Through an innovative program launched four years ago by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), interns with developmental disabilities have been placed in Congressional offices to perform staff work while rubbing elbows with the nation's top elected officials. In the process, they are helping change attitudes among key decisionmakers about what people with developmental disabilities can do in the workplace.
The program has proven so successful that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has just brought in two interns with disabilities to work in his personal office and the Majority leadership office, according to Salley Wood, deputy staff director for the Committee on House Administration, which manages the internship program.
Harper, whose son Livingston was diagnosed with Fragile X at age 4, started the program after visiting George Mason University's Mason LIFE program shortly after being elected to Congress. Mason LIFE has provided 47 interns who have worked with 66 Congressional offices. About 40 percent of the interns have autism, said Dr. Heidi Graff, the program director.