Celebrating 40 Years of IDEA: Supporting Youth, Schools, and Families!

Marissa Sanders head shotThe following blog is by Marissa Sanders, an independent consultant Video Interpreter for Sorenson Communications. Marissa Sanders has worked in disability rights for more than 15 years, previously serving as Executive Director of the West Virginia Commission for  the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and as Director of Training for the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center.  

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which became law 40 years ago, often takes a back seat to other civil rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Of course, the ADA has a wider reach – covering government agencies and private businesses alike. IDEA, however, addresses a more fundamental issue in my opinion: education.

As a young adult just beginning to get involved in the youth with disabilities movement, I remember being shocked at how little focus education issues seemed to get in the broader disability rights movement. I remember thinking, maybe we wouldn’t have a 70% unemployment rate if we had a better education system!

When I was 11 I started having seizures. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy and began trying to adjust to a new reality. I could have benefited from an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but my parents had never heard of such a thing and no one ever suggested it. Within a couple years, I was also exhibiting clear signs of depression, but despite being in counseling, no one diagnosed it or suggested interventions. I also was later diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

From fifth grade through my senior year, I managed three disabilities without ever knowing that I had a disability and without access to the incredible disability community who has now become my family. I didn’t know that I had a disability until I was in college and attended a non-credit course on disability and leadership. At that point I became involved in the National Youth Leadership Network and began to learn more about the disability community and disability history.

Had I been assessed in school, I believe I would have benefitted from accommodations like extra time for reading and math, access to my medications at school, increased structure in my schedule, and attention management strategies. Having an IEP also would have made it easier to get accommodations in college, had I requested them. Instead I gritted my teeth and got through high school, only to find myself on academic probation my freshman year in college. Even after realizing that I had a disability and working at disability services at my university, I never requested accommodations. This was partly due to fear of stigma and partly because my depression made the process seem completely overwhelming.

The ADA is seen as the premier civil rights law for people with disabilities, but IDEA, an important piece of disability civil rights legislation, preceded the ADA by 15 years. With the passage of IDEA, we began to see the desegregation of students with disabilities and have seen a small reduction in stigma and discrimination. However, we still see many students with behavioral disabilities or developmental disabilities sent to segregated schools. There still exists a stigma and fear around disability that 40 years of educational access have not erased. I know parents whose children would benefit from IEPs, but who refused them so their child would not have a “crutch” or a label that would follow them throughout and even after school. We have a long way to go toward realizing the dream of full equality and access for people with disabilities.

Fifteen years after leaving college, I am now a foster parent. My six year old foster daughter is in kindergarten. She has not been assessed, but I see signs of mental health issues that may surface in the future. My hope for her is that her teachers will see the value in helping her find effective accommodations for any disabilities that may be in her future. I hope for a future where she will learn about the disability community and our rich history of empowerment not just from her parents, but from her teachers and peers. I hope that as she transitions out of school and begins looking for a job, employers won’t bat an eye at an employee with a disability, that accommodating employees with disabilities will be second nature to them.

My three month old foster son has a condition that may result in a disability or special health care need. As he grows up under IDEA, I hope that he will receive the services he needs under Part C of IDEA and that any supports he may need will follow him seamlessly through each transition he will experience.

We’ve come a long way in 40 years. In my career I have seen a segregated school for students with physical disabilities closed in Chicago, restrictions on seclusion and restraint, and the beginnings of a shift from mainstreaming (placing students with disabilities in classrooms designed for students without disabilities) to inclusion and universal design for learning (designing classrooms and instruction for all students).

We still have a long way to go!  An ideal world would be one where every student has an IEP, where all instruction is tailored to the needs of the child and caters to their strengths. I don’t know that we’ll see that in my lifetime. My hope is that my children will continue the revolution of empowerment and will see more progress in the next 40 years than we have accomplished so far.

