Future Employment Options for Your Child Who Has a Visual Impairment and Multiple Disabilities

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The value of successful employment should not be underestimated for your child who is blind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities. Successful employment provides:

  • opportunities to engage in meaningful, structured activities outside of the home
  • opportunities to increase social interactions and foster relationships
  • opportunities for personal and professional growth

All of these contribute to a positive self-concept and a satisfying, emotionally healthy life.

While working will be enormously beneficial to your child, identifying an appropriate job and successfully performing job tasks will not be barrier-free. It may seem these barriers are "dead ends" to employment; the barriers can instead be viewed as opportunities to brainstorm and problem-solve for solutions.

Brainstorming solutions to work-related barriers and determining employment options will usually begin with a person centered planning meeting. The person centered planning team draws on the insight, experience, and expertise of each present member, including your child, family members, and professionals. The team will discuss your child's interests, strengths, goals, weaknesses, and needs. Based on all the information gathered about your child and from your child, the team can discuss appropriate work options.

Let's take a look at the employment options your child's team may recommend. Listed below are work prospects for people with mild disabilities and work prospects for people with severe disabilities who require life-long support. A brief summary of each possibility is provided, including advantages and disadvantages.

A Standard Job with Accommodations

The team may recommend your grown child pursue a standard, competitive job, with accommodations. To identify necessary accommodations, your child (or the support team) will perform a job analysis and determine accommodations according to his or her unique needs and specific job goals. The Job Accommodation Network's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource is particularly helpful in browsing accommodations for specific disabilities and specific job functions.

The advantages of working a standard job and using accommodations include:

  • involvement in typical work responsibilities
  • earning competitive wages, with opportunities for promotions and raises
  • opportunities to socialize and work within the general community
  • the pursuit of jobs tailored to the individual's unique skills and interests

For an individual who is prepared to work a standard job with accommodations, there are no disadvantages.

Supported Employment

Supported Employment would involve a job coach, provided by your local Vocational Rehabilitation agency, who would assist your grown child in finding and maintaining a job that takes advantage of his strengths, interests, and skills. The job coach may carve (create) a previously unavailable job, drawing on your child's specific skills and strengths. Other approaches would involve the job coach assisting your child in pursuing and maintaining a standard, competitive job, starting a self-employed business, or working within an enclave (a job environment with six or fewer individuals with disabilities). The job coach will monitor for appropriate job tasks, provide or arrange job skills training, and be a point of contact on an ongoing, long-term basis to help your child work through any work-related issues or transitions.

The advantages of participating in supported employment include:

  • involvement in structured activities and responsibilities outside of the home
  • earning at least minimum wage, but with opportunities for promotions and raises
  • opportunities to socialize in the general community
  • job tasks tailored to the your child's unique skills and interests
  • skills training
  • long-term support as needed.

The only concern with supported employment is difficulty it may take to secure a lifetime of funding for the support. Agencies related to the individual's specific disabilities should collaborate and blend resources.

Enclave

Your grown child could work within an enclave, a workplace with six or fewer individuals with multiple disabilities. Your child would work alongside peers with and without disabilities, and would typically work in assembly and production lines. Payment would likely be based on units assembled or produced. If supported employment is available, the job coach would assist your child in obtaining appropriate tasks and providing skills training.

The advantages of employment within an enclave include:

  • involvement in structured activities and responsibilities outside of the home
  • earning a small amount of money
  • the opportunity to socialize with peers who have and do not have disabilities

The disadvantages of employment within an enclave potentially include working where people with disabilities already are, instead of working in a position that takes advantage of the individual's strengths and interests. Additionally, your child would not receive the benefits of working within the general population.

Mobile Crew

A mobile crew could provide supervised employment for your grown child among a small group of individuals with multiple disabilities. The individuals within the mobile crew would be given specific job tasks within the community. Tasks may include cleaning offices, landscaping, or hauling trash. Mobile work crews are generally paid according to completed job tasks.

The advantages of employment within a mobile crew include:

  • involvement in a variety of structured activities and responsibilities
  • a variety of work environments
  • supervised employment
  • earning approximately minimum wage
  • the opportunity to socialize with the crew members and, minimally, in the community.

The disadvantages of employment within a mobile crew include colleagues that do not represent the general population.

Sheltered Workshop

Your child could work at a sheltered workshop. The purpose of a sheltered workshop is to provide employment solely for individuals with significant disabilities. The individuals are tasked with specific job duties, almost always repetitive, physical labor, such as sanding furniture, assembling items, or sorting objects. All job tasks are completed within the confines of the workshop and all workers are paid a small amount, according to the amount of completed tasks.

The advantages of employment at a sheltered workshop include:

  • involvement in structured, supervised activities and responsibilities outside of the home
  • earning a very small amount of money
  • opportunities to socialize with peers who have significant disabilities
  • straightforward job tasks tailored to individuals with multiple disabilities

The disadvantages of employment at a sheltered workshop include isolation from the general population and working for sub-minimum wage.

In some communities there are community rehabilitation providers that have sheltered workshops that specialize in providing services to people who are blind. They are sometimes referred to as a Lighthouse for the Blind. However, in some cases a community Lighthouse may provide services but not have a sheltered work component. Those that provide the work fall under a program administered by the National Industries for the Blind.

Day Programs

It may be most appropriate for your child to attend a day program that offers emotional, physical, and medical support to adults with significant disabilities. A day program provides social and recreational activities, assistance with activities of daily living (eating, dressing, etc.), and opportunities for community involvement. The program may even offer volunteer opportunities for your child.

The advantages of attending a day program include:

  • involvement in structured, supervised activities outside of the home
  • opportunities to socialize with peers who have significant disabilities
  • intermittent community involvement
  • substantial support and supervision

For an individual who requires maximum support levels, there are no disadvantages to attending a day program.

As you know, your child's needs are unique, and may vary over time. Therefore, the ideal workplace, necessary accommodations, and required supervision levels may fluctuate through the years. In every season, your child's workplace should be as inclusive (part of the general population) as possible and appropriate. Time with the general population will promote good social and work skills. Additionally, the general population will benefit from your child's presence and strengths.

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