Internship program expands opportunities for college grads with disabilities

A Ball State University student who interned with Conexus Indiana is giving high marks to a program designed to improve employment prospects for college graduates with physical disabilities.

Ball State senior Caleb Posey said the internship program created by the Gregory S. Fehribach Center at Eskenazi Health not only prepared him for his intended profession, but also simply gave him meaningful workplace experience. “I learned how to work with professionals to achieve long-term goals,” Posey said.

The Fehribach Center’s internship program addresses a serious need: While Ball State researchers have found that students with physical disabilities graduate at rates similar to their peers without disabilities, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that as many as 50% of college graduates with disabilities are not in the labor force.

To counter this dynamic, the Fehribach Center places students with mobility, visual and hearing disabilities with area employers for internships in line with their areas of college study. Through this process, the Center – named in recognition of Indianapolis attorney Greg Fehribach’s vision and leadership – seeks to give students practical experience and professional confidence while also showing employers that people with physical disabilities can perform at the same level as others.

To date, the program had provided internships to more than 100 students from 30 colleges and universities. Eskenazi Health has hosted the majority of students, but other participating employers include Chase Bank, Eli Lilly and Company, Health and Science Innovations, Lumina Foundation, Old National Bank and the State of Indiana.

The Fehribach Center provides additional services and programs to support interns – including housing and transportation assistance, if needed – and offers professional development events on such topics as interviewing, financial literacy, disability disclosure and dining etiquette.

The results are encouraging: More than 90 percent of interns have graduated and are employed, are in graduate school or are still undergraduates, and some employers subsequently hired their interns for full-time positions.

Caleb Posey is among the students who report a high level of satisfaction with their experience.

After his Conexus internship that included doing research on what automotive companies are doing to enhance environmental sustainability, Posey said, “I learned valuable research skills … and gained valuable experience in drafting professional documents for a range of audiences.”