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all of our disability civil rights laws. I am thankful for those who came before me who ensured that I would be able to attend school and learn alongside my peers. I am thankful for the groundwork that has been laid to protect and expand our civil rights and helps to pave the way for full equality in the future. I hope you will celebrate the anniversary of IDEA and use this anniversary to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the work we have left to do together.

Related Resources

Also, learn more how the federally mandated IEP can be coordinated with Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs) that are used or mandated in numerous states to improve college and career readiness for all students including students with disabilities!




Posted in Accommodations, Disability History, Education, IEP, Parents & Families, Transition, Universal Access | Tagged | Leave a comment

Work Early, Work Often

The following blog entry is a cross-post from the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The blog is written by Claudia Gordon, chief of staff in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor.

I was recently asked to participate in the Work Early, Work Often video campaign, which was created by the Youth Transitions Collaborative’s career preparation and management working group. This three-part video campaign highlights the importance of work and work-based experiences in an individual’s transition to adulthood, particularly for young adults with disabilities. The videos address some important questions:

Why are early work experiences so important?

Career preparation is critically important for all young people as they transition to employment, but especially for young people with disabilities. As a society, we need to communicate to young people with disabilities as they enter adulthood that they will be expected to find employment and be as independent as possible.

In order to be prepared to enter the work force, young people with disabilities need to gain as many real work experiences as they can, as early as they can. Early work experiences help young people learn about proper business etiquette and soft skills, as well as professional expectations. It can help them determine what type of career they are most interested in and the steps they must undertake in order to achieve their goals.

What role do caregivers and employers play?

This message isn’t just important for the young person with a disability. It’s equally important for parents, family members and caregivers. Sometimes it seems easier for families to shield their child or to protect them from harsh realities. In the long run, the best way to safeguard them is to let them experience those realities and to learn from such experiences so they are better prepared for the world of work. By encouraging their children to have as many work and work-related experiences as possible, families will help encourage independence for the future. As a parent in the video campaign states, “Our job is not to make sure he is okay now; our job is to make sure he is okay tomorrow.”

Of course, work experiences are not possible if businesses and employers do not hire young people with disabilities. People with disabilities are an untapped talent pool, and are known to be loyal, hard-working and dedicated employees with low turnover rates. However, the current unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.4 percent, or double that of people without disabilities. If employers review what their job duties entail, they will find that people with disabilities can “sometimes do a better job than just about anyone,” as one employer noted in the video campaign.

To see and learn more about the video campaign, go to www.thenytc.org/workearly or www.youtube.com/thenytc. I encourage everyone to share these videos with their friends, families and colleagues. Please help spread this message to create a mindset that youth with disabilities need to work early, and work often!

Related posts:

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RAMP Albany Recognizes National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2015

The following blog is by Elijah Fagan-Solis, Coordinator for the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Albany, NY. RAMP is a career-focused mentoring program created and supported by the Institute for Educational Leadership with support from the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

RAMP is based on several of NCWD/Youth’s foundational materials like Making the Right Turn: A Guide About Improving Transition Outcomes for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice System and Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring for Youth with Disabilities.

While the month of October is synonymous with post season baseball, candy, and changing your appearance through costumes, to millions of others it is a month dedicated to finding gainful employment; educating ourselves and others about employment issues and barriers faced by people with disabilities; as well as celebrating the many contributions of American workers with disabilities.

The Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Albany County, NY is taking time this month, along with millions of others, to recognize the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year’s theme for NDEAM is “My Disability is One Part of Who I Am.” RAMP Albany, a career focused mentoring program that engages youth in various career exploration activities, is celebrating NDEAM by discussing and engaging youth in “soft skills” training during the month of October. Soft skills are the skills, traits, work habits, and attitudes that all workers must have in order to obtain, maintain, and progress in employment. It is important to note that soft skills are critical for success in all occupations and industries.

