COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month brings to light the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement.
Those with disabilities face a lot of challenges throughout their lives, but having full access to employment and community involvement should not be one of those challenges.
“Often when people with disabilities go into the workforce they are given limited opportunities based on preconceived assumptions about their abilities,” said Beth Sherry, College Station ISD Project SEARCH instructor. “And often those assumptions are not correct.”
At Baylor Scott & White, Project SEARCH provides employee skills training and workplace internships for individuals with disabilities as they transition from youth to adult life.
“In Project SEARCH in our direct instruction time in the classroom we're working on direct teaching skills that many people pick up independently without direct instruction so like soft skills, communication, troubleshooting, and things like that,” said Sherry. “Once our interns are in their internship they're in a safe learning environment so we're able to talk through and troubleshoot difficulties.”
Ethan Ostermann is one of six interns this year at Baylor Scott & White.
“I like the internship a lot. I like the independence I get from being able to go do a task and be trusted to go do and do it well,” said Ethan.
Ethan works in the Central Services Department inside the hospital, where he is preparing isolation carts for the medical staff caring for patients sick with COVID-19.
“Refilling the isolation carts is the highlight of my day. It’s very nice to see that I am just doing my job and people all over the floors are like, ‘Thank you for helping us we needed those refilled. We were running out of gowns or gloves.’ And it’s just nice to see people appreciate you and that I am doing a helpful job,” said Ethan.
Since joining the Project SEARCH program, Ethan feels the internship is preparing him to make the transition to having a full-time job, and continue not letting his autism stop him from gaining his independence.
“It feels like it’s preparing me for independence in a workplace but also individually,” said Ethan. “Not like not in like a home setting, but I can be prepared to be out on my own and live on my own, I feel like if I have a good job.”
With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Sherry hopes more students in Brazos County get involved with Project SEARCH.
“We want to get the word out about Project SEARCH because it hasn't gotten a lot of visibility in the past, and we want students who are in high school who have disabilities to be aware that this is an option for them,” said Sherry. “And we also want our community to be aware that this program is here because it will help us to create relationships with those businesses, or when we're trying to place our interns in jobs after they finish the program.”
You can find more information on the Project SEARCH website.