2006 Conference General Sessions

AAC AND EMPLOYMENT: STUDENT TRANSITIION FROM SCHOOL CAREER

Presenter(s)
Gaylon Ponder
Words+, Inc.
1220 West Avenue  
Lancaster CA 93534-2902

Day Phone: 256-287-2870
Fax: 661-723-2114

Email: bodytech@mindspring.eom

 

Introduction
It is easy to find cognitively capable people who cannot find employment. They are nonverbal, cannot write normally and use wheelchairs. There are meetings, often called “staffings”, held daily across the country for these people who have finished high school and have begun the quest for a career. The main issues remain fairly constant for the most part, but get addressed as though they are new and specific to the particular client.

The common issues are:
1. No job experience (Therefore no career direction)
2. No job skills
3. Special needs (Feeding, toileting, transportation, etc.)
4. Poor education (Spelling, grammar, writing, reading, math, certificate of completion instead of diploma, etc.)
5. Potential jobs available

Sidetracking for a moment to help explain why the Transition Program is needed. Consider the following typical scenario that occurred for many years, and is still fairly common:
A student like the ones described in the introduction to this document finished high school and was referred to a vocational counselor. The vocational counselor was competent at placing people with a variety of disabilities. For instance, the counselor:
1. Had placed people who had job skills but were injured. They had to be retrained because they no longer had the same physical abilities.
2. Had placed people who had been rehabilitated from drug or alcohol abuse.
3. Had placed people with emotional or behavioral disorders who needed direct supervision.
4. Had placed people who were cognitively impaired or mentally retarded (the two are often incorrectly used interchangeably) but had good physical abilities, in safe low skill manual labor jobs with strict supervision.
5. Had placed wheelchair users who could talk and write, and who may have already developed other job skills before injury, in jobs requiring these skills.
But the counselor really hadn’t dealt with a cognitively capable client who couldn’t talk or write, and who used a wheelchair. The first hurdle may have been to get the counselor to believe that the client wasn’t cognitively impaired since the client couldn’t talk. The counselor may have said that if the client could talk the counselor would be able to place them. The speech pathologist may have informed the counselor that if the client had an augmentative communication device, the client could talk. The counselor may have bought such a device for thousands of dollars and found out that what the speech pathologist called talking, and what the counselor had in mind were two entirely different things. Weeks or months later the result came back down to “No Job Experience” and “No Job Skills”.

Someone identified, and correctly so, that the vocational counsel needed to be involved in the process before the client finished high school. Then the counselor would be able to better help prepare the student for entry into the vocational placement program.

The Transition program can help in the following ways:
1. The vocational-rehabilitation (VR) counselor has a chance to guide the development of employment skills through education, before the student seeks entry into the job market.
2. The VR counselor has a responsibility to make sure the student is prepared, and employable.
3. The teachers have better guidance concerning what skills the student will need in order to find a job, and a responsibility to teach it.
4. Vocational evaluations can help guide the education process.
Before implementation of the Transition Program, the school system seemed to believe it was the vocational counselor’s job to find employment for the disabled client upon completion of high school. The vocational counselor seemed to believe it was the education system’s job to prepare the client to enter the work force. The federally funded Transition Program is intended to bridge the gap so the two systems work together toward the common goal.

General Requirements for Employment
1.
Cognitive Ability to think, reason, remember (learn), self-edit, stay on task, etc.
2. Physical Ability to manipulate work materials. These may be materials, conversation, communication, equipment, electronic information, etc.
3. Visual skills to perform work related tasks, work safely, follow written instructions, etc.
4. Auditory Skills perform Work related tasks, work safely, follow verbal instructions, etc.
5. Pragmatic Skills to get to work, be dependable; be presentable, not distract others, work independently, interact correctly, etc.
6.
Job Skills so they can perform assigned tasks.

 

Typical Characteristics of our Clients with Severe Physical Disabilities
1.
Cannot talk normally causing unfamiliar listeners have difficulty understand them, or they may have to use augmentative-communication equipment to talk.
2. Cannot easily manipulate physical objects, take notes, or perform manual labor.
3. Use a wheelchair to move around workplace. This may require workplace modifications.
4. Need assistance with some daily activities like getting dressed, transportation, feeding, etc.

Note that these characteristics often do not indicate reduced cognitive ability. They often do indicate reduced physical ability. They often do not indicate reduced visual or auditory ability. They sometimes indicate reduced pragmatic skills.

These characteristics almost always result in reduced, or non-existent job skills. The primary reason these clients are not employed is the lack of job skills. Students without severe physical disabilities are able to participate in a variety of activities during their school years. Generally they naturally choose some basic behavior patterns and interests that guide their future career path. Some stereotypical examples:
1. One child pays attention to anything physical including sports, shop classes, etc., but doesn’t study well.
2. One child is a social butterfly, making friends and carrying conversation easily.
3. One child is very intellectual and interested in arts, writing, reading, etc.
4. One child is very intellectual and is interested in science, math, physics, etc.
5. One child is very helpful, nurturing, patient and caring.

When these children finish school they will likely choose careers that match with these basic behavior patterns. Some will choose construction, logging, paving, roofing, fishing, and wouldn’t want to be “trapped” in an office. Others will choose low skill manual labor or jobs that require repetitive use of technical skills such as machine work, electrical work, plumbing, assembly, etc. Some will become doctors, nurses, lawyers, or teachers. There will be some draftsmen, engineers, and scientists. Others will use their people skills to become salesmen or business managers. And the list goes on and on with more than 12,700 different job descriptions available.

The important point is that the students described in the introduction can’t wander through all of the experiences and choose the ones that they want to. They just cannot expect to succeed vocationally relying only on their physical efficiency as their source of productivity. But they don’t know this. They are kids and they are relying on adults to guide them correctly at early ages before they are capable of contemplating career plans.

 

The Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor’s Role
Under the Transition model, the role of the VR counselor is the one least likely to be fully understood, especially by staff working strictly within the school system and not normally participating in employment staffing. The counselor role will be explained in more detail during the presentation.

The best solution is to have identifiable job skills in place before the VR staffing.
In order for the counselor to commit the kinds of funds that are needed, the counselor has to be able to convince management that job skills are present and placement is likely. It is the responsibility of the support team (The SLP, OT, Special Education Teacher, Teacher, Parent, Social Worker, and eventually the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor) to help the student explore tasks that provide him or her opportunity for success. The technology is available to let the client speak and to operate computers. How the technology is used will impact the rest of their lives. Some examples of using technology to perform tasks that may help develop job skills or interests are:
1. Learning to write meaningful articles to submit to the school paper.
2. Using spreadsheets to keep scores and statistics for the coach or teacher.
3. Using computer-drawing programs to make posters.
4. Participating in class by answering questions and writing book reports.
5. Keeping up with the money for a fundraising project.
6. Using the computer to take a drafting class.
7. Taking surveys and documenting the statistics.
8. Using augmentative-communication equipment to participate in spelling bees.

This course of action requires that someone believe the client is capable of learning and performing the tasks. It requires spending the energy to focus the rest of the team on the goals.

Summary
If students who have acceptable cognition, are significantly speech impaired, cannot write normally, and use wheelchairs for mobility are to find good jobs upon graduation, they are going to have to take some technical skills to the table in order for the vocational counselor to place them in a meaningful position. “He does computer drafting” or “She writes and submits articles to the paper” will go a long way toward overcoming the “No Job Skill”/”No Job Interest” problems.


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