Microsoft and AAPD Launch Students with Disabilities into Federal IT Workforce
Ten college students with disabilities will soon get the chance to put their information technology (IT) skills to work for the federal government as part of a program that will bring the students to Washington, D.C., and give them valuable work and life experience.
Every year, a select group of students with disabilities are placed in federal IT jobs through a partnership between Microsoft and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)—the Microsoft-AAPD Federal IT Internship Program—which is helping to shape the next generation of IT professionals.
In 2010, the Microsoft-AAPD Federal IT Internship Program will mark its eighth year of successfully placing students with disabilities in federal IT internships. Since beginning the program in 2003, Microsoft and AAPD have made it possible for 70 college students with all types of disabilities to work as interns in the IT departments of federal agencies.
Each year, AAPD conducts a national search for the best and brightest college students with disabilities who are pursuing careers in information technology. With the support of Microsoft, students in previous years have received highly competitive internships in the IT divisions of federal agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Transportation, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to David Hale, AAPD's Internship Program Director, the program enables AAPD and Microsoft to accomplish two goals simultaneously: increasing the number of workers with disabilities in the IT sector, and; encouraging students with disabilities to pursue lucrative, competitive, and rewarding careers in information technology.
Most alumni of the Microsoft-AAPD federal internships are now employed in the IT sector, and many have decided to stay in IT positions within the federal government.
Chad Carson, a 2009 Microsoft-AAPD Intern, who now works as a full-time IT contractor, says his internship experience changed his attitude about himself and his disability.
"Growing up as a high-functioning autistic person, I was considered both disabled and gifted at the same time," he says. "It was clear that I had some capabilities that were beyond other students, but with deficiencies in other areas. Most people define autism by its deficiencies and by the so-called "severe autistics" that have communication difficulties far more profound than mine."
"Defining a person by their difficulties and inabilities alone is demeaning to the person and detrimental to their self-esteem and self-confidence," Carson says. "By recognizing a person's gifts and giving them the opportunity to grow, however, we can help them find value in themselves, even in the face of a profound disability."
In addition to helping interns grow both personally and professionally, Microsoft and AAPD are also helping to change professional opinions of workers with disabilities and to demonstrate the unique skills and diversity they can bring to the IT sector.
Wayne G. Truax, an intern supervisor at Support Command for the US Coast Guard Headquarters says that Jackson Lane, a 2009 Microsoft-AAPD Intern under his supervision, showed he was capable of much more than Truax had expected.
"[He] started out performing routine filing and scanning activities . . . [and] immediately proved to us that [he] was capable of performing at a much higher level," Truax says. "As a result, [his] effort was far above the level anticipated from any intern, or in our program in general."
In turn, Lane says his experience with the program helped him embrace his disability.
"There have been times in my life when I felt that I was losing that fight and succumbing to a fate of unfulfilled potential as well as times when I felt that I was triumphing over my weaknesses that result from my [disability]," he said. "But I now understand how I had wrongly assumed my negative perceptions. In reality, to live with a disability is simply an experience, and that experience is only a negative when it is perceived as such."
Through this program, AAPD and Microsoft will continue to provide federal agencies with the most talented IT students with disabilities from around the country. By identifying these future IT workers, the two organizations will help meet the federal government's need for skilled workers and professionals with disabilities.