, “you have to walk one day in the life of a person with a disability, or the parents of that person, and then you would understand why “NO” can never be part of your vocabulary. For so many years, individuals with disabilities were “stuck” in their homes with no possibilities to be productive members of society. They wanted to work, but had no way out. We lived in a world, for a very long time, that said “any disability = limited intelligence”. We just did not know.

Our first step to working with persons with disability is to understand a bit of the history from a movement perspective. We will learn a bit about disability etiquette. Look at who are some very famous people we all know something about, but may not know this other part of them. It might help to explain their “uniqueness”.

We’ll take a look at some facts and figures about persons with disabilities in the United States.

You will get some very useful links as career development professionals to resources to guide your counseling and facilitation.

In one class we can’t learn everything. We do know that everyone is unique. No matter what disability you identify, there is a very wide scale of differences between each of those people with that disability title.

Famous People with Disabilties

A look at the following video will surprise you. Perhaps it makes us realize that our lives should be about that which we can do, not what we can’t. There are some extraordinary people who have overcome some exceptional challenges.

Watch this video or view it below.

 What did you think as you viewed this video about these extraordinary people who have accomplished so much? How might this video be used in your training, your teaching, your family? It gives pause to think. With this in mind, move on to Part 2.

20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: July 26

This is the briefest of articles that addresses some important data about Americans with disabilities. The data are stark and real and will provide some thoughtful reflection about the challenges for individuals with disabilities in the United States who want only to take an active role in society next to their neighbors.

There are so many people in the United States that have a disability that adversely impacts their ability to be fully active citizens and workers in their communities.

READ this article and answer questions 1-3 on your worksheet.

History of Disability

Now that you have read the brief census report to put into some perspective the numbers of people there are in the US with disabilities, let’s move on to the history of the disability movement.

Think about what we all know about “movements” and “causes”. They typically evolve over time. A “movement” isn’t one person but may begin with one person or a handful of people and then grows and grows over time. The landmark event of July 1990, the signing of the ADA, was years in coming. For centuries the communities of the US, at large, responded to persons with disabilities with the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. People who mobilized in wheelchairs had no way to get from street to another. Persons with vision loss walked the streets at their own peril. No safety measures were in place for them. If you had specific learning disability, like dyslexia, minimal efforts were made to accommodate you in the workplace. It took a lot of people over a long period of time to effect a change.

In this section you will read an article to learn and understand about the disability rights movement that took shape in our country as a civil rights movement and grew.

Here are the opening lines of this article:

The history of the ADA did not begin on July 26th, 1990 at the signing ceremony at the White House. It did not begin in 1988 when the first ADA was introduced to Congress. The ADA story began a long time ago in cities and towns throughout the United States when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded that excluded them from their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children. READ on!

To get a deeper understanding of the history READ this document.

(Permission granted to reprint – Susan Henderson – Executive Director, DREDF)

Complete questions 4 -8 and then go on to Part 4.

What Does it Feel Like to Have a Disability

Now that we have some perspective on the history of the disability rights movement, let’s take a few minutes to view a video that provides a personal perspective.

There are so many challenges at every turn. Please take 3 minutes to look at the briefest of videos that asks us, “to look thru my eyes”. We are asked to look at the world through the eyes of so many different people.

Watch this  video here or view it below. 

This next video provides you the opportunity for even greater insight to the thoughts and challenges of individuals with disabilities as they  pursue work and life. 

Disability Awareness Terminology Guide

We have, so far, viewed a video of famous people with disabilities, who in their lifetimes’ achieved greatness even with some very challenging disabilities. We collected some data on the numbers of individuals with disabilities in our country. The number of persons with disabilities we expect will surely grow as our population grows older.

We read about the beginnings of the disability rights movement. We watched a brief video that asked the question, “What does it feel like to have a disability?”

The next video you will view provides a terminology guide we can use when talking to or about people with disabilities. This video is part of broader disability awareness training. Learning something about disability etiquette gives us a framework on how to approach people with disabilities. Videos like this one were initially created to challenge social conventions rather than to reinforce them. Most disability etiquette guidelines seem to be predicated on a simple dictate: “Do not assume…” They are written to address real and perceived shortcomings in how society as a whole treats people with disabilities.

Watch this video here.

Answer questions 9-13 on your worksheet.

ADA Basics and Beyond

Now that we have viewed the video about appropriate disability related terminology, we hopeful have a more clear understanding about how to approach a person with a disability. It is time to learn about some resources that can help us in our work with persons with disabilities.

One of the best resources is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). It is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy [ODEP]. JAN’s website provides countless links to many valuable resources regarding employment and disability.

