Internship opportunities in higher education are becoming more prevalent, and studies show that participating in an internship is one of the top predictors of future workplace success. Internships provide students with the opportunity to gain a competitive edge and jumpstart their careers. At Transitions, near Albany, New York, one hundred percent of our students participate in internships related to their career goals. Transitions understands that internships for college students with disabilities are especially valuable to helping them prepare for the reality of working at a steady job, and to helping them identify what they want in a career.
Another benefit of internships is that they can lead directly to paying jobs within the company. This has been the case for several Transitions students. One young man, who had no prior employment experience, was eventually hired on a part-time basis by the local organic grocery store and café he interned with. Another student, who aspires to work in the human resources field as a career, had the opportunity to intern with the HR department of a large agency. He was hired there as well after a very successful internship rotation.
The Importance of Internships for College Students with Disabilities
Modern employers are looking for candidates with more than just a college degree. They are looking for someone with practical work experience, which, for many undergraduate and graduate students, comes from participating in an internship. Internships give students not only the opportunity to gain “real-world” work experience, but also the ability to explore various fields and industries, cultivate new skills, build a professional network and explore personal strengths and weaknesses.
Considerations for Students with Disabilities and Internships
There are certain unique challenges students with disabilities face when identifying and participating in internships. They may need extra support in the following areas:
- Placement assistance – many students with disabilities find it beneficial to participate in workshops or programs that assist with internship planning and placement. Some students may even require individualized assistance, sometimes provided by an outside agency, to secure an internship. Transitions works with local businesses to find mutually beneficial placements for each student.
- Site selection – the site of a student’s internship is an important consideration. For many students with disabilities, the nature of the work environment can make a huge difference when it comes to successfully completing an internship. An internship site should maximize one’s strengths and accommodate the individual’s learning style and needs. Each site that employs a Transitions student is carefully vetted to ensure that it is a place where they can truly learn and grow to the best of their ability.
- Accommodation requests – if a student knows he or she will need certain accommodations at the internship site, it is up to them to disclose these needs. It can be beneficial for the student to make the accommodation request(s) before the internship begins. It may be important for the student to have clarification about whom they should ask about accommodation requests. Transitions self-advocacy classes teach students how to communicate these needs themselves, but Transitions also liaises between the student and their work site to make sure that nothing has fallen through the cracks. Accommodations can be anything that is added to the work environment to better support the employee and help them work to their greatest potential. Examples might include a tape recorder for meetings, extra time for assignments, written instructions, duty checklists and more.
- Self-advocacy – for students with disabilities, it can be pertinent to discuss the importance of self-advocacy at the internship site. Students with disabilities should be able to communicate with the on-site supervisor regarding progress, challenges, needs, etc. It is vital for students with disabilities to use their voice and advocate for themselves. This process can be intimidating. Young people are not taught in typical schools how to talk to their boss about having a disability or requiring accommodations. Transitions’ Self-Discovery and Leadership classes fill that void in education.
Internships for college students with disabilities can be essential for shaping career paths and gaining work experience. It is critical for these students to have adequate preparation and access to individualized supports and resources to achieve success in their dream career.
Find out more about our Transitions programs near Albany, New York, and how they help prepare young people with learning disabilities for fulfilling careers at (518) 775-5384.
About the Author:
Gina Warsaw teaches Career Success courses at Transitions, which cover professional presentation, preparing resumes and cover letters, job searching, basic job skills, interacting professionally in the workplace and more. She has almost 30 years of experience supporting people with disabilities to reach their life goals, including more than 10 years focused on helping people transition into integrated community employment opportunities. Gina is currently the Director of Day Supports at The Arc Lexington.