Walter Elias Disney, better known as “Walt,” tipped his cap to this nation’s Founding Fathers when he said society’s greatest natural resource is the minds of its children. Language included in the U.S. Constitution pledges an equal educational opportunity to all young people.
Administration at Canadian Valley Technology Center is committed to ensuring students with disabilities are among those who enjoy a level playing field in career education.
In 2008, CV Tech officials partnered with INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital in Yukon and The Department of Rehabilitation Services to provide an internship program for adults seeking entry-level employment in businesses, such as hospitals, hotels, childcare facilities, offices and warehouses.
The program is called Project SEARCH. It was piloted in Cincinnati in 1996 and has since been replicated in 500 sites worldwide. Locally, dozens of graduates have moved on to jobs providing for themselves a stable income, said CV Tech’s Project SEARCH instructor Jill Scott.
“People with disabilities have value, and they need to know it,” she said. “Their families need to know it. Their communities need to know it. This is a way to show that.”
Students are provided with a nine-month, unpaid internship in various roles within the hospital. Interns undergo three 10-week work rotations focused on employability skills, such as outpatient surgery room prep.
Students sanitize the patient room, make beds, stock linens, arrange gowns, socks and bonnets, and restock nurse carts with medical items.
“The nurses would otherwise be responsible for these tasks, and they have clearly communicated how helpful the students are so they can instead focus on patient care,” Scott said.
Another rotation is within the hospital women’s center. There, students make blood-draw (intravenous) kits that each have up to nine items. Students also stock and inventory the nutrition station. The dietary rotation includes meals but can include cash register operation.
“We build the rotations appropriately for each intern,” Scott said. “Some of the students have physical limitations, so we may modify a task.
“What we try to teach them is that we can modify, but we cannot change a job. The task still has to be completed. Sometimes, students have a mindset that if they can’t do a job, they can skip the work. The words, ‘I can’t’ do not work here.”
Limitations, she said, often include a student who cannot read well or one who cannot do math well. Both skills are required in order for students to complete the internship.
State Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-Yukon) said she is proud of the services CV Tech provides to students within House District 60 and across the state.
“Project SEARCH is a fantastic program that allows us to empower those with disabilities and display their worth as workers in our communities,” Baker said. “I commend the work Director Jill Scott is doing at CV Tech and am excited to watch this program grow.”
Similarly, State Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) said he believes every person desires to have a purpose and to feel value in the workplace. The HD 47 official lauds the program for contributing to a prepared workforce in Canadian County and beyond.
“I have witnessed firsthand the sense of purpose and value which CV Tech’s Project SEARCH instills in students and the skills each individual learns through the partnership experiences with companies like INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital,” he said.
Besides hospital rotations, students are provided a variety of career exposure activities, such as volunteering at the Regional Food Bank and at Friends of the Library book sale. They also ring the Salvation Army bell during the holidays and spend time at Feed the Children’s teachers store.
Stops also include the Moore Food and Resource Center and Disabilities Day at the State Capital. Additionally, students visit area manufacturing businesses and participate in a week-long retail or manufacturing job shadowing activity. All within one school year.
Graduates have gone to work as grocery store stockers, cashiers, customer service workers, custodians in hotels, motel housekeeping, childcare, assisted living centers, and have earned jobs at both the Amazon Fulfillment Center and at Goodwill.
CV Tech Skills Trainer Laurie Eaton said people with disabilities often are not acknowledged for their contributions to society.
“I have a fondness working with students and seeing where they start and how they end up,” she said. “It also gives the hospital employees an opportunity to see the students are very capable of working in a professional environment. By the end, they are singing their praises.”
Applicants must be high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 and must demonstrate a willingness to utilize acquired skills to obtain independent community employment.