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Children with disabilities: transitioning from school to employment

A top down shot of a keyboard, laptop, mouse and stationary on a bright yellow desk

The topic of children with disabilities is a very sensitive subject, but it’s also one that needs to be talked about. It can be hard for parents to know how best to help their children succeed in school and life whether or not they have a disability.

This blog post will give you some helpful tips to ensure your child has the support they need to eventually transition into paid work that they enjoy, and is right for them.

Identifying employment strengths and interests for teenagers with a disability 

As your child with a disability moves through the teenage years, you and your child might start to think about jobs and employment.

If you and your child aren’t sure what kind of work they could do, you could look at your child’s:

  • Interests – for example, your child might like computer games, graphic design, maths or animals
  • Strengths – for example, your child might be good at coding, talking to people or keeping things tidy.

It’s also a good idea to visit the careers adviser at your child’s school. This person can help your child identify strengths and interests.

When you understand your child’s strengths and interests, you’ve got an excellent basis for empowering them to set their employment goals – what your child wants and hopes to do in her working life.

Setting employment goals for teenagers with a disability 

The first step is to work out your child’s long-term employment goals.

This is about understanding what work your child might like to do in the future. Your child’s employment goals might be pretty specific – for example, they might want to work at the local supermarket, be a teacher or vet, or run a dog grooming business. Or their goals might be more general, like working in IT, with people or animals, or working outside.

Step two is helping your child break down long-term goals into short-term goals, like finding people who can help, writing a resume, signing up to a Disability Employment Service, going to university, getting further training, finding an apprenticeship and so on. Short-term goals can help your child achieve long-term goals. They can also make long-term goals seem less overwhelming.

These tips can help you with this process:

  • Keep your child’s goals positive – for example, ‘I want to work in a garden’ rather than ‘I don’t want to be stuck inside’.
  • Keep your child’s short-term goals realistic – for example, ‘I want to get a job helping at the local garden centre’ or ‘I’ll get some experience by gardening at home’, rather than ‘I want to be a head gardener’.
  • Use visual aids to make your child’s list of goals more engaging. For example, a picture of your child weeding your garden could be a positive and helpful reminder of their dreams.
  • If your child doesn’t know what they want to do, that’s OK. They could look for volunteer work or part-time work while still at school to figure out what they’re interested in. For example, your child could join a volunteer bush regeneration program to determine whether he’s interested in gardening.

Finding people who can help teenagers set goals

A support network can help your child set employment goals and work towards them.

A support network for your child might include the following people:

  • Mentor: a mentor can help by giving advice, being a role model, helping your child work out what they want to do and so on. It’s great if you can find a mentor who understands disability. For example, a mentor could be a family friend, a professional working with your child, or someone from a disability support organisation.
  • School teacher: if your child has a good connection with a teacher, this person can also mentor.
  • Careers adviser: the careers adviser at your child’s school will be able to help your child set goals and work out what they need to do to achieve them.

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Skills, experience and qualifications for teenagers with a disability

Your child’s short-term goals will probably include gaining skills, knowledge and qualifications for the job they want. Or they could consist of developing communication skills, social skills and organisational skills for the workplace.

Your child can develop skills, experience and qualifications in several ways:

  • University or technical and further education (TAFE) course
  • Vocational education and training (VET) course
  • Training program run by a disability support agency
  • Self-employment support service
  • Work experience, volunteer work or an internship
  • Club or other organised activity to help your child build skills like teamwork, problem-solving and social skills
  • Support and advice from a mentor.

Resumés and job applications for teenagers with a disability 

Your child will need to write a resumé to apply for jobs. They’ll also need to write cover letters and applications.

You might need to help your child with their resumé and job applications. Your child’s careers adviser or a Disability Employment Service might also be able to help. Or you might know someone who hires people regularly. Perhaps they could help your child or give some feedback on your child’s resumé.

