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Best Practices in Youth Employment for People with Disabilities

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head shot of J. Erin Riehle

J. Erin Riehle


J. Erin Riehle, founder and Director, Project SEARCH

In 2013, 1,156,000 individuals from ages 13 to 25 received $8.7 billion in Supplemental Security Income benefits. These young people face distinct challenges in transitioning from school to work and economic self-sufficiency. To help them overcome these challenges, the Social Security Administration sponsored the Youth Transition Demonstration, which did not show as much promise as hoped.

Meanwhile, Project SEARCH continues to get outstanding results for employers, people with disabilities, and taxpayers around the country. It is a one-year, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. This innovative, business-led model features total workplace immersion, which facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and worksite-based training and support. The goal for each program participant is competitive employment. With programs in 45 states, and over 2,700 young adults served each year, their employment outcomes are phenomenal. It can be covered by WIOA funding too!

Speaker: Erin Riehle, MSN, RN is a national leader in promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. She is a founder and Director of Project SEARCH, an employment and transition program that has received national recognition for innovative practices. She is regularly invited to present at national and regional conferences, and has co-authored numerous publications and book chapters. She has been a board member for the United States Business Leadership (USBLN) and APSE.

Erin Riehle began her career at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as a staff nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit and advanced to clinical director of the emergency department. Her interest in employment for people with disabilities grew from her frustration with high turnover rates among workers performing critical tasks such as re-stocking emergency room supply shelves. Riehle found that placing individuals with developmental disabilities in these positions was both an effective solution to her staffing problems and an improvement in quality of life for the workers she employed. This positive experience ultimately led to a systematic, hospital-wide effort, led by Ms. Riehle, to explore job possibilities for people with disabilities.

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