UAMS Graduates 13 in Project SEARCH Employment Training for Young Adults with Disabilities

By Spencer Watson

“We are tremendously proud of these young men and women. Our mission at UAMS is to provide comfort, hope and healing to our patients and their families, and these young people have embraced that mission with a level of enthusiasm and commitment that is really inspiring. We truly appreciate the contributions they’ve made to the patient- and family-centered care of this institution,” said Jeanne Heard, M.D., Ph.D., UAMS provost and chief academic officer.

UAMS Project SEARCH is a partnership with the Little Rock-based nonprofit ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, a division of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. Last year’s 11 participants were the first for UAMS Project SEARCH.

This year, 10 of the 13 interns have already secured employment from a variety of companies and organizations, including: K9 Country Club, Catholic High School for Boys, Fox Ridge Senior Living, Embassy Suites, National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs and Texas Roadhouse.

“We continue to be inspired and thankful for the support from our partners and the business community for UAMS Project SEARCH. Our interns are not only changing their lives through meaningful employment but are changing perceptions by sharing their abilities with the community at large,” said Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director.

UAMS Project SEARCH, the first program of its kind at an Arkansas university and the only one in central Arkansas, was modeled after the internationally successful Project SEARCH program started at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

UAMS served as the host business for the program, providing entry-level work experiences that match each intern’s skills. ACCESS advisors met the interns daily for vocational instruction, job coaching and lessons in independent living skills. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services provided financial support for the program, applied directly to vocational education and career development. The goal was to help participants build competitive, marketable and transferable skills and enable them to apply for a related job upon completion of the internship.

Founded in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown to an international one-year internship program for individuals with developmental disabilities who desire sustainable, competitive employment. Its proven training and employment model spans more than 300 licensed programs across the United States, six countries and multiple industries.

UAMS Project SEARCH interns were selected for the program following interviews with a selection committee made up of representatives from the three organizations. Eligibility criteria include having an intellectual disability, developmental disability and/or a referral from Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; a high school diploma, GED or certificate of completion; appropriate social, communication and independent living skills for participation in a work program; and reliable transportation to and from work. The interns also met UAMS employment requirements such as immunizations, the ability to observe patient privacy rules, pre-employment drug screening and background checks. Interns began last summer at UAMS working jobs in patient transport, nutrition services, engineering and operations, information technology, radiology, human resources and other areas.

A group of 13 interns has been accepted for the 2015-2016 UAMS Project SEARCH program. They will begin their internship experience this fall.

ACCESS is a 501c3 nonprofit offering evaluation services, full-time education, therapy, training and activities for individuals ages 0-35 with developmental delays and learning disabilities. Founded in 1994, the center comprises ACCESS Preschool; ACCESS Academy (for kindergarten-age students through grade 12); ACCESS Therapy (including speech, physical and occupational therapy programs); ACCESS Tutoring; ACCESS Life (a young adults day program); and the ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center (offering psychological and psychoeducational evaluations as well as technology training for students, parents and teachers). The center is located at 10618 Breckenridge Drive in Little Rock, Ark.

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services is a division of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. A network of 19 field offices serves individuals with disabilities in all 75 counties, as mandated by federal legislation. ARS also operates the Arkansas Career Training Institute (ACTI), which is a comprehensive rehabilitation center, one of eight in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi. ACTI is a residential facility that provides education and training, as well as medical services and other supports, to individuals with disabilities. The services that individuals with disabilities can receive through ARS include career counseling, assessment, postsecondary education, career and technical education, training, and medical services if it is determined that medical services will help a client find employment. Clients may also receive support services such as assistive technology, job placement services, employability skills instruction and coaching, and life skills instruction. High school students with disabilities are provided transition services to help them move successfully from high school to further education and training or jobs. For more information, visit the website at and click on the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services tab.