Combatting ableism with internships

People with disabilities remain more than three times more likely to be unemployed than peers without a disability. In 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed compared to 61.8 percent for people without a disability. Even in a strong job market, people with disabilities are much more likely to be unemployed.

Factor in people with disabilities who are underemployed – being employed in a job that is substandard in hours, pay, or likelihood of being promoted – and the gap widens. Chronic underemployment can lead to loss of confidence, increased stress, and financial problems. These statistics are a product of a non-inclusive educational system and workforce. At PYD, we aim to change those systemic issues through employment opportunities and inclusion training.

PYD empowers young people with disabilities to build the skills and abilities to lead self-determined lives filled with purpose. Our Career Readiness curriculum offers courses on resume writing, networking, and interviewing. Yet the on-the-job training youth receive from internships provides them with skills to be successful in the workforce and beyond.

Jillian Howland completed an internship with the National Disability Mentoring Coalition (NDMC), an initiative of PYD that raises awareness about the importance of mentoring in the lives of people with disabilities and aims to increase the number and quality of disability mentoring programs around the country. Jillian was tasked with interviewing mentors and writing blog posts about the impact of mentoring. “I wanted an internship experience to get some hands-on experience with writing and to get job experience before college,” Jillian said. “I want to go into social work. This internship definitely helped me improve my writing skills.”

Genelle Thomas, Director of National Initiatives at PYD, supervised Jillian. “Jillian brought a curiosity and love of writing to the position. She wanted to learn about the non-profit world, mentoring, and the lives of mentors and this translated into strong, meaningful writing that benefited our members. She added tremendous value to the NDMC and we are excited to follow her professional journey.”

Youth with disabilities can boost their employment rates with experience gained in internships. Just as important, employment can contribute to a sense of purpose and improved self-esteem. Jillian experienced those benefits firsthand. “I learned that I can have a job where my work can be valued,” she said.

PYD continues to create opportunity, access, and independence for youth with disabilities through internships. Inclusion benefits not only youth with disabilities but employers, communities, and society.