Program gives disabled students real-life work experience

BALTIMORE - Great things are happening for kids with disabilities in Baltimore City.  They're getting real-life work experience while proving to others, and themselves, that they're capable of doing anything.

Randy Walker Jr. is all smiles at his Project Search graduation ceremony.  He and his classmates are celebrating the completion of their one-year internship programs.  Walker's internship took him to the depths of University of Maryland Medical Center, in Central Sterile Processing (CSP).

"I'm happy, I'm smiling, I'm enjoying life," said Walker.

Walker, like his classmates, has an intellectual disability.  It's never stopped him from believing in himself, but not everyone in his life shares his positive attitude.

"I had a teacher in high school tell me I would never make it to college."

He didn't let those negative thoughts deter him.  Instead, he enrolled in Project Search.  The program gives kids with disabilities the opportunity to explore different career options they didn't think were possible, like working in a hospital.

Deborah Veronick is Walker's supervisor at CSP.  She was amazed at how quickly Walker picked up the tasks of sterilizing, prepping and and packing the surgery tools.  It's not a menial job, it requires extreme attention to detail, where one mistake could mean life or death on the operating table.

"If doctors open a set and they’re expecting a tool that they need to get into someone’s chest in an emergency and it’s the incorrect set, that's detrimental," Veronick said.

Walker fit in so well with the CSP staff, they hired him on fulltime.

"This is why other managers should consider hiring on or at least having interns in their department, to see what these young adults are capable of doing."

"It's nice to be in a place where people treat you like a person instead of treating you like you have a disability," said Walker.

As for that teacher who didn't believe in Randy?

"Now we're making it all the way to the top, and I just wanted to prove him wrong on that," said Walker with a smile.

Mission accomplished. 

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