Now what? My Child has a Disability...

Imagine…your family is growing up fast and one day you discover that one of your children has a learning disability. Devastation sets in. How will they ever live a normal life…work…live independently…raise a family? Although tragic-there is hope (and help) post education. It’s known as Project SEARCH.

The Mission of Project Search is to prepare young people with significant disabilities for success in competitive integrated employment. Now, just how does that happen? I can only answer by sharing my experience of working with  Project SEARCH of Arkansas and how it opened my eyes to how disabled individuals who  were considered to possess lower (or no) job skills can become outstanding employees, with the aid of a skills trainer/case worker and a well-developed program.

 My knowledge of Project SEARCH started a few years back when I was an HR Generalist at a major food manufacturer in Jonesboro Arkansas and I toured a medical facility where a few of the students were doing their pre-employment internship. Some were mopping floors, returning medical  equipment to where it was needed, or operating laundry folding machines; while a few of the higher functioning individuals were interfacing with customers, or completing much needed computer input containing medical information.

At the end of my tour, I met with Mary Housewright, the instructor/coordinator for St. Bernard’s Project SEARCH Access Initiative and was quickly awestruck by the comprehensiveness of the program and the details she shared with me.  Success begins well before any job internship interviews and extends well beyond the candidate’s ‘orientation period’ (upwards of two years of specialized job support is provided).

However, despite accolades of the program, Mary attributes its achievements to a strong community of support that has grown through five years of “word of mouth marketing” starting with teacher contacts at the local high schools and extending to employers who are willing to give its participants a chance. As she states, “We’ve accomplished a lot, but much of our community is still unaware of what work our candidates can do, like possessing systematic motor or memory skills that would benefit an assembly production line. So many of our candidates have employment potential and I don’t want to see any of them fall through the cracks so I continue efforts to educate the public including initiatives targeted at a higher level within the Jonesboro community.”

When asked what she meant by that, Mary turned focus to the month of  October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Reflecting on the plans that she and others have in the works, I challenge you to learn more about a Project SEARCH in your area, and to support employment of individuals with disabilities in a means that works for you and what you can contribute to the goal: Employment of all who want to work and are able.  

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