Job interviews for teenagers with a disability 

Your child will probably go to job interviews. There are many things they can do to prepare:

  • If your child has a particular communication style like typing rather than speaking, encourage them to find out whether this style can be used during interviews.
  • Use role-play at home to help your child practise non-verbal communication like handshakes, smiles and eye contact. These are all critical aspects of job interviews.
  • Set up mock interviews with people outside your immediate family to help your child practise talking to other people about their skills and experience. These people can give constructive feedback and help your child feel more comfortable. For example, you could ask a family friend or the school career adviser.
  • Prepare and practise standard responses to interview questions like ‘What are you good at?’, ‘What are your challenges?’ and ‘What contribution could you make to our organisation?’
  • Research employers and prepare questions that show interest in the jobs and organisations your child is interviewing for. Make sure they’re not questions that could be quickly answered by looking at the organisation’s website.
  • Go online for tips on preparing for interviews. For example, you could start with Ambitious about Autism’s interview tips or Job Access’s interview preparation tips.
Two co-workers at a desk using laptops
Two co-workers at a desk using laptops

Employment services and programs for people with a disability

Australian Government – National Disability Coordination Officer Program

The Australian Government’s National Disability Coordination Officer (NDCO) Program helps people with disabilities access and participate in tertiary education and subsequent employment. It does this through a national network of regionally based NDCOs. There are NDCOs around Australia.

Australian Government New Business Assistance

The Australian Government’s New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) offers training, mentoring and financial support to people interested in starting and running their businesses.

Australian Network on Disability

This is a group of understanding and proactive employers looking for the talent of employees with disabilities. It runs internships and mentoring programs for job seekers with disabilities.

Disability Employment Services (DES)

These agencies provide free services to help job seekers with disability get ready for and find work. For example, they can help your child with writing a resumé or practising for job interviews. They might also run training programs and offer School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) services.

Each DES is different, and you and your child can choose which one to use. It’s a good idea to do some research to find the best one for your child. A disability peak body might be able to suggest a DES to suit your child.

It’s helpful to contact a few DESs. For example, you could ask questions like:

  • Have you had previous success in finding jobs for people with similar needs to my child?
  • What support can you provide for someone with my child’s needs?
  • Do you provide training to learn workplace skills?
  • How do you conduct job searches?
  • Do you have links with particular employers?
  • How many clients does each consultant work with?
  • What support can you give my child once they’ve started work?

Job Jumpstart

Whilst this online career planning tool is not specific to people with disability, it can help people look for jobs, build careers, and do well at work.

LinkedIn

This is a social network for professionals, which many employers use to post jobs and look for suitable candidates. It could be a good idea to help your child set up a LinkedIn profile and connect with understanding employers in their area of interest.

National Disability Insurance Scheme – Employment

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funds reasonable and necessary supports to help people with disabilities reach goals throughout life, including employment goals.

School Leaver Employment Supports

School Leaver Employment Supports (SLES) is an early intervention approach for Year 12 school leavers. It’s designed to support the transition from school to employment. Providers help young people prepare for and find work.

SLES is funded under the NDIS. SLES services and programs are delivered by various providers, including Disability Employment Services (DES).

Specialisterne

This organisation specialises in finding work for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It works with national and global organisations that want to employ people with ASD.

Autism Spectrum Australia Launchpad – Work

Launchpad is a resource for young people with ASD who will leave school and start adult lives. Launchpad also includes information for families. Launchpad’s work section helps young people navigate pathways into the workplace.

Aspect Capable

This employment service for job seekers with ASD is run by Autism Spectrum Australia. It works with employers to connect individuals to employment opportunities. In addition, it has a mentoring program, and a SLES service program to help young people with ASD find and prepare for employment.

Books and other resources on employment for teenagers with a disability 

These books on preparing for the workforce might help you and your child:

  • The hidden curriculum of getting and keeping a job by Brenda Smith Myles, Judy Endow and Malcolm Mayfield
  • The complete guide to getting a job for people with Asperger’s syndrome by Barbara Bissonnette

Western Sydney University – Get Ready Top Tips Workbooks

These student workbooks and Parent Guide are based on 10 top tips for young people with disabilities. They contain information, contacts and activities to help students make a successful transition from school into tertiary study, work or post-school programs.

Employment rights and entitlements: teenagers with disability

Like all employees, your child has protected work rights. These protected rights include being free from discrimination at work.

Disclosing disability 

Your child can choose whether to tell employers about a disability. But this can be a tricky decision.