RAMP RochesterIn addition to the soft skills training, RAMP Albany youth had the opportunity to participate in a short educational film on disability disclosure in the workplace, targeted toward youth and young adults over the summer. The final video has been used to continue discussions with youth on disability and the workplace: that their experiences with disability can offer a competitive edge when it comes to work, when and why to disclose a disability, and that they have the right to be evaluated on their ability, not their disability.

It is important for young people with disabilities to know that there are many others who have similar experiences that have contributed to the America that we know today. It is also important that they know that they are only people who can define their own limitations. They can pursue meaningful careers and take their spots among those who have played an important role in America’s educational and economic success if they set their own standards high. NDEAM provides an opportunity for this topic of discussion, although conversations are encouraged all year long.

RAMP Albany hopes to end the month long celebration engaging the community by requesting individuals with disabilities who have been successful in their line of employment to serve as guest speakers and share with youth in the program that their disability is one part of who they are and very much part of their success. Let this October be the springboard for your community to increase awareness and provide more opportunities for people with disabilities.

To view the Disability Disclosure in the Workplace video referenced in this article, please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYxV7cIu-tg

Related Resources:



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The Path for Passion

Blog author Blake Ayers catching a foul ball at the Indians GameThe following blog is by Blake Ayers, a youth leader with NCWD/Youth’s Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) Shining Lights Team. YouthACT is a national project for youth ages 12-25 geared toward getting more youth with disabilities involved as leaders in their communities.

Hi! My name is Blake Ayers and I am from Brownsburg, Indiana. I am a current volunteer for the Autism Society of Indiana and have been since December, 2013. I also have a chosen path and passion, which came from an experience that I’ll never forget. It will stay in my mind and in my heart.

I was diagnosed with autism during my sophomore year of high school, but before that I had always struggled with my reading comprehension. It was tough not being able to comprehend books at the same level as other in my own grade. I was laughed at, called names, and given a nickname in middle school. The nickname was “Special Freak” which meant that I was a freak for being a slow reader. See, I was almost 200 lbs. By the 7th grade I had excessive weight gain from feeling like I was worthless because of the nickname. I was hurting everyday on the inside, but I knew if I had smiled at least once a day then I would be good.

When I got to high school, everything that I thought would be okay, wasn’t. I was picked on and pushed around by others, because at only being 5’5”, I was seen as an easy target for bullying. There would be days when I go home and just start crying my eyes out, because I thought that I wasn’t good enough for the world. My grades were falling to the point where I was averaging a 1.6 GPA during my freshman year. Then, later into my freshman year, I became depressed because when I reported the bullying, nothing happened for months. I would come in almost every day, getting picked on about my height, weight, how I speak, or even about how I walk.

Shortly after spring break was over, on Friday April 16, 2010, I told my parents that I was having suicidal thoughts for three months and that I was ready to give up everything so I would be free of this pain and misery that I was going through. So, I ended up going to St. Vincent’s Stress Center for one week. After that, I knew from that day forward that I needed to stand up and speak out for not only myself, but for others as well who needed that voice to help them.

Image text Unite Against Bullying in Orange and Black with two arrows point toward each other

Image courtesy of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center

I then decided during my senior year to do a Senior Project on bullying prevention. So I went over and met a local police officer by the name of Sargent Peter Fleck. He and I teamed up and went to four schools in one week to talk to everyone in those buildings on how they or anyone else could help stop bullying. There were a total of 1,500 fliers made and passed out. The project was done over a span of three months. There was at least 150 people coming to me thanking the officer and me for what we did.

See, nobody should EVER be bullied in any way, if we come together, then we can stop this. There are so some ways you can get involved by talking to friends, family, and community leaders about making fliers and posters over the fact that this monster NEEDS to be destroyed and it can be, so let’s do this and win this battle.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. See what our partners at PACER Center are doing to help stop bullying in communities around the country. Also check out our InfoBrief Bullying and Disability Harassment in the Workplace: What Youth Should Know to inform youth including youth with disabilities about bullying that does not end at school and what they can do about it. 

