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UI REACH strives to combat unemployment

BY NICK MOFFITT | SEPTEMBER 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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For those with a disability, the barrier to getting a job can be getting past the fear of the unknown, said one University of Iowa official.

Deb Larson, the internship coordinator at the UI REACH Program, said programs such as UI REACH help students overcome those uncertainties.

“Programs like this give soft skills [to students], to have meaningful employment in their hometowns,” Larson said.

The UI REACH program is a two-year certificate program that allows students with intellectual challenges to gain experience in independent living.

Meaningful employment can be hard to come by for those with a disability, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The report showed that just 19.8 percent of people with a disability participate in the labor force.

“The number of employed with disabilities has held constant, but the unemployed has declined from the last year,” bureau economist Eleni Sherman said.

Larson said a huge goal of the program is to develop soft skills such as communication, navigation, time management, and the ability to take feedback, resulting in students graduating from the two-year program with the skills needed to gain employment.

Pamela Ries, the director of the UI REACH program, said they have kept employment statistics of graduates since the program began in 2008.

Ries said from what they have seen with students just two years out of the program, 90 percent of alumni are employed or continuing their education elsewhere.

“A lot of it comes in the form of confidence and self-advocacy that students learn,” she said.

Self-confidence and self-esteem are changes that Larson said she sees almost immediately when students come to the REACH program. She said in her opinion it is one of the biggest things that allow students to broaden their job prospects.

One of those students is Jordan Tridle, who is in the third optional year of the REACH program. He completed an internship with the Iowa Cubs this past summer through a REACH internship, something he said taught him a lot about having a job.

“I really just like being part of a team,” he said.

Tridle spent his summer working with the maintenance team to do assorted tasks around the stadium, but his most fond memory was driving the golf cart around at the end of the year.

The best part of the program is the social interaction, Tridle said. He said all of the friends he’s made, along with the staff, have made his years at REACH special.

Tridle said the internship opportunity has given him the confidence to hopefully stay in Iowa City after his time with UI REACH is over.

Larson said moving toward independent living is one of the big goals of the curriculum for the UI REACH.

Beating the grim employment numbers, she said, has to start with small change, but she likes what she has seen and said the younger generation of today has been much more educated and acquainted with people that have intellectual disabilities.

“A lot of what we do is open doors and get out in the community and educate,” she said.

Although just 19.8 percent of those with disabilities participate in the labor force, Ries said there is around “200-something” programs similar to REACH, all working to increase that number. She said from the statistics she’s seen, it seems to be working.

Tridle said from his experience this summer, he’s optimistic.

“I’m a little nervous about the future,” Tridle said. “But I just want to be part of a team.”


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