Originally, JAN was just the “go to” place for an employer to find out what was the appropriate accommodation for a specific disability. By itself, that was fantastic. If you look at the site today, you will discover resources for individuals with disabilities, employers, employees, and others. It is very possible that you might be working with a client, providing career counseling services, and the client has onset of Multiple Sclerosis. The progressive nature of this disease, MS, will most likely require accommodations in the workplace.  JAN would be one excellent resource to help you figure out the next steps. Similar advice is given for the multiple disabilities faced by persons.

Be sure you visit this site —

Next we are going to focus on a reading, ADA Basics and Beyond.

This subject becomes very important to us to understand, because we all know someone with some disabling condition. We have a friend, cousin, a neighbor, a colleague, a coworker and/or client who probably has some disability that currenlty impacts or may impact one or more “major life activities.” It is not for us to feel badly, send regards, and such, but with a better understanding of the law, we can help, have a positive impact on that individuals life and make a difference.

READ this document and answer question 14-23.

Disability Etiquette

In this section of the course we will learn about disability etiquette by watching a video. The video addresses the subject of appropriate etiquette when working with persons with disabilities. The video will help you begin to understand the many challenges faced by our friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers with disabilities. What is an acceptable term to use? What is not acceptable?

As a career services provider, you may want to think about proper etiquette and its’ use in our society. Career centers often host etiquette lunches/dinners for upcoming graduates before they go on job interviews. Why? Many don’t know the proper etiquette at a formal table setting. Students and clients just don’t know. We need to prepare them for work and workplace dinners with bosses and clients.

For those of us 50 and older, we might remember when proper etiquette for girls/women was to curtsy? No one seems to do this anymore in our country. It certainly isn’t the norm. Etiquette guidelines evolve over time. I didn’t think that beginning an email to a professor with the salutation, “Hey, Professor” would be considered proper etiquette but this seems to be acceptable today.

When working with persons with disabilities it is important to be respectful and properly helpful to them, but not go overboard.

This video will highlight some issues that are important.To be sure, this video will give pause to us all.

View the here or below.

Guide to Disability Rights Laws

We covered a lot of ground so far. We have viewed a number of videos that were selected to help us to connect to our understanding about disability etiquette and terminology and when we looked at the first video, we might have been taken aback by some of the famous people on that video and the disabilities that some of them had.

We have done some reading which provided us a grounding in some of the disability issues that abound. In the next two sections, parts eight and nine, we’ll be reading to understanding the language of the disability rights legislation and finally, the ADAAA.

In this part of the course we will read how the ADA really attempts to fill in the gaps of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehab Act of 1973 was groundbreaking and timely when it passed in Congress. It came on the heels of so much civil rights legislation of that time.

Why is this important? In our country, where we place so much value on work, people with disabilities, want a share in that American experience. They want to get up each day and be gainfully employed. They want to pay taxes and have a shot at the American dream. If someone can’t use the telephone, can’t get on an airplane, can’t take a bus, can’t rent an apartment, can’t have access to education and/or training, then how will he/she be able get a job? We, as career professionals, want to provide resources and even answers, to any client or student we may have even if he/she has a disability.

You will read very similar concepts throughout the years of disability rights legislation. “reasonable accommodations” and “least restrictive environment” and “substantially limited in a major life activity” are key. The more that we know, the better prepared we are to work with all of our constituencies.

READ this document and answer questions 24-40 on your worksheet.

ADA Ammendment Act of 2008

In 2008, the ADA was revised. Probably the biggest change involved what is considered a disability. Read the section here, “Background” which I have copied from the article.


“On January 1, 2009, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 went into effect, making some major changes to the way the definition of disability was interpreted in the past. The changes apply to both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Very few people argue that these changes were not needed – the courts had interpreted the definition of disability so narrowly that hardly anyone could meet it – but the challenge is understanding what the changes are and who is covered as of January 1, 2009.”

According to Congress, the ADAAA was to carry out the ADA’s objectives for the elimination of discrimination based on disability. Here is a VERY important point! If hardly anyone was covered under the ADA, then hardly anyone was actually being protected from discrimination. So, in the ADAAA, Congress fixed the definition of disability to cover more people and as a result, prevent more on discrimination. That means that employers should no longer be focusing so much on who has a disability, but instead should be focusing on making accommodations and avoiding discrimination.

In the article you will read, you will learn how the ADAAA filled in the gaps that were left in the definitions of disability by the ADA. Once again, it is important to understand that the purpose was to redirect the focus from defining a disability, to providing accommodations.

READ this document and answer questions 41-65 on your worksheet.

Congratulations on completing this course!

Send your completed worksheet to Malka Edelman  for review.

Complete the course  evaluation. 

Once your worksheet has been reviewed and is satisfactory, you will be sent the certificate of completion with the CEU clock hours.