Saturday, July 4, 2009

Interns with Disabilities

This summer my work as an intern in a program for students with disabilities got me thinking about the similarities between people’s conceptions surrounding both. As a rising a sophomore in college, I am still inexperienced in IT, and I appreciate the Coast Guard’s efforts to find meaningful work for me this summer. But I realize how limited my contributions can be and now understand how many organizations might believe interns are more trouble than they’re worth.
Interns are by nature inexperienced, and they require constant guidance and supervision. They are too unlearned and busy with school to be full time employees, but are all too often too proud to accept conventional summer jobs flipping burgers. Whatever skills they boast about on their resumes have probably only been tested within the isolated environments of schools and colleges. They feel that their intern status entitles them to work that they find interesting and challenging, even when such work may be hard to create for their limited level of skill. Many interns may in fact be no more useful than a computer program or a trained monkey with copying documents, filing, and data entry. And even if an intern does eventually prove to be capable, the duration of school vacations are too short for organizations to really make use of him or her.

Many organizations might believe that people with disabilities are also more trouble than we’re worth. People with disabilities demand both tolerance and acceptance for our diversity, as well as physical and attitudinal accommodations. Whatever usefulness we have might be outweighed in some people’s minds by the uncomfortable weirdness of our presence and the costs and time necessary to implement our accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps.

The disability rights movement is still relatively new, and the notion that people with disabilities are more trouble than they are worth is still prevalent. As such, people with disabilities may not be offered the same opportunities and jobs as typically able people. In this way, people with disabilities are not only unfairly stereotyped, but we’re also denied the opportunities to dispel that stereotype and prove our capability.

Oddly, the notion of interns being more trouble than they are worth combined with the similar misconception about people with disabilities creates a great opportunity to demonstrate our abilities. Since employers many hold interns to a different standard of performance, a person with a disability applying for an internship may face less discrimination than if he or she were applying for a full time job. In this way, programs like AAPD can help us get our foot in the door of organizations or businesses that might otherwise be reluctant to take us in. So, an internship program for college students with disabilities, might seem especially counter intuitive, but this is what makes the AAPD intern program such an ingenious and powerful tool.


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