To make this decision, your child might need to think about their strengths and support needs. For example, they might consider whether they could do the job well without support or whether some support would help do it better.

Another consideration is the organisation’s reputation for hiring, supporting and including employees with disability.

Your child could use this information to draw up a list of the pros and cons of telling an employer about a disability. For example:

  • Pros might include additional support or adjustments so your child can do the job well.
  • Cons might include the risk that employers or colleagues will make negative assumptions about your child’s abilities.

Whatever your child decides, they have no legal obligation to tell potential employers about their disability. And employers don’t have the right to ask or know. It’s about deciding what’s going to be best for your child in the workplace.

Entitlements to reasonable adjustments for disabilities

Your child is entitled to reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process, tasks, hours, equipment and environment to ensure they receive the understanding and support needed to succeed at work. 

If your child tells their employer about their disability, they’ll be able to ask for some adjustments.

Examples of standard adjustments include:

  • Disability awareness training for managers and critical colleagues
  • A buddy or mentor for additional support
  • Flexible working arrangements like the option to work from home, flexible working hours to start earlier or finish later, or reduced work hours
  • Assistive technology like speech to text software, screen readers or digital recorders
  • Communication options to help learn new tasks, processes and information – this might include written, visual, verbal and practical forms of communication
  • Adjustments to the physical environment like changing the lighting, modifying the desk, providing a quiet place, or allowing noise-cancelling headphones
  • Support with setting up schedules and routines, checklists or to-do lists
  • Help with breaking down large projects into smaller tasks.

National Disability Insurance Scheme and employment

The NDIS funds reasonable and necessary supports to help people with disabilities reach goals throughout life, including employment goals.

Types of employment support that the NDIS might fund include:

  • Personal care at work, like assistance with meals
  • Aids and equipment, like wheelchairs
  • Transition-to-work supports that employers can’t reasonably provide, like training relating to travel to and from work
  • Individual employment support for people who probably won’t be eligible for Disability Employment Services (DES)
  • Supports people with disability to work when they’re otherwise unlikely to find ongoing work.

The NDIS might also fund:

Two co-workers in an office environment
Two co-workers in an office environment

Volunteering: Why it’s suitable for teenagers with disability

As your child with a disability moves through the teenage years, you and your child might start to think about future work.

Volunteering can be an excellent way for your child to prepare for work. It can help your child:

  • Learn what’s expected in the workplace
  • Find out what sort of work interests them
  • Build workplace skills like teamwork and punctuality
  • Gain confidence in the workplace and their abilities
  • Build a resumé – your child could ask for a certificate of involvement to put in their work portfolio
  • Meet new people who might be contacts for future job opportunities
  • Learn about the workplace support he needs to do a job well.

When your child volunteers, it also gives organisations the chance to know your child and their interests, strengths and needs. This might help your child if they want to apply for paid positions at any of the places they volunteer.

Finding the right volunteer job for your child 

You can find the right volunteer job for your child by thinking about what they like to do and what they’re good at.

For example, your child might be keen on computer games, outdoors, sports, working with numbers, meeting people, cooking or spending time with animals. You can look for volunteer opportunities that tap into these interests. These might include:

  • Conservation or gardening
  • Animal care and welfare
  • Aged and disability visitor programs
  • Food programs
  • Sports coaching
  • English as a second language program.

It might also be worth finding an organisation who specifically supports volunteers or employees with disability. This might include not-for-profit companies or peak disability organisations.

It’s also important to consider the workplace environment – for example, whether the physical environment is accessible, whether the organisation will make adjustments for disability and how it treats volunteers.

Volunteering ideas and websites

Here are some ways to find volunteering work:

  • Ask around family and friends to find out about opportunities in your local area. Your local council will have information on volunteering opportunities too.
  • Websites like Go Volunteer or Seek Volunteer have databases that you can use to search for volunteer jobs based on interest and location.
  • Try looking at the websites of organisations that work on specific causes – for example, conservation volunteers or the RSPCA.
  • Ask your child’s school about helping your child to find a volunteering or work experience placement.

You can also check out state-based volunteering websites, which help to match volunteers with volunteering groups and opportunities:

Common questions regarding the NDIS

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