North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Tuesday con­vened experts from industry and acad­emia to dis­cuss the chal­lenges employers face and best prac­tices for hiring people with dis­abil­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly col­lege stu­dents and recent graduates.

Throughout the day, pan­elists at the employer round­table noted that col­lege grad­u­ates with dis­abil­i­ties con­tinue to be under­rep­re­sented in the work­force, and that employers, advo­cates, uni­ver­si­ties, and people with dis­abil­i­ties must work together to increase their can­di­dacy for employ­ment and job retention.

The event was held in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater. Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Coop­er­a­tive Edu­ca­tion and Career Devel­op­ment pre­sented the event in part­ner­ship with the university’s Dis­ability Resource Center. Many of the employers on hand par­tic­i­pate in the university’s sig­na­ture co-​​op pro­gram, through which stu­dents inte­grate their rig­orous class­room learning with real-​​world work experience.

We feel it is impor­tant for us to bring our co-​​op employers together and dis­cuss topics that are crit­i­cally impor­tant to both sides of the house,” said Maria Stein, asso­ciate vice pres­i­dent of coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion and career devel­op­ment. “Working with stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties is hugely important.”

A U.S. Census Bureau report last year noted that indi­vid­uals with dis­abil­i­ties are less likely to be employed than those without dis­abil­i­ties, and that people with dis­abil­i­ties who were employed typ­i­cally held jobs with lower earn­ings than their col­leagues. Overall, indi­vid­uals with dis­abil­i­ties accounted for 6 per­cent of the civilian labor force.

Keynote speaker Alan Muir, exec­u­tive director and co-​​founder of Career Oppor­tu­ni­ties for Stu­dents with Dis­abil­i­ties, noted 10.8 per­cent of col­lege grad­u­ates who have dis­closed a dis­ability are unem­ployed and 52.4 per­cent are under­em­ployed. The orga­ni­za­tion, housed at the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee, is com­prised of more than 600 col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties and more than 500 employers nationwide.

There is a lot of hunger, a lot of interest, and a desire to work,” Muir said. “So it’s just a matter of get­ting the oppor­tu­ni­ties to those par­tic­ular individuals.”

Muir and the event’s other speakers talked at length about the impor­tance of trying to get stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties to self-​​identify with their dis­ability because it can ben­efit both them and their per­spec­tive employer during the hiring process. Muir

There are a lot of com­pa­nies who have not thought about this before, who have not par­tic­i­pated in this market of hiring col­lege grad­u­ates with dis­abil­i­ties that now are,” Muir said. “Self-​​ID is great because it expands the field of candidates.”

He also stressed that at uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, dis­ability cen­ters and career ser­vices depart­ments need to have a strong relationship.

During a panel dis­cus­sion, employers and dis­ability hiring spe­cial­ists agreed that edu­cating exec­u­tives, hiring man­agers, and human resource staff is an impor­tant step to ensuring that people with dis­abil­i­ties are not excluded from appli­cant pools.

Erika Faulkner, lead of human resources oper­a­tions for DePuy Syn­thes, a part of Johnson & Johnson, said employers mustn’t wait to gather best prac­tices for hiring people with dis­abil­i­ties. “You just have to go for it,” Faulkner said, “and you have to be willing to learn.”

Marci Shaffer, man­ager of career devel­op­ment for the young adult intern­ship pro­gram Aspire, said employers need to under­stand it’s about changing how they view all their employees. “In many ways what we are talking about are your diver­sity ini­tia­tives,” Shaffer said.

At North­eastern, the Dis­ability Resource Center works closely with the university’s co-​​op and career ser­vices offices to help advo­cate for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties as they pre­pare to enter the job market. The center seeks out oppor­tu­ni­ties for these stu­dents and also col­lects per­for­mance feed­back from co-​​op employers.

The Dis­ability Resource Center has really become a model that is looked upon nation­ally for advice and counsel,” noted Veronica Porter, asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Sci­ence.