Paid Internships Give Disabled Workers a Leg Up in the Workplace

By , November 8, 2010

Ever wanted to start an internship program at your company, but don’t know where to begin? Sometimes the best way to is to model what others are already doing.  Over the last several years, large companies in the private sector have been finding qualified workers with disabilities through internships.

Software giant Microsoft teamed up with the American Association for People with Disabilities to develop a two-year program to provide 25 paid IT internships to college students with disabilities at more than 15 federal agencies — where there’s a large and growing demand for workers with IT skills.

The Microsoft-AAPD Federal IT Internship Program is open to any college or university student with a disability who has demonstrated an interest in an IT career. Interns are selected through a competitive application and interview process. There is an annual application deadline and selection process managed by AAPD.

In New York City, an organization called Lime has created a corporate partnership with Goldman Sachs, Pepsi, Google and others to select college students with disabilities as Lime fellows, with the goal of helping them get internships with these firms. Lime is also instrumental in helping Google select its annual Google Lime Scholarship recipient, which is awarded to a student with a disability who is studying computer science or related disciplines. The scholarship is worth $10,000 and also included an all-expense paid retreat at Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif.

In Canada Lime is working with also IBM to award an annual scholarship to a computer science student. The $5,000 scholarship also includes a 2011 paid internship. This year’s application deadline is November 21.

Another frontrunner in the paid internship space for people with disabilities is Emerging Leaders, which was founded by consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton, and now has more than 30 corporate members, including AIG, KPMG, Liz Claiborne and Procter & Gamble. Booz Allen’s efforts to hire people with disabilities began when chairman and CEO, Ralph Shrader, who has a son with disabilities, recognized how difficult it was for people with disabilities to find meaningful work.

In 2009, more than 100 students competed for internships at MetLife, CIT, JPMorgan Chase, Mutual of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Shell.

Unemployment may be exceptionally high among people with disabilities, but you can help. Start an internship program and get access to one of the most creative, resourceful, loyal and tech-savvy populations in the U.S. Yes, people with disabilities!

Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."