Interns with Disabilities Share Their Inspiring Stories

Interns with Disabilities Share Their Inspiring Stories

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Maha Neouchy
September 13, 2013

The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) is committed to providing high quality experiential education opportunities for students with disabilities. TWC is able to provide these transformational opportunities by partnering with socially responsible companies such as AT&T.

 

For the seventh consecutive year, AT&T Foundation scholarships have made it possible for students with disabilities to take advantage of TWC internship programs. At the end of the summer 2013 term, AT&T scholarship recipients met with representatives from the company, along with one of their NGO partners, for a discussion titled, "Common Ground: How Businesses and Advocacy Organizations Work Together to Achieve Better Outcomes in Washington."

 

The evening kicked off with a panel discussion featuring:

 

  1. Chris Mason, director of Student Services at TWC, who provided an overview of TWC's support program for students with disabilities.
  2. Susan Mazrui, director of Public Policy at AT&T, who discussed how AT&T works with advocacy organizations to promote equal access and opportunities for members of the disabled community.
  3. Claude Stout, executive director at Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), who expanded on how his advocacy organization, TDI, works with businesses like AT&T to address the needs of community groups.

Growth and Transformation for all TWC Interns

 

Chris Mason began the event by discussing the growth he sees in each student throughout their journey at TWC. He told the story of a specific student who came from Iowa and had been living with impaired vision. At the beginning of the program, the student assumed he would be escorted to his internship each day while he traveled to and from the Metro. However, Mason had to inform the student that he would have to travel on his own after the third day of being in D.C. Although the student was taken out of his comfort zone, he succeeded in taking the Metro daily despite the belief that he could never manage to get from "...point A to point B on my own." Mason ended by sharing that, "...the best part about my job is seeing students transform while they're at TWC." He added that "...whether a student is living with a physical or cognitive disability, this experience can provide them with the confidence they need for the real world."

 

Advice for Interns with Disabilities

 

In addition to her role as director of public policy at AT&T, Susan Mazrui serves as AT&T's liaison to the disability community. She provided summer 2013 TWC interns in the audience with a few invaluable pieces of advice:

 

  • Build a support system and develop allies
  • Learn to be resilient and flexible from an early age
  • Advocate for yourself
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Additionally, Claude Stout also had advice for TWC interns. When Stout began attending a school for the deaf, he had a total of five words in his vocabulary. At that time, technology wasn't advanced enough to allow deaf people to communicate via phone. Now that cell phones are so common, Stout shared how happy he was that he no longer was at, "...the mercy of his parents, neighbors and hearing friends." But how did he become the individual he is today, both personally and professionally? He not only had to learn to be both flexible and resilient, but also persistent. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Gallaudet University and spending 33 years in the business world, Stout had his own special advice to share with audience members, particularly current summer 2013 interns living with disabilities:

 

  • Make noise when you're advocating for yourself because you are also advocating for others
  • Try to always react with patience because you'll make more progress
  • Finally, for everyone living without a disability, remember that you're all only temporarily able-bodied

Summer 2013 Interns Share Their Experiences

 

2013 marks the seventh year that AT&T Foundation has partnered with TWC to support students with disabilities, providing more than $300,000 in support. As a token of appreciation for providing their housing scholarships, three current summer 2013 interns stood up and shared both their struggles and successes of living with a disability, touching on their internships in D.C., sharing who they have as support systems and what inspires them to keep living each day to its fullest.

 

One student living with Tourette's Syndrome has faced a number of obstacles in his lifetime, such as involuntary vocal and motor movements. It took medication and his mother being the number one advocate, "...to teach me that there is no such thing as the word 'can't' I've turned my disabilities into strengths and TWC has helped me step up since I began the program." The philosophy that he developed to help him get through all the hurdles that life throws his way: "always give 250 percent!"

 

Another student diagnosed with cerebral palsy shared that he does not "...dwell on the fact that I could have been born normal. Although my disability has closed many doors, it has opened up so many opportunities like TWC." TWC was a life changing experience for this particular student because he had never lived outside of his home state, let alone 500 miles away. He doubted whether he would be able to navigate this city and knew that it would sometimes take him twice as long as anyone else to get somewhere in the city. But, "...if I had given into that little voice in my head that said I couldn't do something, I'd never be where I am today. I'm trying to strive and achieve any goal that I've set for myself. Chris, the faculty, my program advisor, down to the concierge and security guard…without them pushing me or extending a helping hand, I don't think I would've been able to accomplish as much as I have here."

 

The last student who spoke shared the struggles he has faced after being diagnosed with ADHD at the early age of two. He told the crowd that he actually found out about the program while he was a freshman in college but did not have the confidence to apply. It was not until he studied abroad and began traveling that he had the confidence to apply for a Washington, D.C. internship experience and make more of an effort to do better in school: "TWC has given me a lot of hope in the workplace and despite my disability, I know that I have the power to succeed." He left each audience member with a special piece of advice: "Find people who understand what it is that you're going through. It will make it easier to succeed in life."

 

The event was an inspiration to both those living with and without disabilities. It shows that sometimes in life if you take risks, step up and be all that you can be, anyone can succeed despite any obstacles standing in the way. TWC would like to once again thank AT&T for its continued support over these last seven years to help TWC interns with disabilities grow personally and professionally, and for all the work they do to positively impact our community.

 

[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

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