Unique program opens doors for people with intellectual disabilities

6 September 2016

Young people with intellectual disabilities will be embedded as paid interns in two leading Australian organisations, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), as part of an innovative new program at the University of Sydney.

Stephanie Walker and Chris Bunton from the uni 2 beyond program

uni 2 beyond students Stephanie Walker (right) and Chris Bunton.

The Centre for Disability Studies is expanding its award-winning Inclusive Education Program into a new three-year scheme with an inbuilt internship.

Now called uni 2 beyond, the program provides people with intellectual disability the chance to explore their passions at university, studying alongside a current University of Sydney student mentor on a range of subjects – from music education to business studies.

From September 2016, two uni 2 beyond students – Stephanie Walker and Amrita Ramjas – will become the first to embark on paid corporate internships at the CBA and MIEngineers respectively.

They will be paired with both a University of Sydney peer mentor and a corporate mentor from each organisation, as they undertake six-week placements assisting with a range of office duties and gaining experience within various departments.

I have really loved my time at the University of Sydney. I feel grown up and independent.
Stephanie Walker, uni 2 beyond student

"I am really looking forward to having a job. I expect I will learn lots and make some new friends," said Stephane Walker, who has studied sports nutrition and digital cultures as part of the uni 2 beyond program.

"I have already met the people I will be working for and they are really nice. I have really loved my time at the University of Sydney. I feel grown up and independent."

Sarah Lalor, Senior Product Manager, Institutional Banking and Markets at CBA, said they are looking forward to welcoming Stephanie this month.

"Stephanie's corporate mentor will provide her with guidance and support during her time in our Sydney office. But she will also play an important role in learning from Stephanie how we at the Commonwealth Bank can continually improve our workplace to ensure our inclusive environment provides better opportunities for everyone.

"We applaud uni 2 beyond for this initiative, and we are honoured to be part of this award-winning program."

uni 2 beyond student Amrita Ramjas

uni 2 beyond student Amrita Ramjas will intern at MIEngineers this September.

For Amrita Ramjas, the opportunity to work in an engineering firm holds special significance, helping to fulfil a lifelong dream of gaining experience in the same field as her father who is an engineer.

"I want to learn new things and to be able to take on challenges so that I know I could manage doing new things," said Amrita Ramjas, who is studying creative arts in early childhood education this semester.

"I am so excited – it is a great opportunity to show people what I can do. I feel very happy to finally get to do something like this."

Amy-Ruth MacDonald, Strategic Relationships Manager at MIEngineers and Benchmark Estimating Software, said her organisations were "very excited" to have Amrita on board.

"We see this as a chance to raise awareness within our companies and also within our industry," said MacDonald.

"We are committed to inclusion and diversity and see our involvement with uni 2 beyond as promoting the skills of all members of our community. We can't wait to work with Amrita during her internship."

The uni 2 beyond program

One of only two programs of its kind nationally, uni 2 beyond is run by the Centre for Disability Studies, an affiliate of the University's Sydney Medical School. It aims to boost students' confidence and independence, build their work-ready skills, broaden their social networks, and promote inclusion on the University campus.

"For many people with intellectual disability, their post high school options are fairly limited. uni 2 beyond helps students to take on what for many people is an assumed rite of passage – to go to university and have a typical student experience," said Friederike Gadow, uni 2 beyond coordinator and Research Fellow from the Centre for Disability Studies.

"The students attend lectures and tutorials supported by a University of Sydney peer mentor, and complete individual learning projects on up to two subjects each term. This not only enhances their sense of belonging but it also helps our current University of Sydney students' capacity to become real advocates and supporters of social inclusion."

The uni 2 beyond expansion continues the work of the previously-called Inclusive Education Program, which was first introduced to the University of Sydney by Professor Patricia O’Brien in 2012. Now in its fourth year, the program has grown from five students in 2012 to include 10 participants who have studied across six faculties including Arts, Education and Social Work, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Business School and Health Sciences.

uni 2 beyond has also secured the support of property development company Crown Group as Foundation Partner and D&I Consulting as pro bono advisers. The uni 2 beyond program was recognised with an Innovative Practice 2016 award by the Zero Project earlier this year in an award ceremony at the United Nations Office in Vienna.

Related articles