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

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SUCCESS story: Learning to Use the Van Independently and Safely

Nicole’s mother shares their experiences with transportation issues. “Nicole cannot drive so learning to take para-transit transportation was vital. She was very apprehensive about doing this and we worried that if she couldn’t adjust to taking the van, it would inhibit her ability to work. With the help of our employment service provider and many close friends and family, she was taught how to deal with this new challenge. Again, one step at a time. She has risen to the challenge and takes the vans to all of her jobs, handles her own tickets and has learned to deal with some of the difficulties and imperfections of the public transportation system.” Nicole shares her own feelings. “My biggest challenge was learning to take para-transit transportation. I had to learn how to figure out the tickets I needed. I also had to learn to deal with different drivers and the many, many mistakes that the van makes. I had to learn how to call the office and find out when and where my van was.”

Similarly, when Lindsay was still in school, her teachers developed a program so she would become proficient in taking a taxi or para-transit to work. Learning to safely and comfortably ride taxis was written into her IEP in her last two years of school. She started the training by taking her rides with an aide. Then her mother made use of Lindsay’s cell phone as an assistive device; the phone alarm went off to indicate when to go outside to get to her ride. Lindsay learned to always ask the driver, “Are you the taxi for Lindsay?” to ensure she was getting into the right vehicle.

Accommodations on the Job

Identifying and arranging necessary accommodations and supports is a key part of assisting people with disabilities to find and keep employment – and is legally reinforced by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A job accommodation means that a job, workplace or way a job is done is modified to help the person with a disability do his/her job. A job accommodation can also allow a person to enjoy the benefits that other employees at a job site enjoy such as participating in holiday parties at accessible locations. There are several general types of job accommodations:

  • Job restructuring, such as a change in work schedule or a decrease in the number of job duties

  • Assistive devices, which include items such as an electronic stapler, non-skid material, and a mechanical reacher

  • Training/teaching methods, such as an extended orientation period or an audio version of a training manual

  • Personal assistant to help with work-related aspects of a job, such as a “mentor” to go to with questions or a co-worker to assist with reading

  • Modification to the building, such as ramps, electronic door opener and flashing lights

“Assistive technology” (AT) is a term you may hear mentioned when planning accommodations for the workplace. Assistive technology is an item, device or piece of equipment that is used to help the person with a disability perform a task. AT can range from relatively simple, low cost and low-tech items available from a hardware store (such as a piece of Velcro to help hold something down), to highly sophisticated and costly technology. Examples of high-tech AT items are specialized computer devices available from special vendors. Your employment service provider will help identify and develop accommodations needed for the individual work situation. DDS, MRC, MCB and/or employers may help to pay for needed accommodations.

No one knows your young adult’s needs better than you. You can be a tremendous help to the professional employment team in predicting and planning the resources and supports that your son or daughter will need on the job.

Worksite Accommodations

A wide range of items and devices are readily available to minimize limitations and barriers at work, and enable employees with disabilities to do their jobs efficiently and productively. Most are simple to put into place, do not cost a lot of money and can be found at your local hardware or office supply store. Resourcefulness and creativity can lead to solutions for many of the challenges that may arise at a job. The following examples represent no-tech to high-tech accommodations.


Name stamp for signature

Masking tape to mark fill-line on trash can

Color-coded stickers to organize files

Photo/picture sequencing book to order duties or task steps

Cardboard jig to guide folding of T-shirts

Sunglasses to minimize stimulation & sensitivity to light


Alarm watch or timer to help pace tasks

Talking calculator with large keys

Spell check on computers

Vibrating beeper that provides prompts without drawing attention

Hands-free speaker telephone

Music with earphones to minimize distractions


Screen reading computer software (computer reads aloud printed words)

Speech recognition computer software (computer types spoken words)

Alternative keyboards (makes typing easier for people with hand strength and fine motor control issues)

Voice output communication devices (allows nonverbal people to communicate using words)

