By Victoria Smith-Thompson
Last month, I, along with a seasoned JCS Job Coach, sat at the dining room table of a family. We weren’t there as dinner guests, but to talk with their young adult son, who has disabilities, about his future plans and what he wants to do with his life. The home visit was part of the Discovery Program, a recently approved Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) project targeting students with disabilities who are transitioning from school to the world of work (formerly Transitioning Youth). Our goal was to get to know our new client and learn all about his social, community, vocational/career aptitudes and experiences in order to help him develop and achieve realistic career goals.
In addition to reports from his school, psychologists, and previous career assessments, it was important for us to understand how he interacts with people and experiences the world – what are his strengths and what are areas of challenge? His family provided us with information about how he relates to people, how he processes and reacts to verbal and nonverbal information. We observed firsthand how he keeps his room, performs chores and home tasks, engages in hobbies and special interests, and collects special mementos. We were also able to get a sense of his ability to use public transportation or private ride services, which would be important for getting to and from a job. Overall, the exchange was productive and engaging.
The following week, we met with our client several times to clarify his career and vocational interests. Our job coach spent time in his community looking for career opportunities that would match his interests and skills. As a result, she was able to arrange two internships which allowed him to work with animals. He also told us he would like to work at a small restaurant about two miles from his house. We contacted the owner who was open to the idea and within a week of their meeting, our client, with onsite support from his job coach, was working there on a trial basis. Today, he is a full-fledged employee at that restaurant!
The strategies that helped our client succeed can be a helpful guide for other young adults with disabilities looking for their first job:
- Create a support network. Family members and friends are often the best supporters.
- Be realistic in your expectations for a first job.
- Have a general idea of which kinds of positions you find acceptable and which you don’t.
- Consider any cultural and geographical constraints and start within your comfort level.
- Recognize and promote transferable skills. If you can do a chore at home, you can do it at work.
- Explore work trials, internships, and cooperative work experiences.
- Seek out opportunities in your in own community. You may find the perfect career.
The basis for planning a job search is essentially the same for everyone regardless of their skills and abilities. By starting with a complete, frank inventory of your talents, skills, interests, and limitations, you’ll be better prepared to seek job opportunities that feel like the right fit.
Victoria Smith-Thompson is a JCS Supported Employment Specialist.
The JCS Career Center offers comprehensive employment assistance that helps job seekers of all abilities and skill levels find and maintain employment. Services include career coaching, career assessments, resume and cover letter services, interview preparation, job readiness training, vocational rehabilitation and job placement assistance. For more information, call 410-466-9200 or visit jcsbaltimore.org.