Opening Doors for Students with Disabilities
Opportunities for an underrepresented group
by TaKeisha Bobbitt on June 29, 2014
Internships are invaluable professional development tools and can open doors that education alone cannot. Every summer, college students from around the country descend upon Washington, D.C., vying for internship experiences through a competitive selection process. Many individuals use these entry-level opportunities to make contacts and explore opportunities for full-time employment after graduation.
Unfortunately, students with disabilities are often underrepresented in the pool of new interns filling spaces in programs across the nation’s capital. The American Association of People with Disabilities internship program was designed to address this gap, providing interns with disabilities hands-on work experience and mentoring and preparing them to succeed in the workforce. It offers undergraduate, graduate and law school students, along with recent graduates with disabilities, a 10-week work experience and living stipend for the summer.
Each summer, anywhere from 10-30 interns participate. In the preceding months, they undergo a rigorous application and selection process, which includes submission of a resume, essay questions and letters of reference. Finalists also participate in a minimum of two interview sessions. During this stage, they meet with panels of community and business leaders who assess their leadership skills and potential. Each phase of the process connects with necessary professional development skills that will help applicants during their career journey.
AAPD’s internship program has evolved since its inception in 2002. What began as a congressional internship program for two individuals has grown to one that hosted 30 interns in 2013. Today, AAPD still places students in congressional offices, but also federal agencies, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations, based on their interests and career goals.
As a result, interns build a network of professional resources in the DC area. Just as importantly, they establish a nationwide network based on their interaction and friendships with current and former interns. Today, AAPD’s program has more than 200 alumni, many of whom give back to the program in various ways. Some serve as mentors to new participants, while others participate in or host workshops for current interns. This summer we even have past interns, who are currently working full-time, reaching back to host new interns for the summer in their organization and bringing the experience full circle.
The growth and learning provided by the internship program is not solely reserved for interns, however. Everyone involved with the program, from AAPD staff to employers, are bound to discover something new through the experience. It is important that our employers end their summer with the understanding that people with disabilities have a place within their organization and are an untapped talent source.
Spreading this message is a key goal of AAPD, as advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities is one of the organization’s key policy priorities. Reflecting this, AAPD is proud to be a founding member in the Campaign for Disability Employment, a multi-organization collaborative, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, which works to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
AAPD certainly expects positive outcomes from its 2014 interns, who arrived on June 2nd and represent a diverse range of skills and interests. Their summer started with a week of orientation activities, including a briefing on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities co-hosted by the United States International Council on Disabilities, and a disability history presentation spanning more than 100 years. Then, on June 9, they hit the ground running, ready to contribute their skills and talents to diverse workplaces in and around Washington, D.C.
Locally, Connecticut has an active group of HR professionals and others from a wide variety of backgrounds all interested in increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The CT Business Leadership Network, CT BLN, has a vibrant network through which education, networking, best practices, and even summer internships all may be explored. CBIA has been a active partner in CT BLN’s efforts, so feel free to contact CT BLN directly, or through Mark Soycher, HR Counsel at CBIA.
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