National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in
Reaching Out to Youth:
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
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
- Partnering with local and national organizations and the government
to help design and market programs, events, and participate in committees;
- 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
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
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
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.
598K, 40 pages
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
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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.