School Days to Pay Days An Employment Planning Guide for Families of Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

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SUCCESS STORY: A Seamless Transition from School to Work

Even before he graduated from high school in Pittsfield, Brian started a job he loved, thanks to thoughtful and thorough pre-planning at his high school and collaboration with a local employment provider and the DDS area office. Brian became a gardener at Hancock Shaker Village. How did the transition from school to work go so smoothly? It started when the high school and DDS developed an Individual Transition Plan for Brian at age 19. Brian had not enjoyed the culinary arts and clerical courses he had taken at school and was anxious to find a career that suited him. The high school and DDS arranged a full vocational evaluation for Brian, which was conducted by a local employment service provider. When horticulture emerged as an area of great interest from the evaluation, arrangements were made for Brian to take double classes in the subject. The fit was right! From there, the provider used its established relationship with Hancock Shaker Village to arrange a position for Brian in the garden department. Furthermore, Brian’s team worked it out so he could start his job before graduation, and the transition was seamless. Central to Brian’s success was having an employment provider who started working with him while he was still in school. Gone were Brian’s anxieties about working, replaced with a genuine satisfaction with his gardening position.

Employment Models to Consider

Not all employment service programs are alike; they vary in size, types and variety of services offered, qualifications of staff, range of people served, and most importantly, quality of results.

One of the ways in which employment service programs differ is based on the employment model they use. Individual job placement is the most typical employment model. This is an integrated, individual job placement where a young adult is working in a regular job in the community, hired and paid directly by the business, and earning similar wages and benefits as other employees. In these situations, young adults receive individualized support as needed by a staff member from the provider program, including job coaching and related supports. These services supplement natural supports that exist in the workplace. The intensity of support provided to the individual worker on the job generally decreases as s/he develops skills and becomes more independent.

Some young adults may benefit from experiences in a group job placement. In this employment model, the employment service provider makes arrangements for a number of workers with disabilities to meet a need at a community business. The workers are under the supervision of the service provider program and most often are paid by the provider organization. An example of a group placement would be members of a stocking crew at a department store or members of a custodial maintenance crew at an office building. Group placement options can also include employment provider- run businesses, such as landscaping or a catering service.

Some young adults start out with a supported individual job, while others start in a group placement and then move into individual jobs. Group job placements can function as a transitional service to help facilitate a young adult’s movement into an integrated, individual job placement. This opportunity can provide young adults the chance to explore career interests, different types of work and work settings, and develop work skills, work habits and independence that may be important to succeed in an individual job.

A small but growing number of young adults are starting their own businesses with the support of employment service providers. This self-employment model requires careful thinking, planning and support; for young adults with a particular set of skills and interests, it can be the right approach. For further information on self-employment, check out

Best Practices for Successful Employment Outcomes

Experience has shown that when certain principles are followed while supporting young adults in their employment efforts, the most meaningful and successful outcomes are achieved. These principles are sometimes referred to as “best practices” in community employment services and include:

  • Focusing on individual jobs in the community, paid directly by the employer

  • Using a “person-centered planning” approach, where job placement is based on the individual’s interests, needs and preferences, and the individual is supported to take control of his/her job planning process

  • Emphasizing “job matching” – searching for employment that closely matches what the job seeker wants, is good at doing, and where he or she will fit in and be comfortable

  • Thinking broadly about where the individual can work, not limiting ideas to traditional workplaces such as supermarkets and fast food chains

  • Taking advantage of personal networks – tapping into job seeker, family and staff contacts to gather information, resources and potential job leads

  • Using “natural supports,” including job orientations, trainings and mentors, to meet the needs of the young adult on the job

  • Fading out paid staff supports as the young adult becomes more settled, comfortable and independent in the workplace

Stepping stones to the right job

It is not unusual for a young adult to have a few jobs before finding one that is the right fit. Each job is an important learning experience and acts as a stepping stone to the next. Once the young adult secures a job that s/he likes, s/he will likely become increasingly independent, have co-workers who provide support and a supervisor to approach with questions or needs for accommodations.

success story: Out of School and Then What?

