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Project SEARCH: Opening Doors to Employment for Young People with Disabilities

  • Published: 2010-01-14 : Author: Mathematica
  • Synopsis: SEARCH school-to-work program for developmentally disabled high school students transitioning from school to workplace.

New Brief from Mathematica's Center for Studying Disability Policy Profiles This Collaborative Model - Among the challenges young people with disabilities face is the transition from a structured school environment to long-term employment. Likewise, many employers must deal with high turnover in positions often suitable for these individuals.

To help address these issues, Cincinnati Children's Hospital implemented Project SEARCH, a school-to-work program for developmentally disabled high school students transitioning from school to the workplace in the 1990s. A new brief from the Center for Studying Disability Policy at Mathematica Policy Research profiles Project SEARCH, its successes and limitations, and its potential for wider adoption.

Project SEARCH is highly collaborative and based on partnerships between a sponsoring employer, a school system, a community rehabilitation provider, and the state vocational rehabilitation agency and/or the state or local developmental disabilities agency. Each of these groups plays an integral role, providing funding, staffing, training, and oversight.

The program differs from similar school-to-work models, notably by focusing on integrating classroom training with real work experience and quickly moving youth into jobs matched to their skills and interests. It also requires total immersion of students in the workplace. Each Project SEARCH site generally enrolls 10 to 12 students per year, who spend the entire school day at the workplace. Students progress to three 10-week individualized work-site rotations or internships that simulate real-world employment.

"Project SEARCH offers some refreshing solutions for young people with disabilities transitioning from school to work and can help meet both students' and employers' needs," said Bonnie O'Day, lead author of the brief and a senior researcher at Mathematica®.

"Project SEARCH: Opening Doors to Employment for Young People with Disabilities," by O'Day is available at

The Center for Studying Disability Policy supplies the nation's policymakers with the information they need to navigate the transition to 21st-century disability policy. It was established in 2007 by Mathematica to inform disability policy formation with rigorous, objective research and data collected from the people disability policy aims to serve. For more information on the Center for Studying Disability Policy, go to

Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J., Ann Arbor, Mich., Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of disability, health care, education, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

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