Thank you, Guest Blogger and Parent, Sara Prince, for sharing your family’s story of the challenges faced by those with disabilities when transitioning from school-age to work in any given community. And, that we all have choices on how to be involved in providing support.
Those of us who spend any time at all around people who are not spoken for by Donald Trump – and that’s many of us, I think – have an obvious target for our outrage right now. Trump’s obscene demonstrations of insensitivity to almost any population with which he is unfamiliar makes it easy for us to express our distress over discrimination against marginalized individuals.
But we must be careful. Although it feels cathartic to call out Donald Trump, by doing so, we risk taking the focus off of ourselves and the limits to our own understanding of individuals who are not like us. Before we turn the spotlight exclusively on Trump, let’s make sure we know how things are playing out in our communities.
I got a good glimpse during my family’s recent struggle to land a part-time job for our adult son with autism, which reminded me that changing long-held ideas about any under-represented group requires the buy-in of institutions beyond those bound by law.
We moved our son, Kiper, halfway across the country to get him into a public school program that would simulate “real life” and provide job coaching in an authentic setting — all of which came true. To our joy and amazement, he was actually hired by the venue which served as his public school job placement, and he continued to work there as a paid employee on weekday mornings after he graduated. Then, as is all too common in these situations, without the support of the school job coach, Kiper made a wrong move and was fired.
Several months of seeking part-time employment led to dead-ends. One local venue, which I approached about creating a part-time position with a job coach we would fund (this begs an entirely different discussion about paying for your child to work) offered a job for 3 hours a week — for a 90-day trial period. We knew our son could do more.
Our public schools are doing the hard work the law requires to prepare students with (developmental) disabilities for the world they will face. They are trying to create transition opportunities, but it’s a daunting task to build and maintain relationships with local businesses to serve as locations where job and social skills can be refined. My son is part of a wave of children diagnosed with autism in the early 1990’s that is aging into the community — and into the workforce. Many of these young adults will be looking for meaningful employment; many will be living independently or with minimal support. We need to open our eyes and our hearts to them. We need to open our doors and our payrolls, as well. We must support and acknowledge area businesses that already open their doors to employees with disabilities and we must make available training to better prepare businesses that have not yet done so.
If we do not, we are essentially telling millions of individuals who want to go to work that they may never earn a paycheck.
Employees who work alongside individuals with disabilities say that it strengthens their sense of self, and their feelings about their employers and their workplace.
We were recently lucky enough to find such an employer — someone willing to take a chance on Kiper with a part-time job. This gentleman knows he does not have his star employee in my son. Even though we have supports in place, none of us really knows what will happen. Still, my son has been given a chance and he is being treated like any other new employee, which is all anyone can ask.
This part-time job, generously offered by a local business owner (whose political leanings, by the way, I don’t know) is not going to make the national news. It’s not even going to make the local news. But it’s the kind of victory that families like ours celebrate — and, as quiet as it is during this noisy election, it provides an honest measure of how we are doing in our disability communities closer to home.
Sara Prince, M.Ed, Leawood, Kansas