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Students with disabilities gain career skills through comprehensive internship program

Oct 13, 2023

Indiana University Bloomington student Paige Moore leads a cooking demonstration at Forest Manor Health Center in Indianapolis on July 12... Indiana University Bloomington student Paige Moore leads a cooking demonstration at Forest Manor Health Center in Indianapolis on July 12, 2023. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

IUPUI junior Michael Hardin is blind, a disability that national data says is a significant hurdle to employment. But a partnership between Indiana University and the Gregory S. Fehribach Center is introducing Hardin and other IU students with physical disabilities to career opportunities and giving them job experience through a summer internship program.

The Fehribach Center, housed within Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis, helps Indiana college students with disabilities build their skills and confidence through full-time, paid internships with major employers. Working with companies such as Eli Lilly, Cummins, Eskenazi Health and the Indiana Pacers makes them more competitive for full-time employment after graduation.

Michael Hardin, an IUPUI student and intern with the Gregory S. Fehribach Center's program at Eskenazi Health. Photo by Liz... Michael Hardin, an IUPUI student and intern with the Gregory S. Fehribach Center's program at Eskenazi Health. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana UniversityIU has had a strong relationship with the Fehribach Center for five years, with students from IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU East and IU South Bend completing internships. IUPUI, which is transitioning to IU Indianapolis, and IU Bloomington have been the most active campuses: 22 IUPUI students have completed 49 internships, including five student interns in summer 2023; 19 IU Bloomington students have completed 32 internships, and its 11 student interns in summer 2023 were its most ever.

Hardin interned at the Eskenazi Health Center of Hope the past two summers, connecting victims of family violence and sexual assault to critical resources in his role as a victim assistance advocate. He said he’s thankful for the partnership between IU and the Fehribach Center and the ability to participate in the internship program early in his college career.

“The partnership has helped me by giving me the opportunity to gain experience in various forms, to strengthen my transferable skills,” Hardin said. “That way, when I do actually get into my field, I will pretty much have the experience.”

Overcoming barriers

The Fehribach Center started in the early 2000s as an internship program for Ball State University students. Indianapolis attorney Greg Fehribach, a national leader in accessible design, was concerned that too few young adults with disabilities were in leadership positions. Fehribach — who was also a trustee at Ball State and at Eskenazi’s parent organization, the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County — created the internship program with Larry Markle, who was the director of Ball State’s disability program at the time. Since then, the program has evolved to include students from universities statewide who have hearing, sight and mobility disabilities.

“I want to see these really talented and highly qualified college students and graduates with physical disabilities get the experiences that they need so that they can be really strong candidates for equitable employment after graduation,” said Markle, now the Fehribach Center’s director.

National data supports the need for the Fehribach Center and its internship program. Among people ages 16 to 64, only 35.1% of those with disabilities were employed in 2021, compared to 76.5 percent of non-disabled people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even after earning a college degree, people with disabilities earn 38% less than those without disabilities, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Larry Markle, director of the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University Larry Markle, director of the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University“Sadly, there’s still a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions that the average person has about an individual with a disability and that she or he can’t do a specific job,” Markle said.

Students are placed in fields related to their major, and housing and transportation assistance are offered when needed. The Fehribach Center works with universities to attract applicants and discusses with employers the accommodations an intern will need to do their job.

Thirty-nine employers have hosted interns, Markle said. Christia Hicks, Eskenazi Health’s chief of human resources, said the program aligns with Eskenazi’s values of advocating and caring for vulnerable populations, and it’s a good way to hire talented individuals. Eskenazi Health has employed interns from IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU East and IU South Bend.

The success of the eight-week internship program is evident in the numbers: 93% of the interns have either found full-time employment, resumed their undergraduate studies or started graduate school, Markle added.

“The Fehribach Center’s partnership with IU is a great example of two large organizations working together to remove barriers and create opportunities for talented college students with physical disabilities,” Hicks said. “It has been a privilege for me to get to know several IU students participating in the Fehribach Center’s program, and I have been very impressed with each of them.”

