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Spring 1998 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

by Juanita Barker, Regional Supervisor Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , Lubbock, Texas

Why all this talk about my child working and future employment?

As we all know, a job is important. Income from working can meet basic survival needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Extra money earned can be used for enjoyment and to express oneself through appearance, furnishings, and other life-style purchases. But there is more to work than that. It also provides the worker with respect of others - both for the kind of work done and the achievements accomplished. Work can convey status. It becomes a key for achieving a good reputation, for telling people something about who one is, and for accomplishment and personal growth.

There is still another important aspect of work - the relationships formed there. Many people meet new friends on the job, and these friendships carry over into other parts of life as well. This social element of employment is important for job satisfaction and it has been documented that it can also help to lessen the stress on a job. Considering how much time in life is spent on a job, and all the things it can mean, working is centrally related to quality of life.

Yet for many people with disabilities, this avenue for a better life experience has been restricted. Unemployment rates for people with disabilities are many times higher than the rest of the population - some reports estimate as many as two-thirds of people with disabilities are without a job. But there has been a major shift and emphasis in school to better prepare our children with disabilities to not only have jobs but have jobs of their choice that will provide overall life satisfaction. Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) is working hand-in-hand with schools to prepare your child for work and to have a successful career. This type of success contributes significantly to the happiness your child will find as an adult.

What can be done to increase student's work knowledge?

One option is job shadowing. The student visits a job site that has jobs he may be interested in when he enters the work world. The visit is prearranged so that the student can follow employees around for the day, taking part in planned activities and catching a glimpse of how the real world operates. The job site employees will enjoy the experience as much as the student does.

Another is to start building job concepts beginning at toddler years. Household chores and responsibilities are a beginning. Parents should talk about their jobs and when age appropriate, take the student to visit at their job.

What is this supported employment?

Supported employment refers to a process whereby people traditionally denied career opportunities due to the perceived severity of their disabilities are provided jobs alongside co-workers without disabilities and given long-term ongoing support on the job for as long as needed. This ongoing support may include the provision of a job coach to help teach the person their job and help with modifications on the job site, assistance in accessing transportation, and training co-workers how to provide ongoing support, both social and job training support, that the student will need on the job.

A good example of how supported employment works is the success of a worker named Don. Don is visually impaired, has difficulty with his balance, and is considered autistic. Don decided he wanted a clerical job where he could work with computers because he likes computers and did well in school with them. Through support form TCB and his school and with the help of an employment placement specialist, Don was given a job tryout by an employer. A friend of the family introduced the employment specialist to his boss.

Working with a job coach and a TCB employment assistance specialist, job accommodations and equipment modifications were made. Don's computer was modified with a large print and speech program and after it was determined that his computer program was overly complicated for his job, a staff programmer at the job site streamlined the program to make it more user-friendly.

The job coach worked with Don's supervisor and co-worker on how to train and support him in both current and new tasks. Don is a quiet young man and despite his difficulties with communication, Don is always invited to participate in after-work events. Said one co-worker, "He may be quiet, but with this group, that's a blessing." Don is happy with his job.

Special Summer Work Programs

There are three special summer work programs held at different locations in the state. These are seven-week length residential programs that include paid work experience for high school students in the summer. Often the students who participate do not have other options to obtain summer jobs due to lack of transportation or job opportunities in their home communities. These programs begin with a weekend seminar held in the spring to assess the students' skill level, conduct job interest inventories, and prepare the students for the intensive seven week program. The summer program includes not only paid work experience in various jobs throughout the cities but also job readiness training, independent living skills training, orientation and mobility, which includes learning to use public transportation to get to and from jobs, and recreational activities. These are highly structured and supervised programs. These programs are:

SWEAT (Summer Work Experience in Austin Texas) - located in Austin and hosted by TSBVI, TCB, and the Regional Education Service Center in Austin. Students reside at TSBVI or a nearby apartment complex.

WITTS (Work In Tyler This Summer) - located in Tyler and hosted by TCB and Regional Education Service Centers in Longview and Nacogdoches. Students reside at Tyler Junior College.

SWEEP (Summer Work Experience and Empowerment Program) - located in Lubbock and hosted by TCB and Regional Education Service Centers in Amarillo, Lubbock, and Midland. Students reside at Texas Tech University.

For more information about these programs or this article contact your local TCB personnel. You may also reach Juanita with comments about this article by phone at (806) 798-8181 or email to <>.