Some feel that persons with disabilities are the largest minority in the state and remain an untapped population for employment.
To fix this issue, the Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) has partnered with the National Project SEARCH Transition Program to institute Project SEARCH at The University of Southern Mississippi. The Project SEARCH Internship helps students with disabilities train for jobs in the real world.
USM Community Education Director Jerry Alliston said he believes students with disabilities have much to offer the workforce but are rarely given the opportunity.
“A lot of people tend to focus on the disability and not the ability,” Alliston said. “What we focus on is just the ability.”
According to one of Project SEARCH’s newsletters, the purpose of Project SEARCH is “to increase the number of young adults with intellectual, cognitive and other developmental disabilities to obtain competitive, community-based employment.”
The year-long training intensive program consists of “daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships,” according to Project SEARCH.
The program teaches students employable skills, such as team building, interviewing and social skills. Alliston said the program helps students gain confidence. Interns average about three internships per year at on-campus job locations, like the Payne Center and the cafeteria.
In addition, the Project SEARCH interns work hard to use their abilities and talents to create their own business and become self- advocates. Alliston said the interns enrich the work environment.
“So the program impacts [interns] individually, but it impacts the greater community,” Alliston said. “It shows employers, ‘Hey, these young people have great skills, they can meet needs – have you considered hiring a person with a disability?’ What Project SEARCH brings – which I really like – is how USM’s a host site, and we’re a community getting them connected to the real world.
Students have been able to find jobs after graduating from Project SEARCH. Jason Dean is the first graduate of the program, completing two-and-a-half internships before being offered an employment opportunity off campus. Dean currently works at Wendy’s.
Project SEARCH Internship is a grant-funded program in the Institute for Disabilities Studies, located on the fourth floor of Bond Hall.
For additional information on Project SEARCH and Institute of Disabilities Studies, visit usm.edu/disabilitystudies.