Smithsonian Is Trying To Help People With Disabilities Get Jobs

shared courtesy of The Washington Post

Emir Ali, a Smithsonian Institution management support assistant, works with Mionna Smith, a Project SEARCH intern who was recently hired by the Smithsonian. Supervisor Eather Underwood works in the background, right. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)


WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a child, Mionna Smith’s dream was to work with animals when she grew up. Today, the 19-year-old from Fort Stanton in southeast Washington has an administrative role at the Smithsonian Institution’s office of finance and accounting, sorting mail, restocking supply caddies and scanning invoices — no furry creatures in sight.

“I didn’t want to be in an office job,” she said. And yet, when she found out in April that the Smithsonian was offering her a role as an office automation clerk, she was so happy she doubled over with joy at her desk. Her mother, thrilled, cried when Mionna shared the news with her.

Smith is one of seven young adults who graduated from Smithsonian’s Project SEARCH program this week. The year-long internship places high school students and recent graduates with learning and developmental disabilities, such as autism or Down syndrome, at sites like the National Museum of Natural History, the National Postal Museum, and the Office of Protection Services. Depending on where they’re placed, the interns may do archival work, data entry or manual labor — and they can rotate through up to three roles during the year to gain more experience.

“We want to diversify our workforce,” said Ashley Grady, a senior program specialist at the Smithsonian who runs Project SEARCH at the institution. “We want to hire young men and women with disabilities who want to work and be included equally in society.”

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