Image of man demonstrating electronic equipment to a young woman in workplace.Many businesses, especially small businesses, cite internships as an effective personnel strategy because they offer a way to both fill anticipated short-term staffing needs and evaluate potential staff for permanent positions in the future—especially those who may be new to the workforce. Internships can also be an effective strategy for achieving disability diversity. In fact, research shows that employers who have internships for people with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability than those who do not. A related practice is workplace mentoring, which benefits workers with and without disabilities, not to mention their employers.  Increasing numbers of employers are implementing formal or informal mentoring programs as a way to improve employees’ supervisory skills and job satisfaction and promote a positive corporate image.  Like internships, mentoring programs can also serve as an effective employee recruitment and retention tool by helping to identify future talent for the organization.

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Want to Learn More? The following resources can help small businesses connect with intern candidates and learn more about internships and mentoring programs for people with disabilities:

In Action

For many businesses, particularly small ones, it takes a great first experience hiring a person with a disability to help launch a culture of disability inclusion. That was certainly the case at Avery Hall Insurance, which was won over by the skills and talents of a young intern with a disability named Caitlyn.

The firm found Caitlyn through its local Business Leadership Network chapter, the Eastern Shore Business Leadership Network (ESBLN), which contacted Avery Hall about a possible intern placement. While Avery Hall’s hiring managers had some initial trepidations about the prospect of hiring an intern with a disability, due merely to a lack of experience and exposure, their concerns were allayed by ESBLN, which clearly explained how the individual’s skills matched the company’s needs.

The next step was the interview. Caitlyn, who uses a walker, expressed her eagerness to learn and her excitement about the internship opportunity. She impressed Avery Hall’s hiring manager with her confidence, qualifications and ambition, and she was quickly offered the job. Caitlyn joined Avery Hall three days a week for half-day shifts after her morning at school. She commuted by bus and proved herself to be a loyal and productive worker, eager to learn any task her colleagues were willing to teach her. Caitlyn began her internship learning basic computer processing, and her skills grew from there. Avery Hall ultimately offered her a part-time position, and today, she continues to tackle any task that comes her way.

“They say that employers who offer internships for people with disabilities are more likely to hire a person with a disability than those who do not. That’s certainly been the case at our company, where one great intern served as a gateway to a disability-inclusive workplace culture,” says Angela Strouth, Avery W. Hall Insurance Agency.

In July 2012, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game took place in Kansas City, Missouri, much to the delight of local merchants in the city’s historic 18th and Vine entertainment district. The event brought legions of baseball fans into the area, many of whom were, not surprisingly, interested in visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. To assist in handling the expected increase in volume, the museum hired eight young people with disabilities as interns to staff positions such as greeters, ticket takers and gift-shop assistants. All of the interns were recent graduates of a multi-week career preparation program, called the Urban Career Academy. The Academy’s curriculum focuses on “soft” skills, including customer service, and the relationship proved mutually beneficial. The interns had to apply what they learned, while the museum’s management found an innovative solution to its short-term staffing shortage.

Through an innovative program called RISE (Reaching for Independent Successful Employment), Children’s Mercy Kansas City, a member of the Kansas City Business Leadership Network, helps ensure that its future workforce reflects the diverse community it serves, which includes many families with children with disabilities. The program allows young adults with disabilities age 18 and older the opportunity to rotate through a variety of roles across the hospital’s operations, focusing on tasks that may be better learned through on-the-job training instead of a classroom environment. The program was initially started for people who previously received care at the hospital but later expanded to include others. A complementary program called PAVE (Providing Accessible Volunteer Experience) provides an opportunity for youth with disabilities age 15 and older to explore the hospital workplace setting through volunteer activities such as escorting visitors, socializing with patients, providing office support and distributing donations. Furthermore, through partnerships with two local school districts, the hospital has a mentoring program for youth with disabilities transitioning out of special education programs and into the workforce.

WriteAway Communications, an independent, certified Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT)-owned public relations firm in Sacramento, California, found that bringing on two summer interns with disabilities to handle some of the day to day tasks afforded its principals extra time to focus on growing their business. “We were really able to use the additional staff to help us continue growing, to do a better job for our clients that the two of us would have had the time and availability to do this summer, so for that reason I feel like it’s really been a good benefit,” said Bonnie Osborne, the firm’s owner.

When AQUAS, Inc., an information technology solutions provider based in Bethesda, Maryland, hired a summer intern with a disability, it quickly learned that doing so was a smart strategy for identifying future talent for the company. A federal contractor, AQUAS was connected with the intern through an innovative partnership between nonprofit TransCen, its local workforce investment board, the Hispanic Business Foundation, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. TransCen worked with AQUAS to understand the intern’s skill set and develop an internship experience that matched his interests and the company’s needs. The match was so successful that at the end of the summer, AQUAS offered the intern a part-time job. Today, his responsibilities include installing and formatting computer programs and updating and repairing equipment. AQUAS is also supporting his pursuit of an advanced certification so that his skills can grow alongside the company.