National survey gives insight into college-to-work experiences of recent college graduates

June 03, 2020

EAST HANOVER, NJ - June 3, 2020 - Kessler Foundation released the results of the first national survey of college graduates with disabilities coming of age under the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law 30 years ago on July 26, 1990. The 2020 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey: Recent College Graduates is the third in a groundbreaking series of surveys aimed at gaining detailed information on the ways people with disabilities achieve inclusion in the workplace.

Results of the 2020 Survey, which was commissioned by Kessler Foundation and implemented by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), were presented to a national audience of stakeholders via a live Zoom webinar on June 3. The webinar, "The ADA Generation: New Perspectives on Employment and College Graduates with Disabilities," featured Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, Rodger DeRose, John O'Neill, PhD, and Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, from Kessler Foundation, and Kimberly Phillips, PhD, and Andrew Houtenville, PhD, from UNH-IOD.

A pre-screened national sample of 4,738 adults completed the survey, half of whom had at least one disability, and half without disabilities. All respondents were aged 20 to 35 and had graduated from college in the past five years with an associate's degree or higher. UNH-IOD contracted with Qualtrics to conduct the online Survey, which elicited details of their experiences in higher education and employment history since graduation.

Respondents supplied information on the types of schools they attended, their programs of study, engagement with student services, and career preparation activities. They also described their employment experiences during college and after graduation, barriers encountered looking for work, whether their work related to their field of study, their current working arrangements, and job satisfaction. Their responses provide an initial view of employment outcomes for the first generation to access higher education in the post ADA age.

Recent college graduates with disabilities were as likely to be employed as their peers without disabilities, according to the Survey, with 90 percent of each group holding jobs after college. "This Survey clearly suggests that higher education pays off for people with disabilities," said Dr. Phillips, project director for the Survey. For all recent graduates, preparing for careers by engaging in internships, paid employment, and career counseling services correlated positively with working after graduation. "Students with disabilities were just as likely to engage in these activities, and benefit from them, as their peers without disabilities," reported Dr. Phillips.

The findings reflect the pathways that have opened for people with disabilities since the ADA, according to Dr. O'Neill, director of the Foundation's Center for Employment and Disability Research, and provide direction for youth with disabilities and their families, and the counselors, educators, and therapists dedicated to supporting them as they pursue careers and economic independence. "We can confidently say that education makes a difference," Dr. O'Neill remarked, "and that taking advantage of academic support services during college is important, as well as participating in hands-on work experience. Students who work, volunteer, and do internships increase their chances for post-college employment."

The Survey findings counter traditional viewpoints about the potential for young people with disabilities. "Our surveys give voice to people with disabilities, dispelling many of the myths about their participation in higher education and the workplace," asserted Katz, senior VP of Grants and Communications at Kessler Foundation. "Our 2015 survey showed that the majority of people with disabilities are striving to work, dispelling the myth that they are unwilling or unable to work. Our 2017 survey showed that the majority of employers are striving for more inclusive workplaces, dispelling the myth that opportunities are few for jobseekers with disabilities. Now, with our 2020 survey, we can lay to rest more myths about people with disabilities - that college isn't a good choice for them, that they cannot perform as well as their peers, that they won't find jobs after graduation."

The Survey findings can also guide decision making made more complicated by the COVID economy. Encouraging transition-age students with disabilities to pursue higher education is solid advice, according to Katz, especially in an environment of widespread unemployment. "From the survey, we learned that community colleges were more likely to be the point of entry for students with disabilities, who were also more likely to take courses at community colleges during high school. These are among the lessons learned from the ADA Generation that will apply to future generations striving to navigate from high school to college to work."

Visit for the recorded Webinar, Executive Summary and Main Findings, presentation slides, and FAQs.
Find our previous surveys below:

2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment & Disability Survey:

2017 Kessler Foundation National Employment & Disability Survey: Supervisor Perspectives:

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. Kessler Foundation and UNH issue National Trends in Disability Employment (#nTIDE), a custom monthly report that compares employment data for people with and without disabilities. Learn more by visiting

Press contact

Carolann Murphy, 201-803-0572,

Kessler Foundation

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