Helping Students with Cognitive Disabilities Find and Keep a Job (page 3)
This Technical Assistance Guide is written for those involved in helping students with cognitive disabilities or autism find and keep a job. This includes parents, family members, teachers, transition specialists, job development specialists, employers, and others. This guide talks about the processes involved in finding and keeping employment; it is not intended as a guide to the laws and policies associated with transition planning. The guide comes with an audiotape called A Student's Guide to Jobs. A booklet for students is available separately.
On the audiotape you will hear the stories of several young people with cognitive disabilities, with autism, or with multiple disabilities. You will also hear from their parents and their employers. They will talk about the challenges these young people are facing on the job and the successes they have had. NICHCY hopes that you'll find their stories interesting, enlightening, and useful as you become more involved in helping young adults with cognitive disabilities look for jobs and succeed in the world of work.
This Technical Assistance Guide will help you:
- learn more about employment for individuals with mental retardation, with autism, or with multiple disabilities;
- understand who may be involved in helping the young person find and keep a job and how they are involved;
- develop an awareness of the job accommodations helpful to people with cognitive disabilities with autism, or with multiple disabilities;
- learn how you can support the young person in his or her job search and retention; and
- find helpful resources at the national, state, and local levels
"I think parents need to be optimistic with regard to what their kids can contribute to the business environment. There is such a demand for good workers that you can take a child who has a disability, who is willing to work, and his willingness to work in the long run will outweigh the disability to the employer, when you find the right employer."
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Having a job can be exciting, fun, hard work, scary, and full of new skills to learn and master. This is as true for young people with cognitive disabilities as it is for those with other disabilities or no disabilities at all. In the past, many people with disabilities didn't have jobs. This was especially true for people with cognitive disabilities and those with autism. Today, fortunately, the employment prospects for such individuals are changing (President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1997). Young people with these disabilities are learning important skills in school and on the job. These skills are proving useful to employers, and so are the other talents that people with disabilities bring to the workplace.
How do typical young people become employed? Most look in the help wanted ads or find out about job openings from friends or relatives. They may go to an interview, give their resume to the prospective employer, and, if all goes well and they have the skills necessary, they get the job.
Youth with disabilities sometimes follow this path, but more often they need help in finding a job. The amount of help they need will depend on a number of factors, including:
- the job market at the time;
- what type of job they're interested in,
- how much training the job requires,
- how much training they themselves have, and
- what type of disability they have.
For youth with cognitive limitations, special employment challenges exist, so they are likely to need extensive support in finding and keeping a job.
What kinds of jobs are out there for these young people? The section below takes a look at the types of employment opportunities available for young men and women with significant disabilities such as a cognitive disability or autism. These include: competitive employment, supported employment, and segregated employment.
Competitive employment means a full-time or part-time job with competitive wages and responsibilities. Typically, competitive employment means that no long-term support is provided to the employee to help him or her learn the job or continue to perform the job. This lack of ongoing or long-term support is one aspect that distinguishes competitive employment from both supported employment and segregated employment (described below).
All sorts of jobs are considered competitive employment -- waiting on tables, cutting grass, fixing cars, and being a teacher, secretary, factory worker, file clerk, or computer programmer. The amount of education or training a person needs will vary depending on the type of job.
In supported employment, individuals with significant disabilities typically work in competitive jobs alongside and with individuals who do not have disabilities. One of the characteristics of supported employment is that the person receives ongoing support services while on the job. This support is often provided by a job coach who helps the person learn to do the job and understand the rules, conventions, and expectations of the job site. The support continues to be provided as long as the person holds the job, although the amount of support may be reduced over time as the person becomes able to do the job more independently (Association for Persons in Supported Employment, 1996; President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1993).
Supported employment offers individuals with significant disabilities -- such as the young people featured on the audiotape that accompanies this guide -- the chance to earn wages in jobs where they work alongside their peers who do not have disabilities.
As the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (1996) observes, "Supported employment focuses on a person's abilities and provides the supports the individual needs to be successful on a long-term basis" (p. 1). To maximize the chances for success, it's important that the job and the work environment be a good match to the "known interests, skills, and support needs of the person with a disability" (PACER Center, 1998).
In segregated employment, individuals with disabilities work in a self-contained unit and are not integrated with workers without disabilities. This type of employment is generally supported by federal and/or state funds. The type of training that workers receive varies from program to program, as does the type of work they do. Some typical tasks include sewing, packaging, or collating.
In the past, segregated employment was thought to be the only option available for individuals with significant cognitive disabilities such as a cognitive disability or autism. Now it is clear that individuals with such disabilities can work in community settings when provided with adequate support. Nonetheless, segregated employment continues to be an option for many workers with cognitive disabilities.
"Imagine if you were sitting in a room, and you had just a couple of other people helping you think about what you were good at, and you say, the sky's the limit."
