WID Releases First of Its Kind Findings: Students with Disabilities & Internships

For Immediate Release

Berkeley, CA, USA–The World Institute on Disability, the lead partner in the California Consortium’s Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy’s ADD US IN grant, releases a five-year body of field research from the Consortium’s model “Disability Inclusive – Diversity smALL Business Initiative.”

Several different groups joined forces to recruit small businesses, in addition to veterans and college and university students with disabilities for summer internships. These groups were the Consortium’s business partner National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce; the Consortium’s youth resource partners California Department of Rehabilitation and California Foundation for Independent Living Centers’s Youth Organizing! (YO!) Disabled & Proud; along with the Consortium’s communication partner EIN SOF Communications, Inc.

The field-based evidence is discussed in the Consortium’s Disability Inclusive – Diversity smALL Business Initiative Reflections with Case Illustrations of Successes and Challenges, which can be found under “Project Findings” on the Add Us In page. The employment internship model designed, implemented, and evaluated by the Consortium produced the first of its kind findings that will significantly add to the existing body of knowledge for employing people with disabilities.

A few of the most revealing findings are as follows:

  • In-person internships were generally more mutually beneficial than remote positions. In-person internships offer an opportunity to creatively and collaboratively engender real-world “workplace accommodations” and “productivity tools.” Remote jobs don’t provide a “disability awareness” impact for the employer community; this impact benefits potential interns, as well as their co-workers who learn from real-world interaction with a colleague who has a disability. Employers that hosted in-person interns also required less technical assistance and expressed greater satisfaction with the work product and experience in general—as did the students involved in these in-person internships.
  • Disabled students generally expressed wanting jobs more closely aligned with their career goals, rather than simply seeking general employment to build their resumes. Students tend to spend no more than two or three seconds per email they receive, which limits their willingness to thoughtfully weigh the value of a $12 to $15 per hour internship versus the benefits they receive. As a result of this, they may miss the opportunity to learn soft skills in jobs not aligned with their career trajectories.
  • Word choice matters for business. Any initiative or program that intends to connect business owners to employable candidates with disabilities must be prepared to speak the language of business. Business owners generally have well-defined fears that can be triggered unintentionally by using unfamiliar, non-business oriented language. Fears and concerns must be addressed upfront in order to establish trust. Safe space conversations are critical in the process of developing a business relationship.

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