October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. In light of the title, we typically want to put our immediate thoughts and efforts around getting a job and how we can get young adults (and adults) with disabilities into competitive integrated employment. However, I think it is important to also look at where education and intentionality around employment begin. That path starts long before actual work in the community.
When I wanted my first job in the community, I went to the place of business (KFC, if you are interested) and filled out a job application. I talked to the manager for a few minutes, and ‘voila,’ I had my first job. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a privilege that opportunity was.
In Indiana, for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the conversations about what a student with a disability wants to do post-high school in the areas of Education, Employment, and Independent Living (technically called Transition Planning) begin when a student is going to turn 14 or just entering high school. Why so early? Because this process can take a great deal of time for some individuals and their families. Some families didn’t even know that employment would be an option for their young adult. For others, just getting through the daily challenge of school and other issues doesn’t allow the time to formally plan. For many students, it takes time to work through the process of finding out what they are good at, what they enjoy, and what is available. Where my first job was something of a necessary stop-gap (buying gas and car insurance), that first work placement for an individual with a disability is a critical step to the future.
Transition planning, which is part of both federal and state special education laws, is about being intentional in supporting students as they learn to make informed decisions about their future. It involves strength and career inventories, taking classes to find strengths and learn new skills, job shadowing, work experiences, learning how to complete an application and sit through an interview, and often working with a Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) provider from Vocational Rehabilitation. The Transition Plan is reviewed, revised, and built upon annually, focusing on the interests, strengths, and needs of each individual student.
The ultimate goal, of course, is for a student to be prepared on their last day of high school for their first day of adult life. This includes creating a meaningful day for all individuals, with employment being a significant part of that plan. Finding everyone’s place in the community requires communication, planning, experiences, and support. We don’t all leave high school ready for the world of work. Transition Planning, however, supports students and families in getting closer to that reality.
So, as we celebrate Disability Employment Awareness month, let’s also celebrate those involved in the immense planning on the road to get there.