Embarking on a career search can be daunting, particularly if you’re a job applicant with special needs. Having a physical or intellectual disability can make tasks like developing a resume, filling out an application and preparing for an interview exceedingly difficult without support, and children with special needs don’t always have the same opportunities to develop job skills as do their typically-developing counterparts.
We wanted to learn what would help people with special needs find jobs more easily, so we reached out to some programs that specialize in assisting people with special needs find employment. The Mighty spoke with Keri Castaneda, Chief Program Officer of AbilityFirst, a program that offers a variety of services for people with varying intellectual and physical abilities in Pasadena, California. We also talked with Sarah Duplessis, the Program Director for Food for Good Thought in Columbus, Ohio. Food for Good Thought provides job training and support for people with autism and offers supported employment at its gluten-free bakery.
We asked Castaneda and Duplessis what they each wish people knew before beginning a job search or working with a job placement program. Here is what they had to say:
1. Parents, start preparing with your children early.
“It’s never too early to start preparing a teen for adulthood,” Castaneda told The Mighty. “This includes things like building communication and socializing skills and helping the child become independent and do things for his or herself.”
Early preparation also includes inspiring your son or daughter about what they want to be early in life. “A lot of times kids with disabilities are never asked what they want to be when they grow up,” Castaneda told The Mighty. “For so many of the people we serve, that has never even been brought up.”
2. Learn about services offered within your school district, community, county and state.
Both AbilityFirst and Food for Good Thought are funded through state and federally-funded agencies like the Department of Rehabilitation and Medicaid. Castaneda and Duplessis each suggest that people with disabilities who are looking for jobs should look into other programs in their communities for financial support and other services.
“The more funding a person has, the more support we can provide,” Castaneda told The Mighty. “It’s important to understand what resources are out there in your school district and community. A lot of people take for granted that those resources are available.”
“A lot of parents come to us and don’t even know what’s out there,” Duplessis told The Mighty. “Options like the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation in Ohio are available in all states — you just have to know how to apply for services. Look into state and county board funding. Sometimes you can even get transportation to and from work.”
3. Don’t know what you want to do? Employment services can help.
“If someone comes to us who has never worked before, they go through an assessment period where we try and work with them on what they’re interested in, what their ability levels are and what kind of support networks they have. This is before we begin looking into job options,” Castaneda told The Mighty. “One of the things we consistently offer is moral support. It’s something a lot of people take for granted.
“Our first step when working with people who have never had jobs is a career exploration phase. Our clients take an interest inventory test and work with a job developer to come up with three to four careers or professions to explore,” Duplessis told The Mighty. “Then we find companies that are willing to talk to our clients about those tracks, and they go to informational interviews. Job seekers goes with list of questions that like, ‘What is your day like? What is the best part about your job? What is the worst part of your day?’ From there, they narrow down what it is they do or do not want to do.”
4. Job services don’t necessarily have agreements with employers to fill certain amount of spots.
“This is a common misconception people have about agencies like ours,” Duplessis told The Mighty. “We don’t have jobs lined up for people. Every case is its own case — every client has his or her individual job goal.”
“Another reason we don’t have jobs waiting for people is because we want to teach our clients the entire process,” she added. “We want them to leave with a resume so they can update it down the line and do it on their own. The interviewing skills they develop with us will stay with them as well. If they’re looking for a career change a year or two down the line, they’ll have those skills built in.”
5. There are programs that offer supported employment.
“It’s important to try and get people with disabilities active in the community, but sometimes people need ongoing support. For those people, supported employment is the way to go,” Duplessis told The Mighty. “Supported employment means consistent everyday support. Right now, we have 10 supported employees with a couple job coaches who are there with them every minute of every shift. These employees are independent, but the coaches help them continue to grow. Some stay in supported employment indefinitely; others look to eventually move on to more independent employment.”
6. Finding a job takes time.
“Many parents think their child will get a job within two weeks of working with us, and that’s not how it works. The process can take anywhere from one to six months,” Duplessis told The Mighty. “If one of our clients has never had a job before, we want to make sure he or she is developing the skills to find a job before we match him or her with employment. This can take time. We don’t set anyone up to fail, so having faith in an organization like ours is important.”
7. Some services will continue to support you after you’ve gotten a job.
“Once a client gets the job, depending on the type of funding he or she has, we can offer on-the-job coaching,” Castaneda told The Mighty. “We interface with employer — we’re not taking over the position of the employer, we’re just offering support. If, for example, there’s a new task someone has to learn or a new job duty, we can work with the employer on how to best work with that individual to master that skill.”
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