By Larissa Crossen, Administration for Community Living Program Specialist
Most Americans recognize work as an important part of a person’s ability to contribute to the community. Yet, people with disabilities face remarkably high unemployment rates. According to recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor, while 64 percent of the adult non-disabled population is currently employed, only 17 percent of the adult population with disabilities currently holds a job. One of the reasons for this gap is that few people with intellectual and developmental disabilities transition from school to competitive integrated employment. At the Administration for Community Living (ACL), we are working to change that by funding transition programs that provide mentoring, training, and hiring opportunities so more young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities can thrive in the workplace.
The Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD), a division of the ACL, funds eight Partnerships in Employment Systems Change grants under Projects of National Significance. These grants encourage partnerships across the nation between state and nonprofit organizations to improve systems to support competitive integrated employment outcomes for individuals with significant disabilities. Youth and young adults are an important focus of these grants.
Project SEARCH is one of many programs supported in part by this funding. Project SEARCH was developed in Cincinnati in 1996. It is now offered at 200 sites nationwide. The program involves a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and on-the-job training for young adults ages 18-21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It concludes with a thirty-week unpaid internship in an integrated setting. AIDD is proud to be among the many federal agencies, health centers, and universities that participate in this internship program.
Project SEARCH interns develop high expectations for their future. For example, Lashon Clark recently described her AIDD internship while speaking at NASUAD's National Home and Community Based Services Conference in Arlington, Virginia. She eloquently described how, thanks to Project SEARCH, she learned to type, operate software programs, and communicate professionally on the job. She also gained time management skills and the ability to multi-task in a fast-paced environment. In addition, Lashon learned how to prepare a resume. She is now using her new resume, along with the experience she gained at AIDD, to look for paid employment.
More and more, success stories like Lashon's are happening across the nation. The University of Rochester's Institute for Innovative Transition, which administers Project SEARCH in New York, has tripled the reach of the program since 2011. Thanks in part to AIDD’s New York State Partnerships in Employment Systems Change, there are 13 Project SEARCH programs in that state. Together these programs have transitioned 126 young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into competitive integrated paid employment. Moreover, the program is continuing to expand its reach; an estimated 250 additional New York residents will be served in the coming two years.
This month, as we observe Disability Employment Month, join ACL in promoting positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Campaign for Disability Employment website to learn more about how to support and encourage all young adults— regardless of ability—in developing their talents, finding work, and living independent lives.