October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. In light of the title, we typically want to put our immediate thoughts and efforts around getting a job and how we can get young adults (and adults) with disabilities into competitive integrated employment. However, I think it is important to also look at where education and intentionality around employment begin. That path starts long before actual work in the community.
When I wanted my first job in the community, I went to the place of business (KFC, if you are interested) and filled out a job application. I talked to the manager for a few minutes, and ‘voila,’ I had my first job. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a privilege that opportunity was.
In Indiana, for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the conversations about what a student with a disability wants to do post-high school in the areas of Education, Employment, and Independent Living (technically called Transition Planning) begin when a student is going to turn 14 or just entering high school. Why so early? Because this process can take a great deal of time for some individuals and their families. Some families didn’t even know that employment would be an option for their young adult. For others, just getting through the daily challenge of school and other issues doesn’t allow the time to formally plan. For many students, it takes time to work through the process of finding out what they are good at, what they enjoy, and what is available. Where my first job was something of a necessary stop-gap (buying gas and car insurance), that first work placement for an individual with a disability is a critical step to the future.