Employment First: Perspectives from Educators

Employment First: Perspectives from Educators


Statistics show people with developmental
disabilities have experienced unemployment, underemployment and poverty at rates far surpassing
others without disabilities. If we are going to make a difference in changing
the outcomes for students with disabilities, then we must first understand the importance
of the Employment first initiative in Virginia and the role educators play, K-12 education. It is our role as educators to advocate and
educate. Educate students, families, colleagues, adult
service providers, and even the business community about the contributions individuals with disabilities
can make to the workforce and to advocate for change and opportunities. We must continue to increase awareness of
the benefits of paid employment and address the perceived barriers to employment to the
families and students and really advocate for them to make those linkages to agencies
early, while they’re in school. Raising the expectations that everyone can
work with individual supports is also necessary. Raising these expectations begin in the home
and in the schools. We all know that high expectations lead to
positive adult outcomes. We continue to strengthen these expectations
by instilling a love for learning and cultivating a clear vision of work, education, and community
participation. Well, Employment First for me as an educator
is something that gets me very excited. Part of the joy, to me, of being an educator
is discovering abilities and gifts of people because I know individuals with disabilities
have, you know, something to offer the community just as much as anyone else does. It’s so important for students, educators,
families, agency personnel, to continuously discover what is possible for each student. You know, It’s not looking at what a person
can’t do, it’s looking at what a person can do and it’s important for us to continue
to assess in various environments, share the abilities and capabilities with students,
teams, and provide opportunities to continuously assess and discover. Let’s really focus on abilities and not
the deficits. From a family’s perspective, if you start
an IEP meeting you know and you’re talking about you know, all the deficits of a student,
it’s going to be discouraging to the family. They need to know that you are open to hearing,
you know, the gifts and the talents that they see in their students because we all know
that they‘re there. And so we have to focus on those first, and
the more we do that the more encouraging it is going to be for a family and, you know,
families are so important to the IEP team. You know, I don’t think we do near enough
to pull families in especially when they’re in the transition stage. Families know skills and talents that teachers
might not see, and families are able to help you once you are beginning to look at okay,
you know this young person is going to transition into employment. You know, the families are going to have to
be there to help you to brainstorm what some of those options are going to be. They’re going to be able to think about
some things that an educator just won’t know about. Like I said, they’re a very important part
of the team and they need to be included and I think the more you focus in on all the talents
that, you know, that the young person has, the more involved it’s gonna get the family. Employment First is also a catalyst for agency
collaboration. There are many different partners in the community
that can help students and families achieve their goal of employment. And as educators, we are on the frontlines
of bringing about awareness of these supports and services so it’s critical that we know
the different options available and share those options with families so they can make
an informed choice and we can bring the team members to the table early. Collaboration and teamwork go a long way towards
helping students reach their employment goal. Our, you know, students with disabilities
have the goal of employment after high school, that we need to get really busy as families
and as educators in getting them as many experiences as they can in the community. And that could look a lot of different ways,
that could look like helping out in a family business, it could be volunteering, it could
be assisting with, you know, activities in your faith community, it could be job shadows,
internships, or it can be something as simple as being a contributing member of your family,
being held accountable and responsible for certain things in the family home. So, you know, we need to get our students
as involved as we can and getting them as many experiences as we can give them so that
they know what their strengths are, so they know what their interests are because I think
a lot of our students just don’t know what it is. Finally, we can’t forget, Employment first
is about academic and career preparation. Successful post-school employment will not
happen if we do not provide extensive career development curriculum, instruction and assessment. It’s imperative that we align student’s
career activities to match their goal of employment. Career development begins in the elementary
years and continues on until the student exits school. So let’s systematically plan and coordinate
career activities and experiences to lead students through the phases of career awareness,
exploration and training. By the time a student reaches high school,
they should have explored various career pathways already. The high school years should prepare students
with the opportunities to continue exploring careers but exploring careers that they want
to get a little more in depth with. And the way to explore these careers should
be through work based learning opportunities such as job shadowing, internships, volunteering,
summer employment, and paid employment. There’s a lot of strong research out there
that indicate students who have had the opportunity to engage in internships, summer employment,
and paid work prior to exiting school are much more likely to seek and maintain competitive
employment as an adult. Employment First is really about opportunity. Let’s share in the vision and educate others
to make employment a priority. The VCU Center on Transition Innovations is funded by the Virginia Department of Education, number 881-62524-H027A15107. For further information about the Center on Transition Innovations, please visit our website at www.centerontransition.org. [Music playing]

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