Quest, Inc.: Career Assistance for Those with Disabilities
By Shelly Trent
According to Quest, Inc.’s website, “The Central Florida Sheltered Workshop [the original name of the organization] was founded on September 13, 1962, by a group of parents to ensure vocational opportunities for their children with disabilities once formal education from the public school system was complete. This vocational training center was the first work-oriented rehabilitation center for people with intellectual and physical disabilities in the Greater Orlando area. In 1965, eight people received services at a small converted store in College Park.”
In 1973, then-President Richard Nixon signed into law the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (now known simply as the Rehabilitation Act), part of which was to expand Federal education and training programs for those with disabilities. It has since been amended in 1992 and 1998 to add provisions to provide for direct services to people with disabilities to become qualified for employment.
Overview of Services
As Central Florida’s premier provider of employment-related services for those with disabilities, Quest, Inc., empowers over 1,000 people every day and has been in Central Florida for fifty years. Quest has over 25 locations around Central Florida and has assisted over 160,000 people in its history.
Over the last few years, Quest has added new vocational options such as Project SEARCH, a one-year training program for high school students with disabilities that provides employment opportunities; Quest Shreds, a document shredding service that provides jobs for those with disabilities; and their Adult Day Training program.
Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program for students with disabilities in their last year of high school. The program allows an opportunity for students to intern in real-world experiences in competitive, local positions not typically afforded to individuals with disabilities. The students then obtain work experience and training to allow them to secure employment in non-traditional jobs for people with disabilities. During the training and employment experience, the high school students work under the guidance of teachers and job coaches from Quest, which ultimately sets them up for continued success.
Quest’s Project SEARCH is a collaborative partnership between private employers such as resorts and hospitals, the public school systems, Vocational Rehabilitation and Quest. The business partners provide classroom space and internships to participating high school students. The public schools provide a teacher to offer employment skills training during the school year. Vocational Rehabilitation funds the placement of individuals in employment.
In addition to assisting high school students, Quest also has an Adult Day Training (ADT) program to provide adults with disabilities job opportunities. In this program, participants learn employment skills through training and earn a paycheck while they are training for a job.
Their training activities include:
Social Interaction and Environmental Awareness (crafts, cooking, music, making choices, living skills, hygiene)
Receptive Communication (interactive games, listening skills)
Expressive Communication and Computer Skills (computer games and projects, vocabulary development, communication)
Creative Arts (multimedia, following instructions, task focus)
Vocational and Production (vocational skills such as production, recycling, shredding, assembly, packaging, money management)
Physical Management (health management, physical movement in and out of wheelchair, stress avoidance, good rest)
On-Site Work Teams (group and team work, social and workplace skills, self-esteem, safe work practices)
Quest’s employment programs provide opportunities for people to work at local companies such as the Orlando Utilities Commission, Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, Nike, Darden Restaurants, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Stein Mart, Marriott, Pizza Hut, SeaWorld, and many more. Employment specialists work with the program participants to identify jobs that will allow the individuals to be successful; the work is realistically designed for the participants’ abilities. Quest staff members work with individuals to develop plans for participants’ vocational evaluation, job development, coaching, and follow-up services.
While some individuals with disabilities might feel that employment opportunities are inaccessible, Quest’s employment program prepares them for work through career exploration, interest inventories, aptitude and strength assessments, goal development, and training so they are ready to work. Also addressed in the program are job change, advancement opportunities, potential vocational barriers, and individualized services needed to ensure employment success.
Quest’s employment specialists also assist participants with resumes, applications, and interviews. They work directly with potential employers to advocate for their participants and educate employers. Once a participant obtains employment, the employment specialist works closely with the employer to ensure the success of the new hire. They conduct ongoing visits to the employers to provide support as needed.
Quest also offers “travel training,” which teaches participants how to use public transportation, read bus routes and schedules, pay for bus tickets, ride the bus safely, plan a trip, and whom to contact if the bus is missed. This training also covers other independent living skills and allows participants access to community activities. Quest allows individuals with disabilities achieve their dreams of going to school, having a job, and living on their own.
For more information about Quest, Inc., visit www.questinc.org.
Shelly Trent, SPHR, is a Field Services Director in the Southeast Region for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) where she has worked since 2000. Shelly’s background includes human resources, college career services, and business and industry training. Shelly is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources and obtained her master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in HR. She completed Ph.D. coursework at the University of Louisville in human resources development and career counseling. She can be reached at Shelly.Trent@shrm.org.