You’re in luck – we have lots of resources to help you! This is also a timely question as October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. First and foremost, know that there are job supports and job coaches available through various organizations who can help your child learn to be successful in the workplace – more on this below. There are also some things you can be doing while your child is still in school to make sure they will be as prepared as possible to apply for jobs when the time comes.
Incorporate Transition Planning into IEP Meetings
Be sure to include transition planning in your child’s IEP beginning at age 14. Some states begin this process at a different age, so check with your school department (or state law if you’re feeling adventurous!) – but in any case, it must begin before age 16.
Transition planning is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that requires students with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). In short, this means an educational program that is tailored to the needs of your child. (Read more about FAPE here.) The law says that a student’s transition plan should be based on the student’s strengths and interests. It must include how that student is going to develop functional skills so they can live and work successfully, to the greatest extent possible, in the community once they leave the school system.
Some examples of these skills include:
- taking public transportation
- counting money and making change
- learning office skills
- practicing how to speak with co-workers
- learning how to prepare a meal
- learning how to bathe oneself
It is usually beneficial to have concrete, attainable skills like these – which will vary based on the student and their abilities and interests – written into a transition plan, rather than vague goals like ‘have the student identify an area in which they would like to have a job.’ Mastery of a skill has a greater likelihood of leading to a job; being able to identify a job isn’t quite as helpful (unless the student is already trained or qualified to hold that position).
Research Different Types of Employment
There are many types of employment options available for people with disabilities. These include paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time, internships and more. Of course, different jobs require different levels of skill. It is important to remember that not everyone with disabilities can hold a ‘traditional’ job. As we discuss in the ELI Employment Guide, there are options available for those individuals too. Visit the Guide to learn more about some of these offerings! Please note that this Guide is currently specific to Louisiana, though much of the information applies regardless of location. We will publish the Massachusetts version of this Guide in early 2018.
Explore Job Training Programs
Job training programs are available through various organizations and provide on-the-job coaching for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. A good place to start is your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation agency – which in Massachusetts is called the Mass Rehab Commission (MRC). The services available through these offices are specifically there to help your child or client with disabilities get and keep a job.
One of the first job training programs I learned about years ago is called Project SEARCH. They have host sites in every state, and even some other countries, too. Regardless of your location, check them out and see if your child might be a fit. I was lucky enough to mentor several Project SEARCH interns and witness the interactions between intern and job coach, which led to a more productive workplace for everyone – with and without disabilities – involved. Visit our Resource Directory to find other programs in your area!
Finally, I’ll make another plug for you to spend some time exploring our Employment Guide. We include prompting questions to help identify your child or client’s strengths and skills, tips for writing cover letters and resumes, explanations of the various options and programs available, and how you might be able to work with the state and federal government to receive training and help finding an appropriate job placement.
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