May 24, 2018

INSPIRE Part 2: Program Helps Prepare Students With Disabilities For Employment

INSPIRE students practice skills they can apply in the real world (Photo: James Vavrek/WFIU-WTIU News).

Fewer than 20 percent of people with disabilities were employed last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last week, we introduced you to a group of INSPIRE graduates. The two-year program at Franklin College aims to give students with special needs a traditional college experience, but it also prepares them for a career and life.

Ali uses a daily checklist to keep track of what needs restocked and in what rooms.
Ali uses a daily checklist to keep track of what needs restocked and in what rooms. (Photo: Tyler Lake/ WTIU-WFIU News)

Meet Ali Callahan

Ali Callahan was diagnosed with autism when she was five years old. But as she stocks an equipment closet at Community North Hospital in Indianapolis, it’s clear it doesn’t slow her down. Ali is an intern with Project Search, a work-based, state program. She works five days a week at the hospital and her last rotation is in the maternity unit.

She uses a daily checklist to help her restock large bins full of pink and blue hats, diapers, and bottle nipples, for example. And she works closely with department staff and as she walks through the halls, she knows almost everyone’s name.

How INSPIRE has helped Ali grow

Ali seems unphased by the work, but she had a little help getting here. Ali graduated from the INSPIRE program at Franklin College last year.

Her mother, Diane Callahan, says it helped her grow into the person she is today.

“First of all, her confidence has soared, just absolutely soared,” she says. “Her level of independence has increased.”

She says Ali has also improved her time management and social skills.

That’s what INSPIRE leaders want to see. Lead Job Coach, Alisha Webb, says the goal is for students to find paid employment once they graduate.

“We’re always constantly talking about social appropriateness and how to handle a situation, problem solve and teaching them to speak up in a natural environment,” Webb says. “That’s what’s the beauty of this college.”

INSPIRE started in 2013. Ten students are enrolled, and everyday they practice skills they can apply in the real world. They play the game of “Life” in their INSPIRE 100 class.

“Is a bill adding to your deposit or is it taking away from your money?” INSPIRE Coordinator, Lisa Whitlock-Hill asks the students.

Here’s how it works: the students are given a profession, like a coffee barista for example. They then make decisions based on how much money they make, how many bills they have to pay and more. But in addition to the classroom work, Webb says the students actually go out on campus and practice what they’ve learned.

“It’s not sitting down and lets do a work sheet and figure can we introduce ourselves to someone. You’re actually going up to someone and doing it. It is hands on experience,” Webb says.

INSPIRE students practice skills daily in their INSPIRE 100 class (James Vavrek/WTIU-WFIU News).

Kelly Pattison, a job coach with Project Search, says transitional programs for students with disabilities are so important. They create normal environments for the students to succeed in. She says they often just need a little extra support.

“When they go into a department and they’re asked to do something maybe they’ve never been able to do and then somebody just takes the time to show them, that’s all they needed and now they can do it and now they’re confident about it,” Pattison says.

She says about 80 percent of students find paid jobs at the end of the nine-month internship. Sometimes she says they even find work at the hospital. Community North currently employs 21 Project Search graduates.

Diane says it’s necessary to set the bar high for students like Ali because they’re capable of doing more than people think.

“Just not knowing what the future holds is scary for our young adults, our children,” she says. “I know it’s even more so when limits are placed on them.”

And it not only improves the student’s lives but also the communities around them.

Ali graduates from her Project Search internship in May. She hopes to get a job working at a hospital, but she also plans to work at a new boutique opening next month through the Alex and Ali Foundation. It’s called Hope Gallery. The goal is to enhance the lives of those with developmental disabilities by helping provide employment opportunities and community involvement.

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