Students with learning disabilities who are seeking employment should request assistance for transitioning to work whether they are leaving high school, an adult education program, or college. While each situation is unique, there are elements involved in transitioning to work that apply to all students with learning disabilities.
Transitioning from any type of educational program to work is a process. Students must begin this process early and be able to transfer knowledge of their learning disabilities into a world of employment. They should consider the potential impact of their learning disabilities on job performance, how and/or when to disclose this information, and typical accommodations made in the workforce.
In addition to understanding their disabilities, students must analyze training and career goals in relation to their strengths and weaknesses. What kind of tasks will the job include? What kind of interaction between job tasks and the disability will need to be determined? When answering these questions, the student should assess the work environment, the type and amount of co-worker or peer interaction, specific tasks or essential functions that must be performed, and how performance is evaluated.
For students leaving high school, transition planning is a process mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) for all students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The purpose is to facilitate the student’s move from school to post-school activities. The transition planning must start before the student turns 16; be individualized; be based on the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and include opportunities to develop functional skills for work and community life.
All students with learning disabilities who are transitioning to work should understand the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, which assure equal access and non-discrimination. Students must recognize how equal access applies to them within a particular employment setting and in relation to their learning disabilities. More specifically, they should know whether or not it is necessary to disclose their learning disability in order to perform the job efficiently. If it is indeed necessary to disclose, students should know to whom, how, and when to disclose. Students also need to determine how and with whom to negotiate job accommodations.
It is often helpful for students to gain work-related experience before applying for a job. Possibilities include internships, service learning opportunities, volunteer positions with community-based organizations and/or religious affiliations, or short-term job opportunities through family and friends.
It is also important for students with learning disabilities to understand the job culture of the workplace. Every company or organization has its own unique culture. The job culture consists of company rules, values, and beliefs, which are widely held but often unspoken. These types of unspoken but highly valued cultural aspects are often difficult for people with learning disabilities to discern, yet understanding them is critical to succeeding in the workplace. Students with learning disabilities should be taught how to observe co-workers; not only how they work, but also how they communicate and interact. It may be necessary to request a written document from the supervisor that describes exactly what is expected of employees regarding the job position, communication with co-workers and supervisors, and any rules of conduct.
The prospective employee may want to consider various options for learning how to perform the duties of the job before actually starting the job. Some options to explore include coaching, mentoring, and/or internships. Those types of job training opportunities are offered by many companies and workplaces, and may give the student the opportunity to learn the job culture while in a training position.
The process of transitioning to work for individuals with learning disabilities should also include information about how to determine the most effective accommodations for a person in that specific job. Students should learn to match job tasks or essential functions with their individual strengths and weaknesses to identify specific accommodations that will improve job performance. Accommodations that may be used include audio recorders (smart phone, smart pens, tablets, etc.), audio materials and instructions (for review when needed), speech-to-text software or app, text-to-speech software or app, demonstration of tasks and assignments (record video with smart phone or tablet for multiple playbacks), diagrams to explain the process of an assigned task, a separate or quiet work space, computer software (e.g., word prediction, grammar-check, templates, etc.), and color-coding of files, work assignments, etc. The Job Accommodations Network can help students explore workplace accommodations further.
Vocational Rehabilitation Services clients can work with their counselors to design individualized plans addressing employment, assessments, and services related to employment. This may also include employment training.
Finally, it is important for students with learning disabilities to identify and use available support systems. Family, friends and co-workers are vital to successful employment. A support system can be a valuable asset through the entire transition process from any type of school to work.
Additional resources for students with learning disabilities transitioning to work include:
- Rehabilitation Services Administration, https://rsa.ed.gov/
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Helpline, eeoc.gov, (800) 669-4000
- HEATH Resource Center, heath.gwu.edu
- Job Accommodation Network (JAN), http://askjan.org/
- National Rehabilitation Information Center, naric.com, (800) 346-2742
- Peterson’s Internships, petersons.com