Our YouthACT leaders are all active in their communities! Check out the latest publication co-written by these youth to learn more!


Posted in Advocacy, Autism, Communicating with Youth, Mental Health, Positive Peer Influence, Self Advocacy, Youth Leadership | Tagged | Comments Off on The Path for Passion

RAMPing Up from Mentor to Program Coordinator (Part Two)!

Head shot of Julie Gilson The following blog is written by Julie Gilson, Coordinator for the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Jacksonville, FL. RAMP is a program of the Institute for Educational Leadership, the host organization for NCWD/Youth and is based on a variety of foundational materials developed by NCWD/Youth. This blog is Part Two in a series written by RAMP mentors who have gone on to be coordinators for their respective programs! Part One is also available online.

My name is Julie Gilson and I have been a RAMP Coordinator at the Independent Living Resource Center of Northeast Florida for over two years. I actually began my RAMP journey while I was still in college. I was a junior pursuing my degree in psychology at the University of North Florida, with hopes of one day becoming a mental health counselor. As part of my career planning, I realized that I needed more experience working with people with disabilities, since this population is often served in the counseling field. My college offered an on campus transition program that allowed students to mentor people with disabilities on campus, and I began looking into joining it. However, one day while talking to a friend who worked for the ILRC about my career and mentoring goals, he told me that the ILRC had a great mentoring program focused on high school students with disabilities. I met with the RAMP coordinator soon after who invited me to attend a meeting.

Group of ILRC youth smiling at camera I walked into my first RAMP meeting with the mindset that it was something I was only considering – no commitments were being made on my part, and I felt like I would probably end up joining my college’s program instead, because it was more convenient for me. I said hello to a few students, and spoke with one girl specifically about her week. It wasn’t anything particularly special, just a brief conversation on her favorite subject in school and what she had been doing lately. I helped her and some other students set weekly goals, and afterwards we participated in a role-playing activity in which we practiced interviewing skills. Then the bell rang, and all the students got up to leave the classroom. As I waved goodbye to them, the girl who I had spoken with walked up to me, gave me a hug, and asked “Are you coming back next week?”

That simple question marked a turning point in my career. To me, our time together had been nothing but light conversation. But to her, it meant that someone cared enough to take an interest in her life. At that moment, I realized that RAMP mentors might be the only supportive adults in the lives of these students, and that I needed to be part of a program like that. I knew that my answer had to be “Yes!”

ILRC youth soldering during STEM workshop After that, I became an official RAMP mentor. I planned my classes around the RAMP schedule so that I could continue to attend. At times of the year when RAMP meetings weren’t as frequent, I volunteered at the ILRC and helped out with office work. By the time graduation week came around, the ILRC was looking for a new RAMP Coordinator, and they chose me to fill the position.

My experience as a mentor has really benefited me since I’ve become coordinator for the program. Many of my mentors are college students like I was, and having had that experience, I can better support them. I have grown in amazing ways from my job working with individuals with disabilities, and look forward to continuing to do so here at the ILRC and with RAMP!

Related Resources:


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What Does Chronic Absenteeism Cost Students with Disabilities?

Head shot of author Hedy ChangIn celebration of Attendance Awareness Month, NCWD/Youth welcomes guest blogger Hedy Chang, Director of Attendance Works. Attendance Works is a national nonprofit focused on improving the policy, practice, and research around school attendance. NCWD/Youth is a Collaborating Partner for Attendance Awareness Month.

We all start the school year with high hopes for new accomplishments, better grades and greater success. But before September is over, a pernicious problem begins to undermine these goals: school absenteeism.

Too many missed days can leave students falling behind in their classes, disconnected from classmates and more likely to drop out of high school. The problem is particularly acute for students with disabilities.

