Editor's note: Intern Spotlight is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their summer internships. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to editor@bsudailynews.com. 

Luke Labas has spent years working as an advocate for people with disabilities. He has participated in multiple awareness programs and is president for Ball State’s Alliance for Disability Awareness.    

But this summer, the Ball State graduate student decided to do even more in his efforts to help break down barriers, specifically between employers and people with disabilities.    

Labas is just one of 19 students to intern with Eskenzi Health’s Initiative for Empowerment and Economic Independence program, designed to help students gain skills needed after graduation.

This unique program is fairly new. Last year Eskenzi Health only partnered with Ball State but thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the program has expanded to more departments and colleges.    

Being his second year with the program, Labas has worked as an intern alongside the program manager. His daily responsibilities have included doing data collection and checking in on the progress of other interns.    

And Labas has used this opportunity to work on an even bigger project.    

“I have been working on developing a curriculum for awareness so business would be more willing to take interns with disabilities,” he said. “I want to basically figure out how to better establish connections between potential applicants and employers. I am hoping the curriculum will be expanded beyond this program specially.”   

The biggest barrier for people with disabilities is overall awareness, Labas said. He believes the more people are aware, the more people with disabilities can be employed and work to provide benefits and contributions to society.   

According to Census data, in 2010 only 41 percent of people with disabilities were employed in American compared to 79 percent of people without disabilities.  

“We want to narrow the unemployment gap for those with disabilities and those who are able bodied,” he said.    

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During the nine weeks that Labas has spent with the program, he has had the chance to hold a one-on-one meeting with Ernest Vargo, president and CEO of the Eskenazi Health Foundation.    

“He really gave me some quality advice on my career aspirations, which is to develop a nonprofit to assist people with disabilities find more long-term employment,” Labas said. “He is an expert in nonprofits so being able to pick his brain and develop connections and relationships has been the most valuable thing for me.”    

Labas credits his friends who have gone through the program before him for recommending the internship program. He also said he had Larry Markle, the director of Disability Services to thank.    

Even though he is unsure now is he will be involved again next summer, Labas said he is hopeful he can still work with program in some capacity. He also said he hopes more students from Ball State join the program in the future so they can find jobs after graduation.   

“This is very innovative and the only major internship program for people with disabilities,” He said. “One of the hallmarks of the program is when they say you are doing meaningful work, they mean it. … I am happy I decided to take that jump and get involved.”