By Kris Miller
Butler Eagle
Thursday, August 8, 2002

Wexford - Slippery Rock University entered a new partnership Monday that will help train people with disabilities for competitive job opportunities.

A briefing on the partnership program between SRU and the Pittsburgh Disability Employment Project for Freedom was held Monday at SRU's North Hills classrooms in Wexford. The program will train people with disabilities in technologically advanced courses on SRU campuses.

The two courses available will be on Web authoring and help desk, but the program could expand to include other courses later, said Jim Kushner, Dean of Lifelong Learning at SRU.

The Web authoring course focuses on creating Web sites and maintaining them, while the help desk course trains students to be ready to fix common problems when a user calls in for help. Both are 10-week, full day courses with a six-week internship at the end with a local company.

The model program may become a national program, Kushner said.

Having the courses connected to a university also allows for students to easily move into any of the degree programs, he said.

In addition, all students who attend the courses will have access to other services offered through SRU, he said, including career services, alumni relations and other services that could help them find jobs.

In the future, courses for the disabled will also be offered in the Fowler Building in Slippery Rock, Kushner said. Renovations on the building began this week and will include making the entire building handicapped accessible.

Though SRU's North Hills site is a temporary one, there will also be space constructed in the permanent North Hills campus for these courses and possibly others. That site, also in the Wexford area, consists of 20 acres donated to the university by Mine Safety Appliances of Butler.

John Snyder of Butler told the group that he broke his back in a car accident five years ago and has been forced to use a wheelchair.

Using the Project for Freedom courses, Snyder switched vocations from a laborer before his accident to office worker at Bayer Corporation. Through the program he learned about computer software necessary to tackle his new job.

"I went from being on Social Security to owning a house and owning a car," he said. I can't thank the project enough for changing my life."

Snyder thanked SRU for joining in the partnership to offer the program to more disabled students.

"This will help us move on to bigger and better things, he said.

Another former participant in the classes, Tim Koontz, encouraged employers to continue to hire graduates of these types of programs. After struggling with bipolar disorder for many years, help from the program helped him obtain a job and get his life on track, he said.

"We have become strong mentally because of these disabilities," Koontz said. "We have something to prove and we will prove it. We have to work much harder to be reliable and we will do so."

For more information on the Project for Freedom, including the new course offerings at SRU's North Hills campus, call the Office of Lifelong Learning at 724-738-4484.