Project helps high school students with disabilities


The University of Southern Mississippi Institute for Disability Studies, an organization focused on supporting Mississippians with disabilities, will host its first Project Search Graduation on May 9.

The institute brought this new program to Southern Miss to increase the number of young adults with intellectual, cognitive or other developmental disabilities to obtain competitive, community-based employment.

According to their website, Mississippians with disabilities are the largest minority in the state and tend to be an untapped population for employment. The IDS has partnered with the National Project SEARCH Transition Program to develop Project SEARCH at Southern Miss.

Jerry Alliston, director of the program, wrote the initial grant to get the funding for the program.

“The first year is underway and beneficial for numerous reasons such as getting employment opportunities for young leaders,” Alliston said. “It’s not just about getting that first job. It’s to get skills for a career. That’s what the program is all about.”

The university has collaborated with Hattiesburg High School to provide full-time teachers for the project as well as Mississippi Department of Rehab Services, which provided two job coaches for the participants.

This program is for students in special education classes between the ages of 18-21. Members of the project come to the institute everyday instead of high school, learning the skills to work and receive a certificate of completion.

The program is an eight-month training program that consists of daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships.

Throughout the program, participants focus on numerous areas that assist them with functional skills such as team building, getting around the workplace, safety, technology, social skills and more.

Out of the seven students graduating, four have already secured employment after graduation. Some have even began working in the field.

“Just to see the process from when they first started the program with limited skills, to see how far they’ve come now is incredible,” Alliston said. “They are independent walking around the campus, doing a lot of different work and internship opportunities and constantly building up their resumes.”

Taylor Carley, the self- advocate coordinator for IDS, is the keynote speaker of the graduation.

Carley lives with disabilities and will share his story with the other students at the graduation.

“To me it’s very important to see these people with intellectual disabilities be able to have a career,” Carley said. “To go out in the community and have internships and jobs just like everyone else. Anything is possible. Even with a disability. It’s an ability. I want them to know that they can do anything they set their mind to and accomplish their goals.”

Project Search Graduation will be held on May 9 in the Thad Cochran Center. For more information, contact the Institute for Disabilities Studies.

*Editors note: Changed language in paragraph two to reflect People-First Language.