At work (Photo: icdnyc.org)
Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities in the US was 2.5 times higher than that of people without. The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the employment and career prospects of people with disabilities, but New York City businesses and nonprofits can play a critical role in helping people with disabilities recover from the economy by recruiting applicants and offering internships.
Internships are particularly important for young professionals. They provide an opportunity for people with disabilities to demonstrate their skills and a chance for the organization offering the internship to see how valuable that person can be. In addition, they offer the intern the opportunity to gain relevant professional experience and to acquire a qualification that can be converted into a permanent position.
Internships have almost disappeared during the pandemic. Some companies or nonprofits that have offered internships in the past have ceased operations. Some have closed temporarily or switched to working remotely. Even those who stayed open and worked on-site often couldn’t allow additional people on the property due to COVID-19 logs.
An important opportunity created by the New York City Department of Social Services (DSS) highlights the critical role of internships. In 2019 DSS launched its “Partnership for Inclusive Internships” program, an initiative that aims to offer people with disabilities employment opportunities and valuable work experience. In 2020, DSS was keen to keep the internship program going amid the pandemic and was keen to secure additional tech support for employees working remotely and having computer issues that needed to be resolved. DSS has therefore teamed up with the Institute for Career Development (ICD) to address this need at the same time and to offer technology-trained interns an opportunity.
Earlier this year, 12 graduates of ICD’s AbilITy Cisco Academy, the first fully accessible computer network certification program for New Yorkers with disabilities, served as DSS interns for several months, providing help desk support to DSS staff and developing technical tickets for IT Department and helps with problem solving together with the agency staff. The interns – who were paid but paid no cost to the city council – provided much-needed assistance to a city agency that was a lifeline for more than 3 million New Yorkers during the pandemic, providing people in need with essential benefits and services. like grocery stamps / SNAP and cash help.
This example is particularly relevant as New York seeks to expand the technology sector further. A recent study by the ICD and the New York Institute of Technology – “Opportunities for Pathways & Collaborations” – recommends steps to expand the pool of people with disabilities with technical skills.
However, internships are critical across a variety of industries and occupational categories and must be broadly based as different industries recover economically at different rates.
For example, the real estate community can benefit from existing programs that offer building repair technician training and office technology support. These are important roles as property owners try to lure tenants back into the office.
HR functions across all industries may face greater challenges than ever when trying to re-establish an office culture with employees in the office, at home, or in hybrid arrangements. Interns as HR assistants can be of crucial importance in this context.
Care industries like childcare may be more in demand than ever. They too can benefit from trained interns when the New Yorkers adapt to new working time models and the resulting care offers.
People with disabilities have overcome obstacles in the past and their perspective and determination can benefit any organization. They value the chance to demonstrate their skills and value those who offer this opportunity.
Research shows that companies that include people with disabilities are more financially successful. What better opportunity than to improve a company’s financial success while giving back to the community that opens entire careers for people with disabilities?
Brent Gallenberger is Manager of Workforce Readiness at the Institute for Career Development in New York City. On Twitter @icd_nyc.