A job can be an exciting way to learn new things, meet people, and make a contribution to the world. This is just as true for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities as it is for everyone else. Students with disabilities often are not prepared to become a part of the work force. Therefore, adults with disabilities often remain unemployed, even though there are work possibilities available. There is also a fear among caregivers of adults with disabilities that the person with special needs will lose important public benefits if they earn an income. However, there are ways that adults with these disabilities can work and feel a sense of purpose while also keeping their benefits.
It can be complicated and time-consuming to evaluate the impact of employment on the benefits of a special needs adult, but it is worth the effort. The Social Security Administration is a good place to start. However, parents or caregivers may not be able to get all the information they need. Even the most well-informed parents and caregivers are wise to talk to more than one source. After all, other factors, such as receiving an inheritance or settlement, may change the equation; it’s a good idea to get professional advice to know what to expect in the future. An elder law attorney and special job agencies for adults with special needs are other great places to find the information needed to protect the government benefits of an adult with special needs.
- Assess Skills – The first step in finding employment for an adult with special needs is to assess the skills they have that would and could be useful in the workforce. This is something that could be done by talking to teachers and school psychologists as the adult is preparing to transition from school to work. These professionals have worked with the student academically and helped prepare them for real-life settings, so they can offer insights into the young adult’s strengths and weaknesses. If the adult is beyond this point, there are job agencies for adults with special needs that can help to assess their skills.
- Determine Interests – It is important to include the person with special needs in conversations about working so that they feel invested in the work. A great way to do this is to ask for input about the tasks they like to do. This can be done by presenting choices and allowing them to have input on their preferences. For example, some may work better with the support of other people, while others may prefer tasks that are done alone.
- Determine Employment Type – After assessing skills and interests, the parent or caregiver can decide whether the person with special needs should look for competitive employment, supported employment, or segregated employment.
- Competitive employment is for those adults with special needs who are able to perform a task with little or no support other than the basic training given to all employees. These positions might include a cashier, a factory worker, or a waiter. Competitive jobs require varying amounts of education or training.
- Supported employment includes jobs similar to competitive employment. The difference is the adult with disabilities works alongside a person who does not have disabilities. They are provided with coaching and support throughout the duration of the job.
- Segregated employment is an arrangement in which people with mental disabilities work in an environment with other people with disabilities. This kind of employment may be funded by the state or federal government.
- Find a Job – Once the skills and interests are assessed and the type of employment has been determined, it is now time to help the adult with special needs find employment. For competitive and many supported employment jobs, the person with disability will have to apply and go through the hiring process. Segregated employment is open to people with disabilities who are able to perform the tasks offered. Once parents and job specialists or other professionals have helped the adult with disabilities acquire a job, it is important for those people to continue to provide support and even check in with the employer from time to time.
The bottom line is that if there is a desire and a willingness to work in an adult with disabilities, there is work available. It will not necessarily be easy to find, but with some effort a good match can be found. Helping an adult with disabilities enter the work force and find success can be rewarding for everyone involved.
If you have questions about special needs planning, benefits available to adults with special needs, and how to avoid disrupting benefits due to employment, inheritance, or settlement, please give us a call. We are a member firm of the Special Needs Alliance and are prepared to help people with special needs and their families create comprehensive plans that maximize dignity, independence, and family resources.