Intern with a Disability Proves Abilities to Himself and the World
Chris Miller, born with cerebral palsy, has severe spasticity, impaired speech and needs a power wheelchair to get around. However, at age 26, he already proved that he is able to work on changing policies for a country and the mindset of a foreign nation.
Kessler Foundation awards grants to the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, which provides Washington semesters for college students at US and foreign institutions. The Foundation’s grants enable The Washington Center to offer these valuable experiences to students with disabilities. One of four students with disabilities to qualify for the spring semester, Chris interned for the Administration on Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities Administration for Community Living, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“The internship has changed my life both professionally and personally,” Chris said. “I experienced what the professional world will be like for me after I graduate [and] I learned I can be an effective advocate for people with disabilities. I learned that I am able to live independently with the right supports. Interning in Washington, DC confirmed my professional goal—to live in Washington, DC, and work in an advocacy role for people with disabilities.”
Throughout his internship, Chris worked on developing airport screening materials for individuals with developmental disabilities. “My overall experience was wonderful. The airport screening project will assist individuals with disabilities with packing and understanding how to go through the airport screening process, which will lessen the stress for everyone,” Chris explained. “I learned about the internal operations of a federal agency and contributed to meaningful work that will improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.”
But perhaps the most exciting part of his internship was when he co-presented on US programs for people with disabilities to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs—China’s equivalent to HHS. Under blatant stares that would have unnerved the most confident of interns, Chris saw the opportunity to show the abilities of people with disabilities. As the foreign delegation watched Chris roll in to the room and deliver an eloquent presentation, he knew he was helping change their attitudes. “In China, people with disabilities are still institutionalized. They had no experience with a person with a disability in the workplace, presenting authoritatively,” Chris emphasized. “They could not stop talking and looking at me. I think I made an impact. Hopefully, that will contribute to a new perspective of people with disabilities.”
Chris is on his way to a political career as an advocate for people with disabilities. In 2010, he earned an associate’s degree in public policy. Currently, he is completing his bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in public policy at Monmouth University. He also serves as Vice Chair of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Chris’ goal is to represent people with disabilities at the decision-making table. “I want to shape policy and improve quality of life for all,” he declared. “When decisions are being made for us and about us, I want to use my voice and be heard. I want to make sure everyone's voice is heard.”
Thanks to his internship, Chris is even closer to achieving his goal. “Because of the support of Kessler Foundation, The Washington Center was able to provide experience and contacts that I will be able to use throughout my career,” he said.
Support Kessler Foundation’s employment initiatives and rehabilitation research at Stroll ‘N Roll (and RUN!) on Sunday, October 21st in Bloomfield/Montclair, NJ. For more information and registration, visit www.kesslerfoundation.org/SNR.