Helping You Become All You are Capable of Becoming
An Overview of Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities
8. An Overview of Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities Tools for Getting Parents Involved in the Exceptional Education Process By James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.
I. What is Vocational Education?
The goal or purpose of vocational education is to prepare students to be ready for work and future employment. Preparing students for work, prepares them for work that is satisfying and that really contributes something. This is work they are really interested in, challenged by, and feel capable of performing. It is work that they have chosen. Every student has the right to expect that kind of work. That's what vocational education should be preparing students with developmental disabilities to do.
II. Importance of Work
Jobs are necessary for most people; certainly they need them to support themselves. But jobs are more than that. They make a big difference in how people feel about themselves. It wouldn't be long before they started feeling pretty useless, if they wanted to be employed, but weren't.
If work is so important for all people, why should anyone think it is any different for a person with a disability? That's a crucial question. For too long parents have been satisfied, or settled for, a "job just for the sake of a job" for their children with disabilities. Parents must stop making these compromises and start to listen, encourage and guide their children so that they have the same feeling other people do about the value and dignity of their work.
Every student with a disability must have that opportunity to get a vocational education and must have that choice. This is not to say that every student with a disability can have any skill he or she desires. No person can have any skill just because he wants it. Students should not have to make absolute yes or no choices about jobs. There are many types of work associated with virtually every occupation. The chances are that a person's desires and skills can be matched with some aspect of the particular field he or she may want to enter. For example, a student may want to work with animals. Maybe he or she will never be able to learn to be a full fledged veterinarian. But he or she probably could assist at a kennel or zoo.
A student can be given choices by someone taking the time to see him or her as an individual with hopes and dreams, rather than as a ''mentally retarded adolescent", "a kid with cerebral palsy", or a "blind girl". Society can open up choices by seeing beyond labels just by asking about each person: "What does he or she want to do, how can we help him or her do it?"
III. What Makes a Student Employable?
Some of the qualities that make someone employable are:
1. Job skill 80% of vocational education is demonstration. When teaching a student a new skill, the student is shown what to do. They are shown once, then twice, with explanations about what is to be done and why. That's how all human skills are handed down. If teachers take the time, analyze what needs to be taught, figure out the steps, then students with disabilities can be taught job skills.
2. Job attitudes is the employee productive, conscientious, efficient? Does the employee take the job seriously, come to work on time?
3. Academic skills minimal reading and writing skills. (For some people these are impossible; but other ways can be found to give and receive information.)
4. Interpersonal relationships how well does a student get along with his or her classmates and friends?
5. Daily living skills basic necessary skills such as transportation to and from work; the ability to handle money, personal grooming, etc.
IV. Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities
There aren't many school systems left in the country that will simply say ''there is no vocational education program for your child.'' What parents are hearing now is, ''yes, we have vocational education, we have three different classes you could choose from, wood shop, auto mechanics, and office work.'' Well, suppose your child wants to learn about plumbing. What happens then? Or a teacher says: ''I'd like to have your son in my carpentry class, but he just doesn't meet the admissions requirements which say that he must read at the eighth grade level.'' A question you could ask is: ''How well must someone be able to read to be a carpenter's assistant? Not everyone must achieve the level of master carpenter.'' Students are frequently denied access to vocational education classes because vocational educators maintain that they will never be able to complete the course and never learn everything required to qualify. If the course is in auto mechanics, you can ask: ''Can you teach him to change a tire? And after that, can you teach him to change oil?''
Not every student will climb the ladder of success, higher and higher. Students can work and move horizontally, also learning different kinds of things is important growth, too. It doesn't make sense to say they won't teach your child anything because they can't teach him everything.
Another option schools are giving parents is the vocational education center for students with disabilities. At first the thought of a center teaching job skills to students with disabilities may sound like a fine idea. Teachers undoubtedly would be supportive and students would be learning work skills.
You must look at this more closely. Sometimes you are so grateful for anything that is offered your child you lose sight of the fact that this ''offering'' might not be the right one. A question you could ask about a special center for students with disabilities is: "Does it give my child a full range of choices? Will she be able to pursue a job in a field that interests her?''
Are segregated programs really in the best interest of your child? Are we expecting your child to get a job in business or factory employing only people with disabilities? Society cannot keep segregating and separating people with disabilities from the rest of the world. Parents of children with disabilities have been fighting for equal rights for their children a long time now. This means equal rights for success, failure, risk, challenge and equal rights to be equal.
