Opinion: Students with disabilities find success and difficulties with on-campus employment

Many job opportunities at the UI are helpful for students with disabilities, but challenges still exist.


Hannah Kinson

Rally attendees hold signs and listen to speakers on the Pentacrest on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness organized this rally to speak about the injustice that students with disabilities face on campus. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan)

Ally Pronina, Columnist

On-campus employment is a part of the lives of many college students. The University of Iowa is no different and provides plenty of opportunities for its students to work various jobs. Many of these students also have disabilities, which can complicate working on campus.

Yael Feder, a UI student with ADHD, prepares pizzas at the Union Station food court. Feder said this work is relatively easy for her because it is a fast, one-step process. She also works the cash register, where things can become more difficult.

“Sometimes I can’t scan the item right away because of coordination, especially with the cardboard items,” Feder said. “When there’s a long line of people from the store to the register, it gets scary, because I am worried they will get impatient.”

Feder said customers can make her job easier by being considerate. This is something which helps others with disabilities who have jobs.

Before getting impatient with workers, remember they may have a valid reason, namely a disability for taking longer to accomplish a task. Even in professional settings, understanding everyone is different is a good practice, regardless of disability.

“Every supervisor should have a crash course in all forms of neurodiversity, so that way if a student says that they have ADHD, it will make things easier for that supervisor, because they will know how to handle any situation stemming from that and be more understanding if the student needs a break,” Feder said.

Information on what symptoms student employees with a particular disability have and what accommodations they need would go a long way in improving the conditions for these workers.

Another UI student, Camille Montilino, worked at Hillcrest Dining Hall. She recently quit after going to treatment for anorexia. She said being around food sparked anxiety, making her uncomfortable. When working the register, she was fine until her disability became involved.

“At first when I came back, it was OK. I was fresh out of treatment,” Montilino said. “Then I got sick in October, and coming back was jarring.”

Students with disabilities can talk to others who have the same condition. Montilino said living with an eating disorder made working at a dining hall much more difficult. Likewise, the simple tasks such as making pizzas are good for Feder considering her ADHD.

Neither Montilino nor Feder mentioned the disability to their employers after being hired. While this is can be a personal topic, students should be able to communicate with employers about accommodations, like only working at a cash register and having a list of where items are. Providing accommodations is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Student Disability Services can give students advice on what on-campus employment opportunities would be good for their skill set. On-campus employment gives students with disabilities skills needed for getting jobs in the real world, part of what college is about.

“Lack of proper job training does play into why many people with disabilities do not have jobs,” she said. “I would assume they are nervous to be around people who are different from them due to a history of unnecessary judgement. If we don’t get a résumé down now, how are we going to get our dream jobs?”

Employment is a major part of inclusivity at the UI of students with disabilities. Not only does it provide them with a way to make money while in school, it helps prepare them for life after graduation. It’s up to all of us to make sure everyone feels welcome on our campus, and that includes student employees.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.