Leaders in Montgomery County have started an internship program for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, placing them in various county agencies.
Twelve high school seniors and recent graduates make up the first group of interns for what's called Project Search Montgomery. Each has been carefully vetted and their placement cautiously chosen, and while some might question an intern for the county's fleet division, Steve Blanks of the organization Seeking Empower, Encouragement, and Community — one of the groups the county is partnering with for the program — says one of the interns in the class will be working there.
"Working for the mechanics, and working for the parts shop," he says. "Working for the light maintenance group that deals with the police cars. One of our guys is really excited to be working there. He's actually going to be saving the mechanics time by allowing them to work on the vehicles while he runs the parts."
The unemployment among the disabled is higher than among the general population, and Blanks says that's because many employers are afraid to hire someone with disabilities. But Blanks argues that doesn't need to be the case.
"The most important risk is you put the wrong person in the wrong place," he says. "So, if I got someone who's very easily distracted, maybe has ADHD, and I put them in a mechanic shop that has lots of cars, lots of police cars, they get easily distracted by movement... that's the wrong environment."
Another intern will be working in the office of County Executive Isiah Leggett, who's a big supporter of the program.
"They need some supervision and some training in certain areas. But they can do everything from basic clerk work, to answering phone calls and responding to emails and all kinds of things."
Some of that training comes from an earlier version of the program the county is now running. The instructor of that program says he focuses on basic workplace etiquette, like establishing eye contact and maintaining personal space with fellow employees.