Students with disabilities must be involved in regular classrooms to the maximum extent possible. They must be involved in the community and not just in programs for people with disabilities.
V. Vocational Education is a Team Effort
If you value the rights of students with disabilities and know that quality vocational education must be made available, you must be willing to work toward that goal as a parent and advocate.
Parents have to become involved. Parents and teachers must communicate with one another. Parents should be informed about what their child is going to be taught, and how. Parents should ask how they can supplement this learning with related experiences at home, and they need to follow through not only by attending an IEP meeting once a year but by really following up, knowing what's going on.
Vocational education is too important to your child's future to leave to chance. Vocational education must be a team effort, based on people trusting and relying on each other (parents and teachers; vocational educators and special educators) always keeping in mind the students and their dignity.
The team must remember to look at an individual's capacities and expectations. They must remember to honor the strengths each has, and build on them. The team must look beyond the disability, see the individual and ask: ''Where do we go from here?''
VI. Basic Components of Good Vocational Education for Students with Disabilities
1. Assessment gathering relevant information about strengths and weaknesses in many are as: academics, physical, social, emotional, vocational interest, aptitude, motivation, and life experiences
2. Appropriate adaptations or special aids and assistance for individual students.
3. Counseling based on new opportunities, willingness to stand up for rights of disabled persons, commitment to individual needs and aptitudes. Not based on old stereotyped vocational goals.
4. Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must include a vocational component.
Ask: How will this IEP help my child prepare for his/her future?
Include work related goals, such as socialization, personal, and emotional development
Consult student about their ideas and goals
Pin down responsibility for services. Who will provide evaluation, training or related services? When?
5. Task Analysis essential to break work skills into teachable parts that will lead to greater and greater mastery of the job. Teaching steps related to job skills is the essence of all vocational education for students with handicaps, the steps may need to be further broken down to teachable parts.
6. Cooperation between Special Education and Vocational Education each has expertise to give to the other; cooperation is essential if programs are to be effective.
7. Interagency Cooperation and Planning Rehabilitation Services agency workers must work with Special Education and Vocational Education Administrators and teachers in overall planning for delivery of services.
8. Links with Business job training must be based on reality. What are the real opportunities for work? Essential to plan with business leaders so that skills taught will lead to employment. Business needs to be sensitized to needs and abilities of employees with disabilities, cooperation can lead to analyzing jobs and job skills to be taught.
9. Independent Living Skills a relevant curriculum for students with disabilities must include functional skills and challenges related to living and getting along in the real world.
10. Job development and follow up & assisted placement and follow up, known as job coaching is a part of training to open up opportunities and make sure that students with disabilities have support they need until they can make it on their own.
11. Job exploration results preferences, aptitudes, strengths, and weaknesses of students with disabilities must be reviewed and program changes made based on the experience of previous employment placements of these students.
12. Social adjustment healthy relationships at home/family, with peers and teachers in school, and co-workers and supervisors on the job are essential goals for students with disabilities to strive for because such relationships have been shown to have a major impact on success in people's job performances on the job.
VII. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)
PL 101-336 was signed into law by President Bush on July 26, 1990. The central purpose of this Act is to extend to individuals with disabilities civil rights protections similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin, and religion. Based on the concepts of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is the most significant federal law ensuring the full civil rights of individuals with disabilities.
The ADA tries to insure that people with disabilities cannot be refused employment because of the handicapping condition solely. Employers must now make reasonable accommodations to adapt the work place to a person, with a disability, who has the appropriate educational and experience to fill a certain job.
The impact of the ADA on future employment opportunities for people with disabilities is a major impetus to expand and advocate for the improving of vocational education and training opportunities for students with disabilities while they are still in school.
VIII. My Child's Vocational Education Plan:
1. Social skills my child needs to develop now in school to enable my child to be employed on a job after graduation from public school:
2. Personal skills my child needs to develop now in school to enable my child to be employed on a job after graduation from public school:
3. Emotional development skills my child needs to develop now in school to enable my child to be employed on a job after graduation from public school:
4. The following are the types of jobs my child states are appealing for future employment once my child graduates from public school:
5. These are the job related behaviors my child needs to develop in school to enable my child to be employed on a job after graduation from public school:
6. To reach my child's desired vocational goals, my child needs to learn the following job related skills now in school to enable employment after graduation from public school:
7. The following are the transitional, career and vocational programs available to my child in our public school system:
8. Adaptations my child needs to enable my child to be employed on a job: