Internships: Unlocking a New Realm

Leslie Weilbacher, Outreach Specialist for the NW Region of APH, is sitting on a bench wearing a purple APH shirt with Arushi next to her. They are holding a certificate of appreciation for the summer. Leslie's German shepherd guide dog, Fame, wears a purple APH bandana.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you went from being the person you were to a new person with some of your old traits? A transformation of sorts during a period of rapid growth and learning. During the summer of 2023, I participated in a program sponsored by the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind. I lived with other students who were blind or low vision and worked with staff on being self-sufficient while in the home. We also had paid work experience. 

I started my work experience with APH ConnectCenter and APH products. I experienced so many new situations.  

Learning Beyond High School 

I am a rising senior in high school. I was used to the routine and systems of work used in education, similar to most other youth my age. However, I’ve heard that job experience is essential to gain many necessary skills for employment success not taught in the standard educational system; but, until I started my job, I did not truly understand! The educational system has taught me to maintain a strict schedule with seven different teachers and the goal of learning specific subjects with very particular instructions. However, there is much more to the real world. 

Preparing for a Work Experience 

Before I started my work experience, I had the opportunity to improve upon many skills required to secure a job. I wrote a cover letter and had an interview. During my interview, I received more information about the projects; I learned that I would be working with two different departments and must communicate efficiently and effectively with all those involved. I realized I would need to participate in meetings and meet the required deadlines. Most importantly, I would be in charge of managing multiple projects at once, managing my time, and setting my own smaller deadlines. The team would provide a set of instructions. I would get help, but I would also have to find workarounds to challenges that came up, and I would need to learn from the experience rather than from a textbook.  

Learning to Manage Finances 

I didn’t learn to manage finances in education. As my first time earning my own money, I would have to learn about the art of filling out timesheets and making and sticking to a budget, buying all the necessities, and, of course, all the nice things we like to purchase. These include dinner or boba tea!  

Managing Expectations 

However, not everything goes smoothly, and it was never meant to. Many who imagine the first day of their first job would believe that if things go smoothly, it is a good sign that they are a good employee and the company is a good fit. And if it does not, they may worry that that is a prediction of the future. However, as I learned first-hand, the first days rarely go perfectly, and it is okay because that experience teaches you so much more.  

Working on a different computer, I faced various tech issues. Finally, I finished setting up JAWS and setting up my work email. I struggled but worked through all the challenges with problem-solving and asking others for help. I saw it as a setback in the moment, but now, I can see how it helped me prepare for what is so common and allowed me to practice patience, problem-solving, and collaboration. Best of all, my internship was a growing experience for me, and I did it! 

Tackling Projects 

Each project taught me something new. One taught me about finding information, specifically by researching organizations and contacting the organization to learn about how to make referrals to their program. Another taught me how to organize extensive collections of information and how to split up a big task into smaller ones. One taught me how to approach learning and understanding a new product and how to demonstrate all the possibilities it carries to its intended audience. And another taught me how to reflect on this growth period and open up about the challenges and successes.  

Learning on the Job 

But of course, beyond the projects, there is still much more to a job or internship. There’s how to travel in a different city, communicate during meetings or interviews, and even when to take a sick day. This summer, I learned to communicate clearly and concisely, which applies to almost every aspect of life. I listened to team meetings, learning from the structure and how questions and topics were discussed and finalized. I learned how to use public transportation to get to work and all the skills that come with navigating a route: using light rail, riding the bus, using apps like Apple Maps and crossing streets.  

Reflecting on My Internship 

Everything I have learned over this past summer, all the skills, all the people, and all the memories will stay with me forever. This was my first job, my first time to get the chance to work with a company that has the same goal as I do. It was my first opportunity to work with people who want to make the world a more accessible place. It has inspired me to keep going and unlocking more treasures and exploring the large world to find more people and more organizations that care about the challenges faced by people who are blind or low vision.  

But what made it so empowering to work here is witnessing people’s actions to innovate and improve technology and provide information and resources to people, families, and students. This was a world I have been a part of, and I hope that this mission of accessibility will continue strong and reach all of you out there who know they can also make an impact.