Employment opportunities in STEM fields grow rapidly, but the number of individuals gaining a degree in the fields is still low. It is even lower among students with disabilities. The low numbers create a need to develop more STEM career paths for people with developmental disabilities.
The Pacific Alliance Effort
National Science Foundation runs one of the initiatives to increase the number of students living with disabilities that explore, transition, and succeed in STEM careers. It funds The Pacific Alliance, whose staff supports disability-related, academic, self-empowerment/exploration, and employment barriers for students. The staff members work with students with disabilities at various academic levels whether they are in the STEM pipeline, not yet in, or still undecided.
The Pacific Alliance has four teams called Communities of Practice at local college campuses. The teams have people who share an interest or concern. They collectively engage in activities supporting the education and employment of students with disabilities in the STEM fields.
Chicago-based YolBe(Your Life Only Better) is another organization that supports STEM career paths for people with developmental disabilities. It is a Chicago-based software company and a career networking platform.
The program introduces youth of color with developmental and intellectual disabilities to STEM careers. Participating youth get real-life experience on how it is like to work in a STEM field. Young learners aged 16-24 years participate in online soft skills training lasting eight weeks. Their coaches are Ph.D. candidates. They teach and guide learners to practice with peers on these modules:
The learners end with a YolBe′s four-week paid internship.
Equal Access internships, according to YolBe CEO David Douglas, were designed to serve those with disabilities. Douglas adds that “Equal Access is a marketplace for organizations serving a population with disability and employers interested in hiring individuals with a disability.”
YolBe offered online internships to increase flexibility and accessibility when marking its second year. Anirudh Paidipally, a 19 year who likes coding, was one of the participants. Paidipally is a Schaumburg resident on the autism spectrum but like HTML. He spent a summer working on code with YolBe through its website and app.
His father Bhaskar revealed Paidipally is always working on the computer while at home. “He is comfortable when sitting on his couch and table but gets anxiety when he goes somewhere else,” said Bhaskar. The internship helped Paidipally as his father works on his habit of freezing when he sees strangers or new situations.
YolBe team is focused on taking more STEM opportunities to the marginalized communities, from training to jobs. The intention is to provide real-life work experience to bridge a gap in information and skills.