Personal data assistants (PDAs can provide visual schedules and directions)

TTY or text telephone for those who can’t hear
A Cell Phone as an Assistive Technology Device

Cell phones, with all their many functions, have become a way of life for today’s young adults. Families, schools and job coaches can make the most of cell phones and young adults’ comfort level in using them in different ways. For example, some have used the alarm system that is built into a cell phone to ring out reminders about when an employee needs to perform various tasks on the job, helping her/him to stay on schedule. A cell phone is a great example of how a “typical device” can be used as a simple assistive tool and make an important difference in an individual’s independence and success on the job.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

This federally-funded program provides information and consultation on job accommodations. JAN consultants are available by phone to assist in identifying potential accommodations; they have instant access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about different approaches, devices, and strategies. JAN’s website has a searchable online database (SOAR) which can also be used to research accommodation options.

Accommodation Information (Voice/TTY): 800-526-7234

ADA Information (Voice/TTY):


Fax: 304-293-5407



Equality at the Workplace

It is an employer’s responsibility to treat all employees with equality. This means that employees with intellectual disabilities should receive all of the same benefits as co-workers. If you ever feel that your young adult is not being treated equally, talk to your employment provider or DDS Service Coordinator. People with disabilities have the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and can receive accommodations that help them perform their jobs if their disability has been disclosed.

How Do I Plan My Young Adult’s Week When S/he is Working Part-Time?

Young adults who work part-time need, as do all working people, additional activities for a fulfilling weekly schedule. Some young adults, due to the nature or level of their disability, require supervision or need to be engaged in supervised programming in addition to their work schedule. These individuals can develop skills through volunteer work, community events, recreational outings and other daytime activities.

The mix of activities throughout the day will be based on the young adult’s level of independence and support needs. It is important for families to focus on how they can increase the individual’s independence, both in and outside the home and how to best integrate their son/daughter into the community. Some of the factors to think about are if and how the individual can be home alone and be safe when s/he is not working, when other adult family members are available to provide necessary supervision in the home and what community-based programs are available and of interest to the individual. A weekly schedule should consist of a healthy mix of work, learning, and fun; options can be discussed with your DDS Service Coordinator.

success story: Planning a Life: Start by Planning a Week

Lindsay’s week is a combination of part-time paid work and volunteer work experiences. Her mother, Robin, recommends that families think about all aspects and components of the week, including when parents need to be at work, transportation arrangements, and social/recreational activities. Robin suggests planning the whole week, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, to make sure everything is in place. She and her husband helped fill Lindsay’s weekly schedule by hiring a college student one day a week who engages Lindsay in activities at the student’s college while Robin and her husband are at work.


As we prepared this booklet, we heard over and over again from families who were deeply concerned about the direction their young adults’ lives would take when they finished school. We also heard many encouraging stories about positive results that came from involved parents who collaborated with schools and providers, set expectations for their young adults, and supported them in the achievement of their goals. These families expressed tremendous pride in their sons and daughters who experienced success in different work situations.

John Anton, Chairperson of Mass Advocates Standing Strong (MASS), a self-advocacy organization for adults with disabilities, shares his personal experience of both the positive rewards of employment and the critical role that families play in making work a reality. “Having a job is fulfilling and gives you respect and independence. It is an important way to make a contribution. Employment builds confidence and gives you the chance to network with other people and have a better social life. Families can make a difference by believing in the person and supporting their goal of working. They can help their family member figure out what they like to do, what they are good at, and practical things like getting to work on time.”
With expectations, effort, patience and teamwork, the journey to a career can be a positive one. Along the way, we hope you will rely on the messages, guidance and resources in this booklet. Our intention is that the case vignettes of families of young adults with intellectual disabilities will inspire you to be proactive, seek out collaborations, and create opportunities for your young adult. For additional inspiration, we encourage you to visit the Real Life Job Success Stories websites listed in the beginning of the Resource section of this booklet.