A new report from Attendance Works and Healthy Schools Campaign found that students with disabilities are more likely to miss too much school than other students. About 27 percent of 8th graders with disabilities had high rates of absenteeism, compared to 19 percent of others, according to an analysis of information from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Infographic with text across top "Attend Today, Achieve Tomorrow" Good School Attendance Means... followed by images of school aged youth with captions "Elementary Stidents: read well by the end of third grade Middle Schoolers: pass important courses; High Schoolers: stay on track for graduation; College Students: earn their degrees; Workers: succeed in their jobs" Under the images is the text "Too many absences - excused or unexcused can keep students from succeeding in school and in life. How many are too many? 10% of the school year - that's 18 missed days or 2 days a month - can knock students off track" and Attendance Works Logo featuring a hand placed on top of an apple.

These high absenteeism rates correlate with lower graduation rates. In the 2012-2013 school year, about 62 percent of students with disabilities graduated on time, nearly 20 points below the national average.

Image showing three cartoon students at desks. Top line of text "Attend Today. Achieve Tomorrow." Bottom line of text "Attendance works www.attendanceworks.org" Some of these absences reflect the health concerns of physically disabled students, but others occur because of the lack of appropriate educational placements, bullying, or school aversion that can affect students with learning disabilities, particularly those with emotional issues. In addition, students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as other youth to receive an out-of-school suspension.

Fortunately, this is a problem that can be solved when families, schools and community partners work together. Here are some key steps:

  1. Make sure to track student absences. It’s important to count days missed for excused and unexcused absences, as well as suspensions. They all add up to lost instructional time. Research suggests that missing 10 percent of the school year – 18 days in many districts – is a tipping point for academic problems. That may sounds like a lot, but it’s only two days a month.
  2. Create a welcoming environment at school. The best way to improve attendance is to make school a place where students want to come. A greeting at the front door, a teacher who notices when students are absent, and/or incentives for showing up every day can create a culture of attendance. A firm handle on bullying is also essential.
  3. Provide extra support for students with poor attendance: If a student is chronically absent or getting close to the 10 percent mark, we need to intervene. Teachers can talk to families about strategies for improving attendance using this Student Attendance Success Plan or can include attendance goals in the Individualized Educational Program. Mentors, whether community volunteers or older students, have proven successful in reducing absences for some student.
  4. Tap community partners to help. Given that physical and mental health conditions often contribute to absences, it’s important to engage doctors, nurses, and public health officials in improving attendance. School-based health centers and merely the presence of a school nurse have been proven to reduce absenteeism. Other community partners – afterschool providers, housing authorities, transit agencies and business and faith leaders – can also help children and families address the barriers that keep them from getting to school. See these handouts for making the case to community partners/

Improved attendance is one positive outcome linked to family involvement for students including students with disabilities. In addition to the tips above for school-based staff, mentors, and community members, check out these related resources for families to help increase student success!



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Health Care Transition: What Do Youth Need to Know?

Headshot: Frances VhayBy Frances Vhay, Program Associate at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development

Health care transition, which is the process of switching from pediatric to adult health care, is scary and challenging. Many youth see the same pediatrician for most of their lives and suddenly they need to find a new adult doctor—one who doesn’t know them or their history. For young people with disabilities or chronic health conditions, this is even harder. It is difficult to find an adult doctor who understands disabilities or complicated medical histories. For some youth, they may only be part of the first or second generation of people with their disability living into adulthood, so it is hard to find an adult provider with knowledge of their disability or chronic health condition. Yet, it is critical for young adults to transition in their medical care. Pediatricians are trained to care for children and teens, while adult and family physicians are trained to help keep you healthy as an adult.

Young doctor meets with teenager

Photo credit: https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/practice-improvement/reducing-adolescent-substance-abuse-initiative/

Currently, there is little to no formal transition process for moving young adults from pediatric to adult care providers. This means that many youth do not successfully make the switch to adult doctors. Many stop receiving regular health care because they struggle to find a new doctor that understands their conditions and history. My pediatrician had initially told me that I could stay under her care until I graduated from college. I had been seeing my pediatrician since I was four years old. While I had gradually begun taking more responsibility in making appointments and seeing her by myself during high school, we had not yet discussed switching to an adult provider. I called my doctor’s office during my sophomore year of college to make an appointment with her and was told by a nurse that my pediatrician wanted me to switch immediately to an adult physician. Although I asked to speak with my pediatrician directly and to have a final appointment with her so that she could help me transition my care, I was rebuffed. My pediatrician did not even provide me with a recommendation for an adult provider; I was told to call the central office and see who was available.

