E-mail this page
Download PDF
598K, 40 pages
Acrobat Reader required
NCSET logo

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace

Reaching Out to Youth:
Microsoft Corporation

by Mylene Padolina

Microsoft strives to enable people and businesses worldwide to realize their full potential by empowering people through great software—any time, any place, and on any device.

Commitment to Diversity

We have a corporate commitment to the principle of diversity. In that spirit, we believe that diversity enriches our products, empowers us to provide excellent customer service, enhances the lives of our employees, and connects us to all communities in which we live and work. We consider employees to be our greatest asset. We make every effort to provide flexible programs, resources, and tools to help our employees create their own balance in life. We believe that our continued success is dependent on the diverse skills, experiences, and backgrounds that our employees bring to the table.

An excellent source of disability empowerment and support at Microsoft is the employee resource groups that are initiated and chartered by employees. These self-organized groups support networking, continuing education, career development, mentoring, social activities, and community outreach. Some of the disability-focused employee resource groups include the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) group, Visually Impaired Persons in MS (MSVIP), and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing group.

Microsoft’s diversity education program seeks to maximize the performance of every employee and to enhance Microsoft’s ability to attract, develop, and keep the best and brightest talent. This program is designed to reinforce the company’s commitment to diversity while ensuring that employees have the awareness, skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to succeed. Our employees are responsible for their own career development, so we provide them with all the tools and resources they need to grow professionally. Microsoft’s technical education youth programs, online self-paced training, and management development training all promote learning. We communicate the importance of a respectful work environment in maximizing the performance of every employee and enhancing the company’s ability to attract, develop, and retain the best and brightest talent. The emphasis on understanding, valuing, and leveraging differences is also linked to our ability to compete effectively in an ever-changing marketplace.

One of our main goals at Microsoft is to have a positive impact on the number of under-represented minorities, women, and individuals with disabilities in the technology industry and those hired by the company.

Microsoft Reaches Out to Youth with Disabilities

Microsoft has a history of implementing youth outreach programs. Our philosophy is to excite kids about technical careers at a young age. We want to show them that their career choices are not limited and that there are lots of jobs they can do. Our goal is to bridge digital divide issues along with creating a pipeline of future candidates for employment. For 10 years, Microsoft Corporate Diversity Group has been providing work experiences for youth, but we found that we had limited participation from students with disabilities. Microsoft has many successful and productive full-time employees who have disabilities and felt confident that youth with disabilities could participate, benefit, and contribute in a worthwhile manner. We want to help them to feel empowered about their future in order to counteract long-standing lowered expectations.

Beginning in 2000, we began to specifically target youth with disabilities for participation in workforce development opportunities at Microsoft through our involvement in a number of business/education partnerships. These partnerships include:

  • Working with local special education teachers to arrange job shadow and career days and to make appropriate matches between students and opportunities;
  • Partnering with local and national organizations and the government to help design and market programs, events, and participate in committees; and
  • Collaborating with community organizations to conduct disability awareness and sensitivity training for employees.

As the coordinating entity, Microsoft’s Corporate Diversity Group acts as a liaison between the students, community organizations, school groups, and the employee volunteer participants. We continually seek feedback from our partners, employees, and youth participants on how we are doing in the programs and events we offer. We ask participants about likes, dislikes, and ideas for improvement. Our goal is to ensure a meaningful experience for all involved.

Workforce Exposure at Microsoft

Youth with disabilities participate in a number of different workforce development opportunities. These include: internships, job shadowing, career days, youth service days, corporate campus visits, leadership conferences, and a one-day technology camp. At the camp, youth meet with a panel of employees with disabilities who share their experiences at Microsoft, and they also have the opportunity to preview technology that may be helpful to them in the workplace.

Microsoft makes it possible for both high school and college students with disabilities to participate in a variety of work experiences. High school student internships are intended to excite students’ interest in a technical field and to encourage them to pursue the education necessary to excel in this field. College internships are set up to translate into full-time jobs.

Sixty percent of the positions at Microsoft are highly technical. Youth involved in work experiences at Microsoft are placed in a number of different technical areas, including testing software in the game division, Web site development, and software development. All internships are technical in nature.

Employee Preparation and Involvement with Students

Microsoft employees are extremely involved with student workers. We take time to match students’ skills and interests with employees’ skills and interests. We hold introductory meetings for our employees to better prepare them for conducting job shadow experiences, mentoring, and interacting effectively with students with disabilities. Microsoft works with employees to ensure that students will understand the job.

Depending on the type of work opportunity (such as job shadowing, career day, etc.), employees participate in different activities prior to the students’ arrival on the job. Employees who volunteer to provide job shadow experiences complete a form describing themselves and their experience working with youth with disabilities. Microsoft then works with the school or a local program called “DO-IT,” sponsored by the University of Washington, to match employers and students. Employees receive disability etiquette training and support in planning their day with students. DO-IT staff help organize and conduct the training. There are also various media available about working with and accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace, such as online videos that describe disability etiquette.

Before a young person begins a job, the work group where they will be placed is prepared for their arrival. For example, before a student intern who is deaf arrived on the job, his work group took sign language classes. Both the intern and his co-workers were thrilled to be able to communicate effectively with each other. The student’s disability was demystified for his co-workers, and many of the employees continued sign language classes after the student completed his internship.

Microsoft also facilitates dialogues between the interns and their work group. These discussions allow employees to ask the person with a disability any questions, such as how best to communicate job tasks or how they can make the work environment more accessible. For example, for an intern with impaired vision, a trainer, who is blind and from a community partner agency, facilitated an introductory icebreaker session. The training session allowed the intern and work group to identify strategies for a successful work experience.

We Strive to Make Diversity Our Success

One of the company’s many goals is to increase diversity. Our business-education partnerships that target youth with disabilities bring us closer to reaching this goal. By bringing youth with disabilities to Microsoft for workforce development opportunities, we hope to spark their interest in our company and understanding of the technology field. This can be a win-win situation for the students and for Microsoft. Collaboration with local, state, and national organizations has helped to make this workforce development initiative a success. Through concerted efforts in the past three years, we have reached out to more than 500 students with disabilities.

It is difficult, however, to determine the exact number of students with disabilities, both at the high school and college levels, who have actually had employment opportunities at Microsoft. Because we have a voluntary self-identification process, some students may choose not to be identified as having a disability. For a more accurate picture, we need to continue to create a workplace where employees can feel comfortable about disclosing their disability. We anticipate continued expansion of these opportunities, as our business will continue to need more technically skilled workers.

Mylene Padolina is a Senior Diversity Consultant with the Microsoft Corporate Diversity Group of Microsoft Corporation, where she is responsible for disability integration and youth outreach programs. She also assists with new hires, secures appropriate accommodations, and designs and coordinates training events for the corporation.

Table of Contents

Cover Page


Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion

E-mail this page
Download PDF
598K, 40 pages
Acrobat Reader required

Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.