Learning for a Lifetime; Postsecondary Technical Training Options for Students with Disabilities
University of Oregon
Any number of individuals can be involved in helping the young person find and keep a job. But the most important person to be involved is the young person!
The young man or woman must be at the center of all employment considerations. He or she is the one who is going to be doing the job. Many people may give support, may supervise or provide training to the young person, and may invest their heart and soul in seeing that the young person succeeds, but the bottom line is that this is the young person's job.
Given that, it's important to consider what the person is interested in. What is he or she good at? What are his or her support needs? What type of a work environment does the person prefer? These questions need to be answered when others are involved in helping the youth find a job that's satisfying or, at the very least, is a learning experience upon which to build future opportunities. Roz Slovic, who is featured on the tape accompanying this guide, suggests a powerful process, Person-Centered Planning, for focusing upon the student's abilities, preferences, and goals. This Technical Assistance Guide also provides a list of selected transition planning resources that the transition team -- students, parents, transition specialists, teachers, and others -- can use to help identify the student's job interests and preferences (see "Resources" at the end of this publication).
In addition to the student, who is likely to be involved in the student's job search and eventual employment? Depending upon the age of the young person and whether he or she is still in school, some or all of the following individuals may be involved:
- the parents or guardians;
- a transition specialist at the school;
- a job development specialist or a vocational rehabilitation counselor;
- friends or people from the community who know the young person; and eventually
- the employer.
Parents (or guardians) have long been particularly effective participants in their sons and daughters' employment. As the Technical Assistance on Transition and the Rehabilitation Act (TATRA) Project, states: "Studies demonstrate that family members play crucial roles not only in career preparation, but in actual job search efforts. The kind of support families often provide are:
- ideas about the type of work an individual likes and is able to do,
- suggestions about where to look for a job, and
- assistance with transportation." (TATRA Project, 1996, p. 5)
Transition specialists may become involved through the public school system when the student reaches the age where transition planning begins. This specialist helps the student by way of a variety of activities, such as:
- working with the student to identify preferences and goals;
- setting up opportunities for the student (or a group of students) to learn about different careers through such activities as watching movies about careers, job shadowing, visiting different job environments, and hands-on activities that allow the student(s) to try out a job or aspects of a job;
- looking at what skills the student presently has and what skills he or she will need in the adult world;
- recommending coursework that the student should take throughout the remainder of high school to prepare for adult living (recreation, employment, postsecondary education, independent living);
- identifying what job supports the student needs;
- helping the student assemble a portfolio of job experiences, resumes, work recommendations, and the like; and
- making connections with the adult service system.
Rehabilitation counselors and job development specialists can be involved in a student's transition planning while the student is still in school. The rehabilitation counselor typically works for the state's vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency, helping people with disabilities prepare for and find employment. For students who are eligible for VR, a wide variety of services are available, including: evaluation of the person's interests, capabilities, and limitations; job training; transportation; aids and devices; job placement; and job follow-up.
A job development specialist usually works for a school system or an adult service provider agency such as the vocational rehabilitation agency. As the job title suggests, the chief activity of such a specialist is finding jobs for people with disabilities. Supported employment makes great use of job development specialists. The job development specialist will usually approach an employer to see what positions may be available that match the prospective employee's abilities and preferences. The job developer may offer the employer specific services, including:
- placing the person on the job;
- training the employee on job tasks and appropriate workplace behavior (this is usually done by a job coach, who works intensively with the individual);
- talking with supervisor(s) and coworkers about disability awareness;
- providing long-term support to the employee on the job; and
- helping to promote interaction between the employee and his or her co-workers (PACER Center, 1998).
The key participant in the employment quest of the person with a disability is, of course, the employer. In the past, many businesses and organizations have been reluctant to hire people with disabilities, but in today's marketplace, a great many employers are now discovering the benefits of doing so. Several employers speak revealingly on the audiotape as to the rewards of working with young people with disabilities, but none more plainly than Sandy Wilson, the manager at Blockbuster, who says, "Every time I come into work...when we have a lot of returns, I keep saying, please let Rob work, please let Rob work...." Rob's employment is an excellent example of the success that can occur when the demands of the job and the work environment are well matched to the student's strengths and skills.
"We have people go out and walk around in a four-square block area and write down everything people could possibly do...and we came up with these little city' things, painting the curbs, painting the fire hydrant...and then we went to public works and created a job that afternoon for a guy."
Director of Training
Suggestions for the Job Search
So how do young people with cognitive disabilities such as a cognitive disability or autism find a job that matches their interests and skills? This section looks briefly at strategies for the "job search," including ways that parents and others can support the youth in this very important step in the employment process.
