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Employment for Self Advocates

Important Links and Documents

Transition Resources
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Allison Cohen working

In Massachusetts and throughout the country, young adults with intellectual disabilities are becoming increasingly more successful as they transition from school to work. They are finding new pathways to careers and maintaining gainful employment throughout their adult working years. Although employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities still lag behind those of persons without disabilities, it is clear that enormous barriers to employment are falling.

The stage for successful employment is set during a child’s school years. For all children, including children with Down syndrome, parental advocacy is critical during this time. As students become young adults, they need adequate preparation for the challenges of the adult world.

For children with disabilities, a key component of successful preparation is partnering with school officials to create, revise, and follow a comprehensive transition plan. Under the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a transition plan must be developed as part of a child with disabilities’ Individual Education Program.

According to IDEA, transition services must do the following:

  • Work toward improving the academic and functional achievement of the child.
  • Facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, whether postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.
  • Be based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account strengths, preferences, and interests
  • Include instruction, community experiences, development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.

Furthermore, under legislation signed by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008, transition services for students with disabilities must begin at age 14, two years earlier than federal law requires.

Families can also support the route to employment by:

  • Setting expectations that their young adult can work, can contribute, can find great satisfaction from working
  • Understanding the roles of state and employment service agencies who can help make the employment connection
  • Learning about the accommodations that help make employment successful
  • Becoming familiar with how employment affects benefits that the young adult might receive and the work incentive programs that can play a role.

Families can find in-depth information about these topics, resources and case studies, in the booklet “School Days to Pay Days: An Employment Planning Guide for Families of Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities”, a publication of the Mass Department of Developmental Services and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston.

State-Wide Campaign

What Can YOU Do Massachusetts?
The Campaign for Disability Employment in Massachusetts has a website specifically for individuals with disabilities seeking employment. On What Can YOU Do Massachusetts? you will find links to important employment resources that will allow you to:

  • Explore job training, job search and on-the-job support opportunities
  • Understand how working affects public benefits
  • Connect with sources of periodic updates

Work Without Limits
Another excellent resource is the site Work Without Limits: Putting abilities to work in Massachusetts. The site links individuals and families to a wealth of employment related information. Most of the topics covered and listed below provide links to helpful resources.

  • The Language of Work - describes how employment for people with disabilities often means learning some new words and terms, such as job coaching and supported employment
  • Why Work – discusses the many benefits of working; it’s not just about a pay check
  • For Families – spells out the role of schools, the role of parents and the role of students in realizing employment
  • Job and Career Options – takes readers to information and resources about career planning, education and training, career exploration, person-centered planning, volunteering and internships and how and where to get help when you need it.
  • The Job Search - explores job search strategies, specialized placement approaches and job search help
  • Success on the Job – provides information and resources about natural supports, job coaching and other supports. It also addresses the importance of understanding the particular culture at each job to make sure the fit is right.
  • Benefits and Work Incentives – is designed for people with disabilities who receive Social Security benefits. The links take readers to information about subsidies, cash benefits, health insurance and legal assistance.
  • Transportation – explores the range of options for making sure a person can get to work.

Work Without Limits’ home page announces upcoming events and gives families the opportunity to receive emails and updates. Be sure to visit their Profiles in Employment page for inspiring videos of individuals successfully employed.

Additional Transition & Employment-Related Resources in Massachusetts

Best Buddies Jobs - A program that matches skilled and qualified individuals with intellectual disabilities with businesses who are searching for enthusiastic and dedicated employees. 

The Federation for Children with Special Needs - Offers a transition workshop for families

The Arc of Massachusetts - The Arc's Employment & Rehabilitiation page includes a document of best practices for successful transition. The Arc site includes other publications and may be helpful in identifying relevant workshops delivered through local chapters.

Easter Seals of Massachusetts - Offers employment and training services as well as youth transition services.

Real People, Real Jobs - Highlights the employment successes of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) who are working in paid jobs in their communities?