Matt attended a residential school. By age 22, he was out of school and living in a group home but had no job. His interests included construction work and electronics. His employment service provider and Service Coordinator at DDS both had a pre-existing relationship with a nearby Sheraton Hotel and knew of job opportunities at the hotel. With their support, Matt interviewed for a job in the engineering and maintenance department at the hotel and was offered a job that same day. He started painting and repair work at 25 hours per week and now works 30 hours per week. He benefits from a supportive crew of six co-workers who supervise him and help him to keep on task. His crew gave him a tool set for a birthday gift that he faithfully brings to work each day. Matt’s favorite part of the day is lunchtime when he can sit outside with the “guys,” chat and laugh. His job coach no longer stays with him at the job but maintains regular check-ins with Matt’s supervisor.

Learning about employment service providers

In order to know which employment service provider program to advocate for, start by understanding the alternatives.

  • Think about how relatively important each of the following is to your young adult: wages and benefits, safety/security, fun people to work with, location, and potential for promotions and growth. Pay attention to how well you think the program will take these into account as they work with your young adult.

  • Visit and interview a variety of employment service providers. DDS and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (See page 19) staff can supply you with a list. Other families are also a great resource.

  • When visiting different providers, inquire about the following issues:

    • Basic program offerings. What employment model(s) do they use: group placement only, or individual job placement? What services do they offer besides finding employment for people with disabilities? How many people do they serve, with what types of disabilities and which ages?

    • How they work with individuals. What is the typical process for providing services? How do they help people figure out the kind of job they want? What is their success record and, on average, how long does it take to find an individual a job? What happens when a person does not succeed on a job?

    • Staffing. What kind of qualifications does staff have? What is staff turnover like? What are caseload sizes?

Exploring employment programs in your area will give you information on the services and related resources your son/daughter may receive, and will give you a sense of which provider is the best match. You will be in a well-informed position to discuss and plan with your DDS Service Coordinator.

When shopping around for an employment service provider, be sure to inquire if the providers best-suited to your young adult have current openings and, if not, how long it would be before an opening would become available.

A complete checklist of questions to compare employment service providers is included in Appendix B of this booklet.

SUCCESS STORY: Choosing the Provider that Feels Right for You

At 24, Marissa enjoys her part-time job at Starbucks, for which she receives competitive wages and benefits. Marissa also works part-time at a Social Security office where she does filing, bookkeeping and data entry. She receives supports through an employment service provider in the Worcester area, which include transportation and a job coach. To augment Marissa’s work schedule, she spends one day a week on community outings with other individuals who also receive services from this provider. Before Marissa got started with this particular service, her mother took a look at a few employment service provider programs. One didn’t offer the kinds of services and activities she thought were important for Marissa. Another didn’t feel family-friendly. She settled on a provider which had a particular expertise in serving individuals with behavioral and communication issues, which is exactly what Marissa needed.

SUCCESS STORY: Self-Direction—Developing and Managing Your Own Services

To support Lindsay in her job as a concert greeter and in her volunteer positions, Lindsay’s family chose to hire their own staff for transportation, job coaching and job-related activities. Some young adults and their families have found that tailoring a plan to individual situations provides families with greater flexibility, choice and control in services. In these situations, the young adult and his/her parents take the lead in making plans, and based on the amount of funding allocated by DDS, hire and manage their own staff, such as job coaches. Payment for staff goes through a fiscal management service which DDS arranges. This arrangement is called an ISO (Intermediary Service Organization). Families can ask their DDS Service Coordinator for more information about this option.


What is the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)?

Also known as the Vocational Rehabilitation agency (VR), the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) is the state agency whose primary focus is to assist individuals with a significant disability(ies) to become competitively employed. MRC services can include vocational counseling, evaluation and assessment, guidance and assistance in job placement, time-limited job coaching, training programs, technology services, and van and home modifications.

What is the Massachusetts Commission for the blind (MCB)?

MCB is a separate state VR agency for persons who are legally blind. Persons with visual impairments should contact MCB rather than MRC to access the specialized services MCB provides.

Planning for your young adult’s employment raises many questions about job supports, benefits, transportation, accommodations and schedules. Addressing these topics during the planning process is a way to ensure that the transition to work is as smooth as possible.

  • Can my young adult get support from both DDS and MRC (Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission)?

  • How will working affect his/her public benefits, such as Social Security?

  • What will s/he do about transportation to and from work?

  • What types of support and/or accommodations will s/he need at the job site and how will s/he get them?

  • Will my young adult be treated with equality in the workplace?

  • If my young adult is working part-time, what will s/he do in non-work hours?