As Sherry Elander, a special education teacher who helped many youth realize their employment dreams, points out, “A new day has dawned, with new opportunities and practices having replaced what used to be.” Building on that hope, Nicole’s mother reminds us, “Parents who are coming upon “Turning 22” with your child, fear not. It is a turning point for both you and your child and there truly is…life after 22.”

Real Life Job Success Stories

Real People, Real Jobs

This site highlights the employment successes of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through the use of innovative employment support practices, these individuals are earning money, forming networks and contributing to their communities. Learn more about these people and the promising practices that led to their successes.

People Working Wikispace

This website describes itself as “designed to celebrate the success of people with significant developmental disabilities who are working in paid jobs throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. These individuals have forged valuable relationships and roles with their coworkers, employers, and community members, and possess solid workplace skills.” Included are more than 150 stories, complete with pictures; a tutorial about how to use the site; and opportunities to blog and discuss. The site also contains a video featuring three employers and supported employees.

State Agencies and Programs

Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS)

Massachusetts has a comprehensive system of specialized services and supports to give individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunities to live the way they choose. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is the state agency that manages and oversees this service system. The types of specialized services and supports include day supports, employment supports, residential supports, family supports, respite, and transportation.

500 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118

Voice: (617) 727-5608 • Fax: (617) 624-7577

TTY: (617) 624-7783

DDS’ publication The Road Forward is written for families of transition-age youth. It addresses the following topics: Individualized Transition Plans, eligibility for DDS services, and benefits and services provided by state agencies. The resource section has been customized for each region of the state. Families can request a copy from their Children’s Service or Transition Coordinator or by calling the area office. A generic copy is also available on the DDS website (On the right hand side of the page, click on “Publications” and go to the Turning 22 Section.)

Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB)

MCB provides the highest quality rehabilitation and social services for blind individuals, leading to independence and full community participation. It provides a wide range of social and rehabilitation services to legally blind Massachusetts residents of all ages. Services and programs of MCB include: Vocational Rehabilitation, Independent Living Social Services, Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation Teaching.

48 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116


Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)

MRC assists individuals with disabilities to live and work independently. This state agency promotes dignity for individuals with disabilities through employment, education, training, advocacy, assistive technology, and independent community living. MRC is responsible for Vocational Rehabilitation Services to help individuals find or return to work; Community Services, such as assistance in living independently in the home; Information, Referral and Peer Counseling; and Independent Living Programs for individuals turning 22.

27 Wormwood Street, Boston, MA 02110


For an excellent general article about Vocational Rehabilitation – what it is and how to apply – consult the following article:

Getting the Most from the Public Vocational Rehabilitation System
One-Stop Career Centers

One-Stop Career Centers are designed to provide a full range of assistance to all job seekers under one roof. Established under the federal government’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Centers offer training referrals, career counseling, job search workshops, job listings, and other employment-related services. Services are provided to individuals with and without disabilities. One-Stop Centers: A Guide for Job Seekers with Disabilities is a helpful guide available online at To find your local One-Stop Career Center, go to or

Workforce Investment Boards (WIB)

Workforce Investment Boards were created to implement the WIA, and they also oversee the One-Stop Career Centers. Under Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), employment services are available for young people. These include Youth Services funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) for young people aged 14 to 21. These services primarily consist of after-school and summer employment-related programs, as well as assistance for young people who have left school and need employment assistance. Details can be found at

Another option from the workforce development system is Connecting Activities, a school-to-work initiative that operates in many schools throughout the state (

WIA Youth Services and Connecting Activities are both administered by local Workforce Investment Boards; these WIBs may also administer other services for young people. To learn more about these programs in your area, contact your local WIB, and ask to speak to the staff person responsible for youth services. A listing of WIBs is available at
General Employment-Related Information

Federation for Children with Special Needs

The Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) in Massachusetts provides information, support, and assistance to parents of children with disabilities, their professional partners, and their communities. FCSN offers a number of services, programs and trainings for families, including a monthly e-newsletter and an annual conference.

