Arts & Culture

Working with learning disabilities post-grad

Mar 15, 2017 Willa McCaffrey-Noviss

With graduation only two months away, it is common for students to be stressed about having a plan for the next step in their lives. However, students with learning disabilities can face additional challenges, particularly in their transition to employment.

Fifth-year commerce and psychology student Sarah MacKinnon reflected on the impact of being diagnosed with learning disabilities in her third year at Mount Allison. “It was so relieving,” said MacKinnon, “but then the stigma [surrounding learning disabilities] started to set in.”

Mackinnon recalled the noticeable difference in her academic performance after gaining the help of tutors and assistive devices like recording pens and extra test writing time, provided by the Meighen Centre. “None of it would have been possible without the Meighen Centre,” MacKinnon said.

The Meighen Centre serves as the main resource for students with learning disabilities at Mt. A. The nationally recognized centre provides students with a range of services, from adaptive software and tutors to assessments and time management and organizational help.

In recognizing the challenges that students with disabilities may face while searching for employment, the Meighen Centre organized a conference last year called “Intersections and Connections.” The conference covered topics ranging from ADHD and life skills training to mental health in the workplace. The conference hosted presenters from organizations like Postsecondary Education, Training, and Labour (PETL), Council of Canadians with Disabilities and Open Sky, as well as Mt. A students.

Additional resources in New Brunswick include the Department of Human Resources and PETL, which have programs to help individuals with disabilities find work. Mt. A also has a Career Centre, with career counselor appointments available through online booking.

Post-grads with learning disabilities must consider whether or not to disclose their disability to potential employers. Izzy Francolini/Argosy

Beyond these services, the Meighen Centre also works as an advocate for many students and defends against stigma by speaking with professors and advocating for their right to accommodations. “Now that I’m graduating, I’m going to be separating from the Meighen Centre,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t know if I can get accommodations [at places of future employment] or if they will be the right accommodations.”

“The fact that an individual has a disability may never even come up [in a job interview], because it may not impact their work,” said Disability Services Advisor Matt Kalichuk, who was heavily involved in the event’s organization. “But for some, there might be additional factors that come to play.” Kalichuk gave an example of deciding whether or not to disclose and when to disclose a disability to a prospective employer as a common challenge for students with learning disabilities.

MacKinnon echoed that the decision of whether or not to disclose her disability was a huge part of the employment search process. “My big battle is always around [whether] I disclose it [and] is it necessary,” said MacKinnon, citing that researching various company values as well as provincial disability policies is a way to help navigate this decision.

Although there are no plans in place to continue the conference, Kalichuk is currently working on a manual to disseminate information from the event with topics such as knowing your rights and how workplace accommodations work.

Kalichuk advised graduating students with learning disabilities not to lose hope if it takes a while to find the right job.

“Graduates shouldn’t view taking a less-than-ideal job after graduation as a failure,” wrote Kalichuk in an email. “Instead, [they should] view it as an opportunity to gain the experience that [they] will need to find [their] ideal job when the opportunity arises.”

When asked what advice she would give graduates with learning disabilities who are looking for work, MacKinnon advised students to be confident in their unique ways of learning. “My piece of advice is to stop trying to make yourself work for the world,” said MacKinnon. “Allow yourself and your mind to learn in the way it’s supposed to.”