Can My Young Adult Get Support from Both DDS and MRC?

It is not uncommon for students upon graduation or leaving school to receive complementary employment services from both DDS and MRC. MRC services tend to be time-limited and typically do not include long-term on-the-job supports. However, DDS can fund long-term, on-going support services after MRC has provided other job placement services through its vocational program. An example of such collaboration is where MRC might pay for an initial job assessment, job development and placement costs while DDS would pay for ongoing job support costs.

SUCCESS story: Multiple Resources at Work

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission played a critical role in providing vocational evaluation services and other counseling and placement assistance to help Matt find a job that matched his interests and skills. Once he secured his job at the Sheraton Hotel, he still needed the ongoing support of a job coach. This is where DDS came in, providing regular job coaching. Over time, Matt’s coworkers pitched in, helping with supervision and making sure that Matt stays on task. DDS continues to fund ongoing support through his employment service provider, who checks in regularly with Matt’s supervisor.

One-Stop Career Centers: Another Employment Resource

One-Stop Career Centers are part of the general workforce development system. They are designed to provide a full range of assistance to any job seeker who is looking for work. Services available through One-Stops may include job search workshops on such topics as resume writing, job interviewing, and computer /Internet use; information about training programs; career library of books, periodicals, and business publications; and local job postings. Centers have computer stations along with fax and copy machines for members to use for their job search. Many centers also hold job fairs and on-site recruitment events where employers interview applicants for open positions. Career counseling is also available. Most offerings are free of charge, and more than one One-Stop can be used to access services.

Center staff is available to help job seekers across services, but the Centers are designed to be fairly self-directed. Individuals with intellectual disabilities may find it useful to bring someone with them to help navigate the Center’s activities. This could be vocational staff from school, an employment provider staff person, a parent, friend or mentor. The Centers often work in collaboration with DDS and MRC-funded employment service providers. Many providers, as well as state agency staff, have built relationships with One-Stops in an effort to maximize the mutual benefits to be had by all, and to promote access to the rich resources these Centers offer. To find out about the One-Stop Career Center nearest to you, go to or See the Resource Section on One-Stop Career Centers for more details.

Social Security Benefits and Health Insurance

Did you know that:

  • A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient can make up to $36,1331 per year without losing MassHealth Standard coverage?

  • Massachusetts has an exemplary public health insurance program called CommonHealth for some individuals with disabilities who do not qualify for MassHealth Standard?

  • A person receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Childhood Disability Benefit (CDB) benefits has nine “trial work months” during which they will still get a full benefit check regardless of how much money is earned?

  • An SSI or SSDI /CDB recipient can deduct the costs of disability-related work expenses (such as transportation and personal care assistance) from the gross income that Social Security counts when they calculate the amount of the recipient’s monthly checks? This is called an Impairment Related Work Expense (IRWE).

  • Many young adults who are in school can keep some or all of their annual work earnings, up to $6,600, without losing money from their SSI check. This is called the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE).

How does working impact benefits?

Learning how wages affect benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSI, SSDI) and health insurance from Medicaid/MassHealth and Medicare is very important. The best place to get individualized help with benefits planning is to contact a benefits planning counselor through BenePLAN or Project IMPACT. These free programs, available to those who receive SSI, SSDI and/or Child Disability Benefits (CDB), are funded through the Social Security Administration’s Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program. When you call BenePLAN or Project IMPACT, a benefits planning counselor will help you understand the impact of earned income on your young adult’s benefits. (Contact information is located in the Resource Section of this booklet.)

Work Incentive Programs

There are a number of work incentives offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that can help young adults give “work a try” while keeping their benefits. Already mentioned have been Trial Work Months, IRWE, and SEIE. Two additional work incentive programs are the Ticket to Work Program and the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program.

The Ticket to Work program provides SSI and SSDI recipients greater choice in obtaining employment-related services. At age 18 (or older), recipients of SSI/SSDI benefits receive a letter in the mail informing them of their “ticket to work” and how and where to use the program. The letter explains that the person can contact any organization in their area that has been designated by SSA as a provider under this program. When this letter comes in the mail, don’t ignore it. Bring it to the attention of your DDS or MRC coordinator/counselor to ask how it might help with employment planning for your young adult. A WIPA benefits specialist can also help explain how the Ticket to Work might be used. For more information about Ticket to Work, visit

The PASS program is another work incentive. When participating in this program, an SSI recipient aged 15 or older can set aside money, including SSDI and other Social Security benefits, to apply toward a vocational goal. These set-aside funds will not be counted during eligibility determination and calculation of SSI cash benefits. There is an application process for this program. Again, a WIPA benefits planning counselor may be helpful.

