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July 12, 2018

Our Inclusive Workplace: Providing Hands-On Experience for Students With Disabilities

When Troy Carter reflects on the internship he completed recently with the Richmond Fed, he’s as enthusiastic now as he was the first day he arrived. “It was an awesome experience. I met new people and learned new things,” he remembers. “It also was scary, but I came out of my shell.”

Troy worked on Corporate Communications’ Creative Services team — the group that provides photography, graphic design and video services to our Bank. The internship was part of his enrollment in Virginia Commonwealth University’s ACE-IT in College program. ACE-IT is an inclusive program for transition-age adults who have intellectual disabilities. The two-year program includes VCU classes, campus activities and internships, and is designed to give participants skills and experiences that will help them find employment in their career fields.

Troy Carter works with creative services' Cecilia Bingenheimer on a design project.

“The Richmond Fed has an incredibly welcoming environment,” shares Stephanie Lau, Troy’s job coach. “From day one it was obvious that they wanted Troy here and saw his value. More than that, they clearly want to be involved in the ACE-IT program. It speaks to the Bank’s commitment. ”

That commitment is born of the Richmond Fed’s appreciation for diversity, says Kathy Houghtaling, vice president in Human Resources and executive sponsor of our Bank’s Ability Beyond the Label, or ABLe, employee resource network.

“We define diversity very broadly,” explains Houghtaling. “We don’t limit our definition to traditional markers like gender or ethnicity. Instead, our goal is to recognize and leverage all of the ways that people are different — all of the ways that someone can make a contribution.”

Sometimes that means making workplace accommodations for employees with hearing or visual impairments, or minimizing physical barriers for those with mobility issues. Other times, as in Troy’s case, the accommodations support a different way of processing information and completing duties.

Troy’s ultimate goal is to work in video editing, and he came to the Bank already familiar with some design programs as well as video production. Understanding his goals, Cecilia Bingenheimer, his supervisor, chose assignments that included assisting on video shoots.

“He was eager to jump in and help. Some interns are timid, but not Troy. It was fun watching him learn, grow and experience,” says Bingenheimer. “When you work with Troy — teaching him what you know and enjoying his company — the feeling is ‘happy.’“  

Our Bank’s horticulture team has also offered hands-on opportunities for students with disabilities.

While many of our Bank’s applicants come to us online, the strategy is different when it comes to sourcing people with disabilities. In that case, it’s a matter of building relationships with organizations like the ACE-IT program, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services and others to match skills with job openings. Horticulture and facilities management internships are other examples of how the Bank has offered opportunities to students with disabilities.

Michelle Bellinger, past chair of ABLe, loves stories like Troy’s. As part of its mission, ABLe influences the Bank to remove barriers for people facing physical or intellectual challenges.

“Many times students have a career goal they want to achieve, and all they lack is job experience in their desired field,” says Bellinger. “Offering internships that are tailored to what they want to do is critical to their success in finding long-term employment.”

Since completing his internship and graduating from VCU ACE-IT, Troy has landed a position with Richmond Region Tourism. (Read more about his journey in an article VCU published recently.)

Bingenheimer’s glad that she and her team played a part in getting Troy the experience he needed. “Having Troy with us helped our team learn to work with someone who has different thinking, background and experiences,” explains Bingenheimer. “I like to think that Troy benefitted as much as we did.”

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