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Disability Mentoring Day 2015

Thoughts on the Transition into Work: Experiences Count

Kati Strong, Career Development Coordinator, Austin

Reese and mentor at Holiday InnIt may surprise you to hear what I have found to be the biggest challenge for young adults with disabilities as they move through the transition into the working world. You might guess it is something like struggling with learning new tasks at work, or having difficulty engaging with co-workers or supervisors. Maybe even the process of applying and interviewing seems like an insurmountable task. But, no, I would say that while these things might pose some challenges, they are areas that can typically be addressed and overcome through individualized attention and support.

Rather, the biggest challenge I have observed is when students do not have any prior exposure to the world of work or being held to high expectations. These students have been very well loved, but due to their struggles, they may have had well-intentioned family members and other supportive adults doing more FOR them instead of encouraging them to work and struggle to learn to do things for themselves. Out of genuine concern and care, some students are ‘given a pass’ too often, as it is so easy for us to focus on what can’t be done, rather than what can be done. And, perhaps most detrimentally, some students are held back from experiencing things or setting goals for their lives that might be ‘out of reach’ or ‘unrealistic’ in an effort to avoid any potential disappointment that might result from trying and (possibly) failing.

Holly with Career Development mentorMy perspective is that it would be preferable to encourage a student, whether they have a disability or not, to do their personal best all the time. To allow them to struggle and cry at times, and then cheer and dance with them when they finally get it! It would be preferable to give them practical, hands-on experiences that open their minds to the wide world and what they want to get out of it and what they want to put into it. It would be preferable to allow them to fail, then dust off their pants, wipe away their tears, and encourage them to try it again, or, sometimes, help them redirect their efforts toward a new goal. Through these experiences, we – ALL of us – learn what works and what doesn’t work, and how we can strive to be our own, personal best.

Facility Tour for Career DevelopmentWhen asked to give advice to parents about how to prepare their students for the transition from school to work, my first suggestion is to give them EXPERIENCES. From early on, as often as is possible. Find ways for your student to participate in volunteer opportunities and community events. Create the expectation from their earliest years that they are capable and they are expected to contribute. Every person has gifts and talents, so help your student identify theirs and then find ways to put them into action. Through these experiences, students learn about their own capabilities, build their self-worth through their contributions, and gain confidence to help them as they move ahead, in addition to building some concrete skills and experience that can be used on an entry-level resume someday!

One example of a valuable experience that can help students learn more about themselves and consider how they might like to contribute once they become a working adult is Disability Mentoring Day (DMD). DMD is a large-scale national effort to promote career development for high school and college students with disabilities through hands-on career exploration and ongoing mentoring relationships. If you are a parent of or professional working with high school or college students, I strongly encourage you to find out whether this event is happening in your city (usually on the third Wednesday in October) and help your student participate.

Robert and Mentor at Long Center for the Performing ArtsSince CLE Austin began participating in DMD in 2012, we have had many students who have joined in job shadowing with different mentors through multiple years. They have been exposed to different work environments, gained real-world experience of various types of jobs, decided after the event one year that certain jobs were not right for them, and found after the event another year jobs that felt like a perfect fit. If they had never had these opportunities, the world of work may still feel like a distant, perhaps unreachable, reality that is for other people. But since these students were welcomed into workplaces, greeted with handshakes as professionals, and given hands-on opportunities to experience these professional realms, suddenly the distant reality of the world of work feels much more within reach for them, and much more worth working for.

Rather than being concerned about setting the bar too high or setting students up for disappointment, let’s throw the bar out the window and allow our students to amaze us and themselves as they realize just how much they are capable of. Let’s seek out and commit to opportunities that will allow our students to learn and contribute. Let’s focus on the ‘cans’ instead of the ‘can nots’ and by all means, let’s demonstrate to our students through our actions and support that we believe they can achieve goals they are willing to work for and can make meaningful contributions to their communities and the world around them. Armed with this confidence and experience, our students really can change their world.

Newsletter Articles – October 2015

Dealing with adult problems with a learning difference

This story is about the independent person I am today, who is more comfortable in his own skin, and the struggles I went through to become that person. I’m sure we have all tried to become more independent and we’ve gone through struggles, but in all different ways. The funny thing is that no matter how different our journeys are, at the core, the need and desire are essentially the same.

Disability disclosure in the workplace

Disability disclosure in the workplace is a personal choice to be decided by each individual. At CLE, we give our students the information and understanding to decide for themselves what to do when it comes to disclosure. For some, disclosure means being understood and assisted by their employers and co-workers. For others, disability disclosure might be undesirable; being a part of team without a focus on differences is the kind of work experience that these students are looking for.

We spoke with several of our students in the career program and asked them about their choices in disability disclosure. The answers were as varied as our students and it really does show how much the individual’s perception and personality affect their choice.

Deciding to disclose disability at the workplace

We set off to discover a few things about the beliefs of our students. We are particularly interested in how they view the word disability. In the course of the conversations we had with five students we discussed issues related to disability in the workplace including the nature of a disability, disclosure and accommodation. There was a range and a similarity of views among our students on what disability is.

Cal at CLE - Standup Comedy

Sometimes the traditional Monday-Friday, 8-5 work week is just not the best option for people. This is particularly the case for CLE students who may be trying to balance school, CLE appointments and transportation issues. This predicament can be further complicated for some students due to physical constraints and mobility issues. Cal Sheridan of CLE Denver is one of those students where a conventional career pathway will not be the best fit. Cal has Cerebral Palsy, so the ease with which others move around and verbally communicate at the workplace is not the same for him. As Cal put it to me quite candidly in our career advising session, “It is not like I am going to have a job working in a grocery store. I don’t even bag my own groceries. If someone were to ask me for help with their groceries I would have to find someone to help me help them!”

Nathanial Major at LinkedIn

Over the last five years I have been speaking up for autism on a peer to peer level with an initiative I call Project Speak Up. Each individual on the spectrum is unique. We have a wide range of abilities and interests. I can’t speak for everyone with autism, but I think by sharing my story I can give people some insight into the realities of autism.

In my EnableIn presentation, I emphasized that innovation is just looking at things in a new way. I pointed out that two of the most innovative minds in history, Albert Einstein and Nicolo Tesla had personality traits and communication deficits that could be considered to be on the spectrum. I then asked the question, what if Einstein or Tesla applied to your company? Would their quirky behavior, social awkwardness and difficulty with communication make it challenging for them to even get past the first interview?

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.