Going to Work: A Guide to Social Security Benefits and Employment for Young People with Disabilities is a helpful resource for understanding and learning about how benefits are affected by paid employment. You will find easy-to-understand information about the programs mentioned in this booklet. Available online at, the document can also be obtained by calling the Institute for Community Inclusion at 617-287-4300.

SUCCESS story: Putting Work Incentives to Work

Marissa received SSI while working at Starbucks for her last two years of school, earning a competitive wage. Since she was receiving SSI, it was important to report to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that her Starbucks job was documented in her IEP and she was therefore entitled to the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE). Even though Marissa’s mother, Barbara, informed SSA in a timely manner, Marissa received a letter from SSA asking her to pay the government back because she had been earning job wages. It is not unusual for families to receive this type of letter from SSA and they should not be alarmed. Barbara again provided documentation to SSA that Marissa’s employment program was written into her IEP, showed proof of wages, and the problem was resolved. Marissa’s experience serves as a good reminder to keep records and copies of any communication with SSA.

Transportation To and From Work

Planning for transportation is an essential part of the job planning process. Job seekers, families, DDS, employment service providers and employers need to work together right from the beginning to identify transportation options.

Young adults and their families need to determine reliable, safe and economic ways to commute to and from work. Families can turn to their DDS Service Coordinator and employment provider for direction and help. Here is a list of transportation issues to consider:

  • Are any public transportation routes accessible? If so, are they available on the days and hours the young adult will be travelling to and from work?

  • Is para-transit available? Para-transit is a service available within 3/4 mile of existing public transportation, more commonly known as The RIDE in the Boston area and Dial-A-Bat in the Brockton area.

  • Are transportation services available from the employment service provider, the employer or DDS?

  • Is carpooling or shared-ride transportation an option?

  • How long will the commute take?

  • What will the costs be, whether by private or public transportation?

  • Are there health, behavior or risk issues that should be considered when selecting the means of transportation?

  • Will the individual be able to use public transportation or other shared transit with proper training and support?

When planning transportation, “thinking outside the box” can result in a creative solution. For example, maybe your town’s Elder Services program can be helpful. Or perhaps your town’s taxi company might negotiate a special discounted rate. Consider approaching relatives, co-workers and neighbors about carpooling options. Public transportation and vanpools are additional options that can be explored. Employers may also help with shuttle services, identifying carpooling options or other arrangements.

Para-transit systems, a product of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), constitute another travel option. Para-transit service is for people who are elderly or have disabilities that prevent them from riding on fixed route buses and trains. This service provides shared-ride, curb-to-curb van transportation. In Massachusetts, public transportation is coordinated by Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs). Each of the sixteen RTAs in the state maintains a fixed-route system and manages para-transit programs for their region. RTAs must provide para-transit service throughout their regions within 3/4 mile of a fixed route. Many communities, along with their RTAs, have developed local coordinated transportation plans that offer unique programs for residents, addressing local transportation challenges. Contact your local RTA to find out about the transportation services in your town. Information is also available in the resource section at the back of this publication.

The Department of Developmental Services collaborates with the Massachusetts Human Service Transportation Office (HST) to coordinate transportation services to adults enrolled in day habilitation, day service, employment and residential support programs overseen by the DDS. This is a “closed-request system,” meaning that the request must come from the DDS Service Coordinator through a formal process called a Transportation Request. The DDS Service Coordinator completes a Transportation Request Form (TRF) and submits it to the HST office. After reviewing the form and checking availability with contracted transportation vendors, the HST offices will let the Service Coordinator know if there is an available seat and funding to accommodate the transportation request.

Additional transportation resources to investigate are:

  • American Public Transportation Association has a website containing all available public transportation resources by state and county. The site includes links to bus, train, ferry and para-transit information, and can be reached at

  • MassRides is a comprehensive transportation resource for people travelling in and around the Commonwealth. MassRides maintains a database of thousands of commuters and connects those who share similar commutes and are interested in carpooling or vanpooling to work. Visit for more information.

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