Project Wiser

Project Period
July 2000 – June 2004

Project WISER was a four-year, federally-funded Transition Demonstration Project (Grant -# H324M000089) which was awarded to The University of Montana’s Rural Institute on Disabilities in July of 2000 by the Office of Special Education at the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of the project was to create a model of transition planning for students with significant disabilities that incorporated the use of Social Security Work Incentives and natural supports to promote access to community employment.

The model was developed and implemented in eight schools in the Bitterroot and Mission Valleys of western Montana. Local capacity to support employment was created within schools and communities through on-site technical assistance and support, local student-centered training on employment strategies, the support of peer mentors for students and parents, and the development of interagency relationships and transition task forces.

The Model

The innovative features of the model include:

  • employment opportunities and planning which are individualized for each student; and
  • the promotion and encouragement of alternative resources that increase consumer and family choice and control over services to support employment.

For students aged 14 (or younger if appropriate) through 21 or graduation from high school, the model promotes individualized vocational planning within some recommended benchmarks and time lines for vocational activities. To ensure individualization of career planning, vocational activities (whether school-based jobs for students under the age of 16 or community-based jobs for students 16 and older) are guided by a “Discovery” process called the Vocational Profile. The Profile, an alternative to standardized vocational evaluations, is a format for describing what is learned about each student through Discovery; strengths, interests, preferences and support needs are identified and summarized. Information is gathered from people who know the student well and within environments which are familiar to the student and where they function at their best. The person conducting the interviews for the Profile spends time at the student’s home, in the community with the student and at school. This information then leads to identifying the ideal conditions of employment for the student and to identifying specific job tasks which the student can perform. It also guides selection of school-based jobs or employers within the community which match the contributions and preferences of the student.

Individually-driven employment exploration and vocational planning is the emphasis rather than a more generic job sampling approach. The benefit of the individualized approach is that better job matches for students are made. A good job match exists when a student’s contributions (what skills and abilities they bring to an employer) match what an employer needs and values in their work place. Also essential to a good match is that the structure for learning and the supports which a student needs to perform their job tasks are naturally available within the employment setting. Quality job matches promote more independence and participation on the job by the student, resulting in schools, employers, and the student getting a picture of what they can do rather than what they can’t do. The better the job match, the easier it is for the job coach to fade support as the student learns the tasks. This model prepares students for employment as adults rather than promoting the sense that a one-on-one support person is always needed or even beneficial to the student.

Project Staff and Implementation Sites

Ellen Condon, Project Director, (406) 243-4134,

Kim Brown, Project Coordinator, (406) 243-4852,
Mission Valley Schools: Polson Schools, Ronan Schools, St. Ignatius Schools and the Missoula Area Education Cooperative in Arlee and St. Ignatius

Don Dubuque, Project Coordinator
St. Ignatius Schools

Lynn Moses, Project Coordinator
Bitterroot Valley Schools: Hamilton Schools, Stevensville Schools, Corvallis Schools, Florence Schools and the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative