Securing Competitive Employment for Individuals with Disabilities


Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996 when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department. Erin felt that because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities, it made sense that they should commit to hiring people within this group. She wondered if it would be possible to train individuals with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry-level positions in her department, which involved complex systematic tasks such as stocking supply cabinets. As a starting point, Erin presented her ideas to Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks Career Campuses. Erin and Susie formed a partnership that was instantaneous, and together, they launched Project SEARCH.

Program Overview

Interns are typically referred to the program through their schools, family members, or vocational rehabilitation counselors. To participate in the local Project SEARCH program, individuals need to meet criteria including; being between 18 and 22 years old, having dependable transportation, and having a desire to achieve competitive employment.

Within the first few weeks, the program is focused on intern orientation, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarization with the hospital. Interns develop a career plan, which guides the internship selection process and individualized job search. Throughout the program year, the interns work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour of their day. Training room activities are designed around these focus areas: team building, workplace safety, technology, maintaining employment, self-advocacy, financial literacy, health and wellness, and preparing for employment.

The interns acquire competitive, marketable, and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related position. Interns also build communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, which are important to their overall development as young workers. Working from a task list, they acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or in the community. Skills trainers and department staff collaborate to provide support for interns. The Project SEARCH staff delivers the training and develops job accommodations and standard work procedures. Once the interns master the core skills, additional skills are layered on to improve their marketability.

Local Program

Project SEARCH is a transition-to-work program for individuals with disabilities. The one-year employment preparation program takes place entirely within Beacon Memorial Hospital in partnership with ADEC, the South Bend Community School Corporation, and Vocational Rehabilitation. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. At the end of the program, participants are celebrated with a graduation for their individualized job development.