On Disability Studies

Students apply learning to internships, career plans
Students apply learning to internships, career plans
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jaime Freilich '13 was scrambling to find a class for her schedule when a friend persuaded her to try one of ILR's disability studies classes.

"I had never known anything about disability policy," said Freilich. In the spring, she begins a fourth semester of study in disability. After graduation, she plans to make it her career.

"Whatever career you are pursuing, it's just relevant ... it relates to everything," said Freilich, a Human Development major in the university's College of Human Ecology.

Nearly 200 students from across Cornell took courses in disability studies during 2011.

Disability was not, some say, part of their world view until ILR coursework made it part of their everyday thinking.

Employment and Disability Associate Director Thomas Golden, who teaches three of ILR's nine disability courses, said, "One in five Americans experience a disability, making it a prevalent facet of diversity in our families, workplaces and society as a whole. Students taking disability studies courses have expressed not only the impact on their personal lives and outlooks, but also on their families and future careers."

Some of Golden's students have integrated newfound knowledge of disabilities into internships.

When Sam Dix '12 began a financial services consulting internship with Ernst and Young in New York City, he was selected to lead the firm's student community service team.

"From taking the classes, I knew I wanted to make a difference for people with disabilities," he said, "and expose other students to the experiences of people with disabilities."

Golden connected him with the Access Project at the Center for Independence for the Disabled in New York City. Dix and his peers canvassed blocks of Manhattan eateries to see which restaurants, coffee shops and bars are accessible for people with disabilities.

Dix said, "It was pretty eye opening. How many steps into the entrance? Can a wheelchair user access the tables and bathroom? Can someone with a visual disability read the menu?"

The project serves many, he said. "Not only would restaurants get more business" by being accessible, "it would enrich the lives of people with disabilities."

"I hope to continue to help people with disabilities in some way throughout the course of my life," he said, noting that "people with disabilities are the largest minority in America and the only one that anyone can join."

Last summer, Adel Benslimane '13 worked as a compensation analyst at Boeing, where senior members of his team were surprised to learn he was familiar with employment challenges faced by military veterans with disabilities.

Benslimane had just finished ILR's "Disability and Employment Policy" course.

Assigned to helping design Veteran Career Day with Expedia, Microsoft and other leading Seattle companies last summer, he said, "my background helped me contribute to an effective event," he said.

"It was really cool to see" the course taught by Golden "play out right away" in his work experience, Benslimane said. "I knew how to communicate correctly, be sensitive to vets' needs and make proper use of recruiting services."

"Before the class, I had almost zero exposure to disabilities."

Now, he said, he is alert to visible disabilities and non-visible disabilities such as post traumatic stress disorder.