KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas State School for the Blind is helping its students get hired by teaming up with Project SEARCH, a national program that aims to move people living with disabilities into the workforce.
Jimmy Lewis Swain is part of Project SEARCH. He says his vision has been impaired since birth, but is ready to show the world he has the skills to enter the workforce.
“Employers when they see us, they freeze up, they don't know what to do, and so if there’s anyway I can limit that and make them feel more comfortable, I’m for it,” Swain said.
The program requires students like Jimmy to immerse themselves in host business sites like the North Kansas City YMCA for a year through an internship model.
Applicants will need to have completed their high school requirements and will be rated throughout the program’s duration. Tim Schierbeck, who helps run Project SEARCH at KSSB, says students will also learn skills not taught in the classroom.
"So many of the skills that students need are those soft skills, those relationship skills, those communication skills, problem solving skills, that you don't really take classes on in high school, but are so important when you go into the world of work," Schierbeck said.
The program is new to the Kansas State School for the Blind, making them the second school for the blind in the country to partner with Project SEARCH.
“Lots of people who have disabilities struggle to find work, individuals who are blind or low vision in particular are unemployed at a rate of up to 70%,” KSSB Superintendent Jon Harding explained. “The purpose of the program is to give young people with disabilities experience in community-based settings and to move them into work."
Once they're done with the program, students will develop an arsenal of new skills they can take with them to their next chapter. Swain says he's eager to continue to learn while showing people there's more than meets the eye.
“You just have to have an open mind,” Swain said. “A lot of blind people just want a shot, you know? Give them a shot.”
The school hopes to expand the program and include other host business sites.