Watch the video, “Providing opportunities for students with disabilities” with audio descriptions.

‘Finding ways to help us branch out’

IU Bloomington senior Paige Moore is pursuing a major in neuroscience and a minor in psychology, and she wants to be a neuroscientist and a neuropsychologist. Over the years, though, her hearing loss has made it difficult to secure part-time jobs.

Moore is completely deaf in the right ear and has moderate to severe loss in the left. Although she’s pretty good at reading lips, she sometimes needs the help of an interpreter in the workplace.

She thought the internship program would be a good fit because the Fehribach Center works with employers to accommodate a student’s disability, removing that burden from the student. As a self-supporting student, Moore appreciated the fact that internships are paid because she didn’t have to choose between building her resume and finding a job to pay her bills.

“It’s nice to know they’re supporting other students like me that have disabilities, and they’re finding ways to help us branch out and get some more opportunities,” Moore said.

IU Bloomington student Paige Moore. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University IU Bloomington student Paige Moore. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana UniversityShe has completed three internships through the Fehribach program. Through the Eskenazi Health Aging Brain Care program, Moore worked with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients and shadowed doctors in the clinic. Next, she interned with IU Health Methodist Hospital and conducted research related to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

For her third internship, Moore told Markle that she was interested in how diet impacts neurological and mental health disorders, which ties into a career as a neuropsychologist. So over the summer she interned with Eskenazi Health’s nutrition and lifestyle health department.

Moore worked with dietitians and lifestyle wellness coaches to learn more about diet, and she worked on projects such as analyzing data and using that data to find trends. She helped create a research poster about Eskenazi’s nutrition incentive program, shadowed clinical work in the department, and helped with cooking classes and educational groups for people trying to manage diabetes.

“Because of this internship program, I was able to intern in a variety of different places, so that’s kind of helped me tailor my taste to what I’m most interested in,” Moore said.

The right tools

Hardin, who’s in IUPUI’s Bachelor of Social Work program, said the Center of Hope has been very accommodating with his disability. He works remotely from his Indianapolis home and uses a screen reader on his computer that tells him what’s on the screen.

Hardin also uses an assistive keyboard, which he has memorized, and whose keys have multiple functions that allow him to search by word, character, headings and links, and he can scroll the internet to help clients find resources and contact information. If he needs to, he’ll use a recorder to record something quickly and play it back before typing information into a document.

The Fehribach Center’s program also made the experience of securing an internship much easier. Hardin said that noisy career fairs where students have to navigate between employer booths can be anxiety-inducing for someone who is totally blind.

Collaborative effort

When the Fehribach Center began branching out to universities statewide, Indiana University was one of the first schools it contacted, Markle said.

“I think IU has become the model for the Fehribach Center in how the relationship between disability services and career services should work,” Markle said. “They host us every fall to come down and speak with students with disabilities.”

IUPUI’s Accessible Educational Services sets up an open house to inform students about the internship program. Kevin McCracken, director of Accessible Educational Services, said the Fehribach program has been a great benefit.

“It would be difficult to conceive of an internship program like this one that would be any better than the Fehribach Center internship program,” he said. “It’s extraordinary that it’s focused on students with disabilities and that it’s a full-time paid internship.”

At IU Bloomington, staff from the Career Development Center and Accessible Educational Services work together to inform students with disabilities about the internship program.

“More experience equals more post-graduation success, and that’s all what we want for our students,” said Rachel Gerber, the Career Development Center’s associate director.

Drew Bogenschutz, director of Accessible Educational Services at IU Bloomington, said emails are sent to students with disabilities to generate interest. The two offices set up an open house each fall to connect interested students with the Fehribach Center’s leaders and provide more information.

Gerber said applications for the program are due by the end of January, and the center will have drop-in sessions for students who want to polish their resumes and get application materials together.

Bogenschutz said the internship program is a good way to introduce students to the working world while making sure they’re supported.

“I think the internship program is great for our students; I think it’s great for the community,” Bogenschutz said. “It’s a win-win type of situation.”


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Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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