A creative way of providing students and job seekers with opportunities to see what life is like in the workplace is career-oriented mentoring. This type of mentoring connects students to people working in their chosen profession, and provides potential employees with invaluable exposure to others in the field. It can also pave the way for a greater understanding about the abilities and aspirations of people with disabilities and may lead to internships that could ultimately result in job offers. Events such as Disability Mentoring Day, held in October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, can help students discover their desired career paths. Assisting students and job seekers with career preparation and work-based learning experiences is also an effective tool for helping them achieve economic independence.
Promoting real-world experience through volunteering and service learning is also useful for people with disabilities to gain a multitude of experiences outside the classroom. You also may want to check out this Service Learning & Volunteer Opportunities resource page from the U.S. Department of Education. Students attending high school, college, trade school, or other qualifying educational institutions may serve as interns in the federal government through the Pathways Program, hosted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, or the Workforce Recruitment Program. All these elements may be woven together within the IEP and, where applicable, ILP development for junior high and high school students. Adult students as well as job seekers with disabilities may employ these same strategies aimed at achieving their desired careers.
The following national resources are useful for students and others falling within specific categories:
People with disabilities in general:
- RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program “trains leaders who are committed to disability issues and who plan to go into careers in public policy, advocacy, communications, diversity, equity, and inclusion, fundraising, nonprofit management, or faith-based inclusion.”
- The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) hosts a summer internship program for college students, graduate students, law students, and recent graduates in Washington, D.C. Also, the Disability Rights Storytellers Fellowship, managed by Rooted in Rights and AAPD, provides individuals with disabilities opportunities to learn and apply skills in digital media storytelling. It also connects them with media professionals to prepare participants for advanced careers in media production, journalism, online advocacy, or digital design.” AAPD also administers the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Scholarship to support college students pursuing careers in the communications, media or the entertainment industry.
- Disability:IN “NextGen Leaders are college students and recent graduates with disabilities who have demonstrated talent and leadership in the STEM, finance, and business fields. NextGen Leaders collaborate with Corporate Partners to prepare for employment through mentorship, networking, and recruiting opportunities.”
- GetMyFuture is a CareerOneStop resource specifically for youth. You’ll find information about job training, starting a small business, help with your job search, and much more.
- The Bridges from School to Work Program,originally established by the Marriott Foundation, supports people with disabilities ages 17 through 24 through job training and paid internships lasting from six months to one year.
- The National Association for the Advancement of Science’s Entry Point! program recruits people with disabilities into science and related fields.
- The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor sponsors the Apprenticeship Inclusion Models (AIM) “to research, develop, test, and evaluate innovative strategies in existing apprenticeship programs that provide skills training to people with disabilities.” Programs slated to come online include those hosted by Amazon, the Healthcare Career Advancement Program (H-CAP), Microsoft, and the Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Apprenticeship.
- ODEP sponsors the Workforce Recruitment Program, “a recruitment and referral initiative that connects federal and private sector employers nationwide with highly motivated college students and recent graduates with disabilities who are eager to prove their abilities in the workplace through summer or permanent jobs.”
- The Washington Center (TWC) offers immersive internships and academic seminars to students from hundreds of colleges and universities and young professionals from across the U.S. and more than 25 countries. As part of its operations to support integrated program participation of people with disabilities, it houses the Leadership Initiative for Students with Disabilities which features the AT&T and Kessler Foundation scholarships.
People with intellectual/developmental disabilities:
- For the autism community, ODEP’s Employee Assistance and Recruitment Network (EARN) has a list of 12 large companies and 13 small businesses with neurodiversity hiring initiatives and partnerships. Tallo also offers a helpful list of companies with neurodiversity recruitment programs.
- Project SEARCH hosts the Transition-to-Work Program, which “provides real-life work experience, combined with training in employability and independent-living skills to help young people with significant disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life.” Find a Project SEARCH program near you.
People with learning disabilities:
- BroadFutures advances the inherent potential of young adults with learning disabilities in the workforce through partnerships that foster independence, self-advocacy, and successful employment.
People with mental health disabilities:
- Clubhouse International operates community centers that provide members (adults and young adults diagnosed with mental health disabilities) with supports for obtaining employment, education, housing, and long-term relationships. The basic components of successful clubhouses are community-based employment programs including transitional, supported, and independent employment.
- As with many people with disabilities, those living with mental illness can work and want to work. As this resource from the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law shows, supported employment is a proven way to help get people with mental illness into jobs that pay good wages in integrated work environments in their communities.
Deaf people or people who are hard-of-hearing:
- CorpsTHAT hosts a national job board that provides Deaf individuals with summer and short-term employment focusing mainly on outdoor positions in the area of conservation.
- The Kresge Hearing Research Institute at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor hosts a summer internship program geared toward college students interested in internships in anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, psychobiology, physiology, electrophysiology, immunology, and molecular biology. Interested individuals may apply through Entry Point! or the employment offices at Gallaudet University or the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
- The National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) Law and Advocacy Center hosts an internship program funded by the Nancy J. Bloch Leadership and Advocacy Scholarship. Participants gain firsthand experience with government advocacy and legal activism by helping to protect the civil, human, and linguistic rights of the American Deaf community.
- The National Deaf Center for Postsecondary Outcomes has a guide for youth ages 16 to 22. The guide addresses topics including job exploration, counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on postsecondary opportunities, workplace readiness training, and instruction in self-advocacy.
People who are blind or visually impaired:
- The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) hosts several summer programs in various states including the NFB EQ Engineering Program; the Post-Secondary Readiness and Empowerment Program (PREP); Summer Transition Youth Learning Experience (STYLE) Program; the Summer College Comprehensive Program in Minnesota; the Cracking the College Code College Prep Program, World of Work Pre-Employment Program, and No Limits to Learning Program in Colorado; and the Summer Transition and Empowerment Program (STEP) in Louisiana. The NFB also hosts the National Convention Youth Track every summer — the largest national gathering of blind youth to take place in any given year.
- The Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts hosts three programs for college and career readiness including Career Launch @Perkins, College Success @ Perkins, and the Pre-Employment program.
- World Services for the Blind, based in Arkansas, offers the Prep, Assistance and Supportive Services (PASS) Program for Transitional Aged Youth. It includes one track for vocational students and another for college students. It also offers online training programs in subjects including assistive technology, call centers, financial literacy, and medical billing. The program has fundamental courses that can help a student gauge if the career training program is right for them, or if they need extra help in a certain area before beginning a career training program.
People who are deaf-blind:
- The National Center on Deaf-Blindness has a guide entitled Readiness Evaluation of Transition to Adulthood for Deaf-Blind Youth (READY) Tool. The guide addresses transition assessment, transition-related education programming, and team collaboration and adjustments. You also may want to read about Haben Girma, an advocate for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Girma was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change.
 According to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity (2011) held at Syracuse University, neurodiversity is:
“…a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.” See https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/awareness/neurodiversity.
 To learn the differences between “deaf,” “Deaf,” and “hard-of-hearing,” see “Community and Culture – Frequently Asked Questions,” National Association of the Deaf, https://www.nad.org/resources/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-frequently-asked-questions.