New Federal Internship Program Taps Potential of Young Members of the Disability Community

WASHINGTON D.C., Feb. 18, 2003 — Finding a job is never easy in a tough economy, but try to imagine the

crushing challenge if the unemployment rate for your particular

personal demographic is over 65 percent.

This isn’t

a tale of the Great Depression. It’s the cold statistic – and colder reality – faced every day by the more than 50 million disabled Americans. According to recent Harris Polls, of the approximately 25 million people with disabilities who are of employable age in the U.S.,

only one in three is gainfully employed, although 78 percent say they would like to be working.

To help change these daunting numbers for Americans with disabilities, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Microsoft have teamed to offer a new Federal Internship Program that will provide 10 college students with disabilities a paid summer internships working in IT for one of several participating agencies of the U.S. government.

“This is a unique program because it’s focused on people with disabilities,” says Mariana Nork, senior vice president for development and communications for AAPD. “This program provides opportunities for the interns, but it is also a great chance for the participating public agencies to learn more about people with disabilities and to realize that there’s a wide pool of untapped talent in the disabled community.”

For the past five years, Microsoft has donated approximately US$5.5 million in cash and software to improve the lives of people with disabilities through technology. Almost a year ago, the Community Affairs and Accessible Technology groups at Microsoft decided to do something even more proactive by developing a program that would provide career opportunities in IT for people with disabilities.

The two Microsoft groups began talking with members of the disability community to determine how best to accomplish this goal. Based on the input they received, an IT internship program was deemed the best course.

This began a nine-month process to develop the program’s mission, scope and goals. After conducting a request-for-proposal process to find an organization to administer the program, Microsoft partnered with AAPD, which has extensive experience working with the disability community and developing and administering similar programs.

The result: Microsoft and AAPD developed a two-year program to provide 25 paid IT internships to college students with disabilities in ten different federal agencies, Microsoft is providing $325,000 to fund the program, and AAPD is overseeing the program’s administration.

The program will begin this summer in Washington, D.C., The grant will be used to fund the paid internships, which provide each student with a stipend, free accessible housing and transportation, and any costs related to arranging special worksite accommodations that may be necessary. The program is open to any college or university student who has a disability and has demonstrated an interest in a career in information technology.

The deadline for application submissions is mid-March. Interns will be selected through an application and interview process with the input of a national advisory committee comprised of members of the disability community who also have government internship expertise. Summer 2003 interns will be selected in April, with the internships to commence in late-May.

Established in 1995, the AAPD is the largest cross-disability membership organization in the country, with over 40,000 members. AAPD’s mission is the political and economic empowerment of the more than 56 million people in the United States living with disabilities.

The AAPD provides the nation’s disability community with mentoring and career counseling, leadership development and information on political issues affecting disabled Americans. The AAPD also provides several benefits and services specifically for its members (membership dues are $8 annually), including access to a discounted mail-order prescription drug program, loan programs to provide financing for items like customized vehicles, life insurance, and car rental discounts.

Nork says the new Federal Internship Program was designed to be competitive with other internship options for the nation’s top students. To be competitive, students must have already expressed an interest in some aspect of technology, whether it be general IT, Web development, IT policy issues and the like.

Though these internships offer students a great opportunity, Nork says she thinks the federal agencies hosting the interns will get as much from the experience as some of the interns.

“Many employers’ concerns about hiring disabled workers are very old school,” says Nork. “They don’t realize that technology and other reasonable accommodations are available that can enable a person with a disability to work just as efficiently as a non-disabled person. People with disabilities who seek employment must be given the same opportunities as all job seekers in this country.”

Nork says technology has enabled many new employment scenarios for disabled people. For instance, technology has evolved significantly to allow blind and deaf people to use computers to communicate and work in offices. New designs make it easier for wheelchair users to maneuver in small spaces and be self-propelled. And automotive companies have developed new designs that allow disabled people to transport themselves to and from work much more easily.

Ten different federal agencies are participating in the 2003 program, including the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“This Administration recognizes that America cannot afford to leave anyone behind as we enter the 21st Century. We must give every American the chance to reach their full potential in life, and particularly in the workforce,”
explains W. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary Of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.
“This new internship program gives students with disabilities valuable exposure to available career IT opportunities in the federal government, while giving all participants a chance to learn first hand that people with disabilities have truly incredible abilities – abilities that can be invaluable in today’s economy.”

Nork says it wasn’t difficult to find willing participants in the program. “The word about the program spread like wildfire,” says Nork. “Capitol Hill historically is very good about offering diverse internships, but that hasn’t always included those with disabilities. Thanks to this collaboration with Microsoft, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are providing this very unique opportunity specifically for disabled students with disabilities.””

During the past five years, Microsoft has donated approximately $5.5 million in cash and software to disability organizations and initiatives. Bruce Brooks, Director of Community Affairs for Microsoft, says the program is a great way to expose an untapped resource in the U.S. economy.

“We’re proud to support an internship program that will provide the participants with a great experience to help them reach their career goals,” says Brooks. “But, almost as important, this program can help show the private and public sectors the tremendous potential that lies in the disability community.”

Related Posts