As someone with a chronic health condition, I had hoped that my pediatrician would give
me suggestions of adult physicians who would understand my condition and I had hoped she would help me explain my medical history to this new doctor. Instead, I was dropped without warning and with no support. I ended up switching to a different medical practice because I was so upset by my treatment. It was challenging to change to a new doctor without warning and it has continued to be difficult to find doctors who understand my medical history.

My story is not unusual. Most families and doctors do not talk to youth about health care transition at all or do not start the process soon enough. I didn’t know what questions to ask or when to start talking to my pediatrician about transitioning to a different doctor. I was concentrating much more on college than I was on my health care. Often, youth and families are so focused on education and employment that they neglect the health care transition piece. Yet, health care is incredibly important because without it, it can be difficult to achieve educational and career goals.

Ideally, youth should start thinking about health care transition in their early teen years by beginning to make their own appointments, thinking about questions to ask at each appointment, and seeing their doctor more independently. This happens at a different pace for everyone and some youth will need more support than others to make this transition successful. As youth get closer to finishing high school, it is important for them to learn about medical insurance and how going to college or getting a job may affect that insurance. Youth also need to know how to keep track of their insurance cards, health records, and medications.

Front page text of Transition QuickGuideAs youth turn eighteen, they also need to understand their new legal responsibilities in terms of their medical care. If they need assistance to make medical decisions, they need to consider wh
o they want to assist them in making those decisions and how much authority those caring adults should have. As teens, youth also need to talk to their pediatrician about when the transition to an adult doctor occurs in their practice and how to make it a smooth and supported process.

Planning and managing health and wellness are critical to reaching success in all other areas of youth transition. In order to help smooth this process along, the Youth Transitions Collaborative, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Center for Health Care Transition Improvement (Got Transition), and the Office of Disability Employment Policy, with assistance from NCWD/Youth, developed The Transition QuickGuide: Take Charge of Planning and Managing Your Own Health and Career Goals. This guide offers tips, guidance, and ideas for youth on how to transition successfully in all areas of their health care.

Related Resources:

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Employers: Putting Internships to Work for You

The following is a cross-post from the U.S. Department of Labor Blog. The blog is written by Nathan Cunningham, a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. 

The end of summer is here and many interns are making decisions about their future employment and so are the employers who recruited them.

Given that 9Cover of the ODEP Internship Guide.2% of employers surveyed this year hosted internship programs, and two out of three interns received full-time offers last year, it’s clear that employers view internships as a value-added proposition.

Here at the U.S. Department of Labor, we’re passionate about supporting the principles of equal access and inclusion and creating opportunities so that everyone can showcase and contribute their skills. As a person with a disability, I’ve seen these principles of inclusion in action. My internship experience led to a job in the Office of Disability Employment Policy, where I’ve worked with my colleagues to promote inclusive internship opportunities for all young adults, including those with disabilities.

As an employer, you may already have an internship program, or you may be thinking about starting one for the very first time. The following three resources can help you in ensuring that the internship programs you sponsor are inclusive of people with disabilities.

1. Inclusive Internship Programs: A How-to Guide for Employers

This guide details the benefits that inclusive internship programs bring to employers. For example, internships allow businesses to tap into a diverse pool of talent that brings fresh thinking and innovation, to develop a recruitment pipeline, and to provide leadership opportunities for existing staff with management potential. This resource also lays out steps that employers should consider when designing, implementing, and evaluating inclusive internship programs of any size and discusses how having a diverse workforce can differentiate them from their competitors, help them capture new clients, and increase their market share.

2. Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)

This recruitment and referral database connects federal and private sector employers nationwide with over 1,800 highly motivated pre-screened college students and recent graduates with disabilities who are eager to prove their abilities in the workplace through summer or permanent employment. Federal employers may register with their email address and browse the WRP pool of candidates. Private employers can take advantage of the WRP byposting permanent and temporary positions on www.WRP.jobs, which WRP participants can then respond to directly.

3. Resources for Federal Contractors on Section 503

Inclusive internships can also provide a way for employers who are Federal contractors and subcontractors to recruit employees to help meet their 7% utilization goal for hiring qualified individuals with disabilities under the recently amended regulations to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. The regulations prohibit employment discrimination and require employers to take affirmative action in recruiting, hiring, promoting, and retaining individuals with disabilities.

Although internships typically occur over the summer and last 2-3 months, they can also occur during spring or fall semesters on a full- or part-time basis. In many cases internships can be the door to long-term employment. Wherever and whenever they occur, ensuring your internship programs are inclusive of all aspects of diversity, including disability is an important strategy for business success in today’s competitive labor market.

Nathan Cunningham is a policy adviser in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, where he focuses on youth issues.

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Doing Things Differently

BowmanBy Chelsey Bowman, intern with the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth at the Institute for Educational Leadership   

After I explain my internship at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s (IEL) Center for Workforce Development (CWD), I am sometimes met with the comment, “but what does that have to do with sport psychology?” At IEL, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of projects and presentations related to the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) and work-based learning. I also had the honor of attending multiple meetings, events, and celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As an incoming doctoral student at Boston University, I am an aspiring counseling psychologist, who will specialize in sport and performance psychology and whose research interests center on athletes and associations between peer victimization and later life mental health concerns, specifically substance use and abuse.

Before starting my internship, I would reply, “well it doesn’t exactly align with my research interests, but I just finished working on a presentation that looked at whether there was an association between bully or victim status and occupational aspirations among middle school students. So I became interested in whether career development could be a possible buffer against the negative outcomes associated with bullying.” IEL and NCWD/Youth do a lot of amazing work to improve and provide career development and mentoring for students with disabilities. I was hoping to learn about their successful programs and strategies for engaging students in meaningful career development. It turns out that I learned a whole lot more!

Within my first week, I became absorbed in NCWD/Youth’s work. I was learning about transition age youth with disabilities and their disproportionate representation in the juvenile justice system. I began helping to edit a guide for youth with disabilities that outlined strategies and resources for a successful transition from high school to college. I started to realize that my work at IEL was not disconnected from my research and practice goals relating to athletes. Do I want to work with college athletes? Yes. Will some of these athletes have disabilities? Yes. Will I be better able to counsel these individuals when they are receiving support and accommodations to succeed in the classroom? Yes. Has this internship taught me about the barriers that college students with disabilities might face? Yes. Do I now have the knowledge to connect individuals to relevant resources and supports? Yes. Can I also provide career development resources to all my potential clients as they begin thinking about life post-college? Yes. When I return to my research and practice with athletes this fall, I will have a new understanding and set of resources for all students and especially for students with disabilities, which will allow me to continue to be an informed, compassionate, and resourceful aspiring sport psychologist.

Graduate school, research, funding, and future jobs demand that we specialize and study certain populations and specific research questions. This is for good reason because you cannot gather accurate and reliable data unless you have a narrow focus and a strong research question. Occasionally this pressure to specialize or become a master of one line of inquiry blocks out other growth opportunities. For me, this summer internship has reminded me that expanding my horizons will only make me a better researcher and practitioner. In the words of Brian Meersma, a college student who was just honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for his advocacy for students with learning disabilities via his blog and podcast on assistive technology, sometimes “doing things differently” allows for growth you did not even know was possible.

Check out some of our related resources for Youth Service Professionals like Chelsey!




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