FCSN’s Parent Training and Information Center (found under the “Education & Special Needs” link at the top of their home web page) provides a number of publications and tip sheets on the topic of transition, including employment. There is also information about FCSN’s training offerings on transition.

1135 Tremont Street Suite 420

Boston, MA 02120

Phone: (617) 236-7210 • 
MA Toll-Free: (800) 331-0688

Fax: (617) 572-2094

National Collaborative on Workforce Disability/Youth

NCWD/Youth seeks to improve services to youth with disabilities by identifying proven quality workforce development strategies. It is composed of partners with expertise in disability, education, employment, and workforce development policy and practice. NCWD/Youth has a resource-rich website for professionals as well as for parents.

Institute for Educational Leadership

4455 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 310

Washington, DC 20008

Telephone: 1-877-871-0744 • TTY: 877-871-0665

PACER Center, Inc.

The mission of the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER) Center is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life for children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents. PACER provides information, resources, and consultation to parents of young adults with disabilities, aged 14 to 21, and the professionals who work with them on transition-related topics, including employment.

8161 Normandale Blvd.

Bloomington, MN 55437

USA: 888-248-0822 • TTY: 952-838-0190 • Fax: 952-838-0199 (Use the search function to find topics related to transition and employment or go directly to PACER’s publications page for a listing of products, books, articles and fact sheets at

Career Planning

Person-Centered Planning

Person-centered planning is an approach that gives individuals a chance to share their dreams for the future while incorporating the active involvement and support of others. The individual works with a facilitator to identify important people in his/her life who come together as part of a planning group; they then share their ideas and help to shape the individual’s future plans. Together, the individual and the planning group answer questions and develop a vision of “positive possibilities” for the individual’s future. The group leaves with action steps that can be taken to move in the direction of the person’s vision. (see sidebar below for publicaitons and resources)

Person-Centered Planning publications

The Institute for Community Inclusion at The University of Massachusetts Boston provides the following publications and resources to help individuals, families and support providers understand and utilize person-centered planning methods for finding employment for individuals with disabilities:

Starting with Me: A Guide to Person-Centered Planning for Job Seekers

A person-centered approach can help individuals with disabilities make satisfying job choices. This document guides job seekers through a three-stage career development process that includes assessing their interests, researching the job market, and marketing themselves to potential employers.

More Than Just a Job: Person-Centered Career Planning

Sometimes people think that person-centered career planning has to involve a big meeting, or is only for people with the most significant disabilities. This publication lays out the principles of listening to job seekers to help them shape and achieve their career goals.

The Most Important Member: Facilitating the Focus Person’s Participation in Person-Centered Planning

This article summarizes research that explored the participation of young people in person-centered planning, and gives specific recommendations to assist facilitators in maximizing student participation.

Building Authentic Visions: How to Support the Focus Person in Person-Centered Planning

This publication summarizes research on team behavior during a planning session that increased or decreased participation of the focus person. Recommendations challenge team members to think about how their own behavior influences the focus person’s participation.

Career Exploration and Assessment

Career exploration involves gathering information about an individual’s skills, interests, personal characteristics and work environments that will lead to the best job match. Research on specific careers and employers can also help to map out a job search and identify business contacts. Visit the following websites for assistance with these activities.

America’s Career InfoNet

This site includes a wealth of information on job trends, wages, and national and local labor markets.

O*Net Online

This online database describes a wide variety of occupations, required skills, and earning potential.

YES! Your Employment Selections

This is a job preference program using online videos. For a 3-month unlimited access cost of $20, this program allows youth with limited or no reading skills to watch videos of 120 different jobs, listen to a narrator describe key tasks in each job, and select preferred ones. With the help of a parent or teacher to facilitate, the result is identification of the best-matched job, strengths and weaknesses and training priorities.
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