Planning for Transition
When students leave high school, they move into the adult world. For students with disabilities, planning for this transition from school to adult life is a formal process, part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires it. (For more information on what the law requires, contact NICHCY and ask for Transition Services in the IEP. For more information on how to assemble a team that utilizes as many community resources as possible and that fosters collaboration among agencies, ask for Transition Planning: A Team Effort.)
The requirements of IDEA mean that students, parents, and other involved individuals have the opportunity to plan ahead and prepare. Here are some activities that will help students get ready for the world of work that comes during and after high school. Please note that, while we focus here upon preparing for and pursuing employment, there are other, very important areas in transition planning upon which the student may need to focus as well, such as: determining residential options, identifying educational opportunities, and establishing connections within the community.
Early in high school or even in middle school. With the support and involvement of the student's family and transition team, each student should:
- learn more about the wide variety of careers that exist;
- meet with a school counselor to talk about interests and capabilities;
- take part in vocational assessment activities;
- identify training needs and options;
- pick a few careers of interest; and
- find out more about those careers.
While in high school. High school is an important time in terms of preparing the student for the future. With the support and involvement of the family and transition team, each student should:
- make sure that the IEP includes transition plans;
- identify and take high school classes, including vocational programs, that relate to the careers of interest;
- become involved in early work experiences and those emphasizing work-based learning, such as observing people working in a particular job (called job shadowing), volunteering, trying out a job for several hours or days, having an internship, and having a summer job;
- learn more about school-to-work programs in the community, which offer opportunities for training and employment through youth apprenticeships, cooperative education, tech-prep, mentorships, independent study, and internships;
- identify transportation options (i.e., how the young person will get to and from the job) and whether he or she will need travel training in order to use public transportation safely and independently;
- re-assess interests and capabilities, based on real-world experiences, and re-define goals as necessary;
- identify gaps in knowledge or skills that need to be addressed;
- learn the basics of the interview process and practice being interviewed;
- learn to speak about their disability and to describe accommodations that are necessary or helpful; and
- contact the vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency and/or the Social Security Administration at age 18 or in the last year of school to determine eligibility for services or benefits.
Casting the Job Net Wide
"Jobs, jobs, jobs." Where is the right one for the young person with a cognitive disability such as a cognitive disability or autism? Where is that elusive job matching his or her talents, skills, and interests?
This is a question that young people must answer for themselves. Each young person has to look, experiment, and have many job experiences. The parents, family, transition specialist, job specialist, and others provide support and encouragement, hard work and worry, and oftentimes the creative energy needed to connect the youth with the world of work. Sometimes the young person finds a job early on, through his or her early work experiences or personal network of friends and relatives. Other times the net has to be cast wide, or cast again and again, until the job, the employer, and the young person fit one another.
Here are some suggestions for casting the job net, in no particular order of priority. Many are drawn from the Job Accommodation Network's (n.d.) Employment Tips. Any one of these suggestions may work. All of them are worth trying. Families, transition specialists, and others involved in helping the student need to:
- Talk to everybody! Neighbors, relatives, co-workers, teachers, clergy, and local businesses all have information on jobs. When you go into a store, look around at what employees are doing there and think about how the young person might fit in or contribute.
- Look within the community. As Cary Griffin suggests on the audiotape, pull out your checkbook and look at the last 20 checks you wrote. That's where the market is.
- Work with the VR agency in your area to select an adult service provider who will help identify jobs and obtain training for the young person.
- Contact the employment commission within your state. This agency may go by various names, depending on where you live, including: Employment Security, Job Service, or Workforce Incentive. This number is usually found under the Government listings in the telephone directory.
- Look in the help wanted section of the newspaper. This may seem incredibly obvious, but you'd be surprised how often it's overlooked as a resource.
- Be direct and go from one employer to another. Fill out an application form and leave it with the employer.
- If the student is studying at a community college or vocational school, take advantage of the job placement office.
- Look in the public library or City Hall. Bulletin boards often list job openings.
- Call your local Independent Living Center (ILC), if you have one. They often have leads on jobs or job clubs for individuals with disabilities. (To find out if there is an ILC in your area, contact the Independent Living Research Utilization Project, listed under "Organizations" in this guide.)
- Get in touch with local advocacy, support, and disability groups. They may provide help or leads to jobs.
- Use the Internet to look for job listings.
- Remember that volunteering and internships can sometimes lead to paid employment. Certainly, the experience is good to list on a resume.
- Be creative and resourceful. It's possible to convince an employer to create a new job, as Cary Griffin on the tape did, or to modify an existing job so that the young person can do a piece of it.
These are just a few ideas for how to approach the challenge of the job search. Jobs are out there, but you've got to look!
"If there's a problem with job performance, we'll approach [our workers with disabilities] the way we would approach any other employee, except maybe we'll be a little more clear, a little more gentle explaining..."
Don Beyer Volvo
Reprinted with the permission of the National Dissemination Center.
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