Search the Web for that special careers opportunity

Disabled students can tap into a wealth of advice and job vacancies, says Stephen Pritchard
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The Independent Online
Information on job opportunities for disabled graduates is now available on the World Wide Web.

Cando, run by Lancaster University careers service, provides job vacancies as well as advice on grants and support. Students and graduates can access the database directly from their computers. The information will also be available to careers services at universities across the country, helping careers advisers to answer specific queries from a disabled person, even if they have not dealt with a similar case before.

Cando was set up with initial funding from Marks & Spencer, through the careers officers' association, Agcas. Last month it received a pounds 240,000 award from the National Lottery. This will allow the database to be expanded into a national resource, and will pay for researchers to compile and enter information on to the pages.

The World Wide Web is the best publishing medium for the information because of its low cost and easy access at universities, says Shelly Wilson, the careers adviser at Lancaster University responsible for graduates with special needs.

Graduates with special needs are more computer-literate than many of their peers, Ms Wilson believes. Many used technology at school or university to help with their studies.

"Disabled students tend to be more technically aware, because they need the equipment to get by," says Ms Wilson.

Graduates and advisers alike are encouraged to send information to the Cando service. "We want everybody to pass information to us," Ms Wilson says. "We will be asking volunteers to be our eyes and ears."

Lancaster University is unusual in having Ms Wilson as a full-time careers adviser for disabled students. Not all universities can afford dedicated special needs experts. With the Cando database, all careers officers will have access to detailed information and job vacancies.

Employers are also finding the service to be a valuable advertising medium. Those that have specific openings for graduates with special needs find the database more effective than either the general or the disability press. The vacancies are currently Cando's most visited section. Graduates who do not have access to the World Wide Web should be able to search the database via careers services. This need not be at the university they attended; all careers services provide reciprocal access for graduates from other institutions who live locally.

Ms Wilson hopes that, in time, job centres and other job-search organisations will also connect to Cando.

Graduates with disabilities are just as eligible for good careers advice as their peers, Ms Wilson says.

"The reason why they came to university was for employment," she says. "That has to be looked at; this is a stab at making a difference."