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Outreach Program Connecting Differently-Abled Students to Summer Internships is Thriving

Three years ago, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan partnered with the Judson Center to create an outreach program that connected students with disabilities to summer internship opportunities.

Rolled out in coordination with the already successful Blue Cross Summer Internship Program, Blue Paths to Success resulted in several college students with disabilities, including students on the autism spectrum, getting their first opportunity in a corporate environment.

Now, three years later, the Blue Paths program provides students across the ability spectrum with a realistic preview of what it’s like to work in a corporate environment every day, and provides Blue Cross leaders with strong, diverse talent.

Libbie Ward, manager, HR Business Partners, founded the Blue Paths program in 2015 by leveraging strategic partnerships with Oakland University, OU Cares, The Judson Center and ASPPIRE – all partners who are well-versed in issues affecting those with disabilities in the workplace.

“There is a striking employment disparity between Americans with and without disabilities,” Ward said. “The Department of Labor identifies people with disabilities as one of the nation’s largest minority groups, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the population. Yet only 21 percent of people with disabilities are participating in the workforce, resulting in an unemployment rate that is more than double the rate of people without disabilities.”

The Blue Paths to Success program is a step toward remedying this imbalance and aligns with corporate diversity initiatives to attract, develop and retain a diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent workforce.

“The Blue Paths to Success program helps ensure a workplace as diverse as the communities we serve,” said Bridget Hurd, senior director, Diversity and Inclusion. “The program reflects a commitment to our diversity and inclusion strategic objectives, promotes an inclusive culture and provides an opportunity for interns on the spectrum to participate in and contribute to our workplace.”
The program has had some unforeseen impacts to Blue Cross culture, as well. The Bright Blue employee resource network was inspired by two Blue Paths interns who inquired into the absence of an ability-focused employee resource network. Within a year, Bright Blue emerged as Blue Cross’ tenth internal employee resource network.

“Bright Blue plays an important role in supporting our corporate objectives by increasing understanding of the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities attributable to or related to difference in ability,” said Bright Blue executive sponsor Sondra Pedigo, vice president, Business Data Governance and Marketplace Regulatory Operations.

The BrightBlue ERN is inclusive of all employees and its membership diversity provides professional development and educational opportunities for everyone.

 

Photo Credit: Ryan Resella

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