Find out how students with disabilities can build successful careers


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Lindsay Bolcar, Aronia Allen, Rolanda Williams and Shelena Moss. (Bham Now)

Local Birmingham City high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are receiving a unique opportunity to gain valuable experience and employment. This is possible thanks to Project SEARCH—a collaboration between United Ability, Birmingham City Schools, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, UAB Hospital, and the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities. We spoke with some of the incredible employees that make this program possible.

Transition services at United Ability

The staff that work at Project SEARCH Birmingham know the importance of a job and how it can change lives. This program provides young adults with disabilities opportunities in their community that they may not otherwise have. 

For nine months, rather than staying in a traditional classroom setting, students work as interns at UAB Hospital within many departments to gain real world experience before entering the workforce.

“United Ability is proud to be a partner with Project SEARCH Birmingham. This collaboration allows students with disabilities in Birmingham City Schools to reach their full potential. It is especially rewarding to hear from past interns who have been working 4 or more years and are continuing to build on the skills they were taught in Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is truly a program that gives them a solid foundation to be successful, and it could not happen without the dedication of all of the partners involved.”

Katie Dumais, United Ability Director of Employment Services.

What is Project SEARCH all about?

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Rolanda Williams teaches students employability skills. (Bham Now)

The goal of Project SEARCH is to prepare, train and establish full-time employment for students. This is done through real-life work experience as well as training in employability and independent living skills. Project SEARCH also puts emphasis on students’ self-advocacy skills and helping them to understand the value they bring to their community and an employer. 

The students’ time is divided between intern work and classroom education.

We talked to Rolonda Williams, a Project SEARCH instructor for Birmingham City Schools about the skills that students are learning in class:

  • How to deal with issues on the job
  • How to approach coworkers appropriately and professionally
  • How to handle warnings + consequences at work
  • Resume writing
  • Team building

“It is so amazing to see them improve during their time here. We get to see the whole process happen gradually, but when their parents come up and tell us the difference they’re seeing at home and outside of class, we are so proud.”

Rolanda Williams, Project SEARCH instructor

Students gain real-world experience

Screen Shot 2023 05 24 at 10.10.08 AM Find out how students with disabilities can build successful careers
Project SEARCH gives students real-world experience. (United Ability)

After completing an interview skills assessment, interns get to go to real departments and do real work. Their skills instructors work alongside them to make sure they’re doing their job correctly and learning from it.

Each job is tailored to the interns themselves. If they have an expressed interest or show certain skills, their instructors place them where they can build on those. Here are some of the tasks they take on:

  • Assembling salads
  • Cleaning patient rooms and common areas
  • Working in the sterilization department
  • Delivering materials throughout the hospital
  • Laundry

Project SEARCH is changing lives

Project SEARCH allows students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to gain real-world experience that they otherwise may have never had. Skills instructor Lindsay Bolcar explained how it means even more than that.

“This improves the society for everybody. Everyone is always happy to see our students because they are improving their workplace. For the students to have that independence and know that they have a career where they can learn and grow is amazing for their confidence.”

Lindsay Bolcar, Skills Instructor, Project SEARCH

This year, Project SEARCH has seven graduates who will be employed upon graduation, with full compensation and benefits.

“That’s exactly what we want. They are meaningful employees. We don’t want them to be treated any differently than anyone that’s coming through the regular job search process. They come in through Project SEARCH, but they come out as real-world employees who are no longer seen for their disabilities, but for what they are ABLE to do.”

Shelena Moss, Skills Instructor, Project SEARCH

Learn more about the transition and employment services at United Ability.

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