The State of California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) has recently instituted a Services to Youth program that offers a number of activities designed to improve the quality of life for students with disabilities throughout the State of California with a five-part plan to promote employment, independent living, and equality:
1. Provide job exploration — Members of the DOR team learn each student’s interests and capabilities in order to guide him/her towards sound career choices.
2. Post secondary counseling — Team members assist college-bound students by exploring the application process with them. They consider various schools and programs, review GPA requirements, and guide students through the various steps in the admissions process.
3. Work-readiness training — The DOR team works with students in developing work habits plus improving skills related to time management and money management. They improve students’ social interaction and communication skills in general and for job interviews in particular. They assist students in writing résumés. They help them maneuver through government supplemental income processes while encouraging them to seek employment and achieve economic independence.
4. Self-advocacy — Members of the DOR team assist students in learning their rights, which increases their confidence in living independently and achieving success in the labor market. Students learn about work habits and their responsibilities in the workplace.
5. Work-based learning experiences. Members of the DOR team work with students to develop marketable work skills and opportunities to develop work experience, either as paid or unpaid employees, to put on their résumés. Students increase their skills related to appropriate patterns of on-the-job communication with coworkers, employers, and customers.
Team members provide 100 hours of complimentary support for developing skills required in a particular job. They accompany students during interviews, field trips, job shadowing, and work-site tours. They carefully coordinate activities and schedules with the students’ school administrators and parents in order to minimize the impact of their activities on their regular schedules. The DOR team has laid the foundation with a number of large companies who have agreed to support their efforts. For example, the management at Pixar has sponsored tours of their amazing Emeryville facility. Safeway has been a great supporter of hiring people with disabilities.
Work-based learning is powerful because positive results come from exposing the students to actual office spaces and shop floors. However, the education goes in both directions because there could hardly be a more effective way than this to increase disability awareness on the parts of people who might actually hire young people with disabilities. Employers discover that the students are actual human beings who are trying to achieve their goals and dreams, just like everybody else.
To get DOR Student Services:
• You must be a student (you need to be enrolled in school, but it’s okay if you’re on break or if school hasn’t started yet).
• You’re between the ages of 16 and 21 (including 16 and 21).
• At least one of these options is true:
-You have a 504 Plan, or you’re eligible for one if you want one.
-You have an IEP.
-You have a disability.
-Others think you have a disability.
DOR is one of 13 departments under the California Health and Human Services. Anna Tolentino and Sidney Wong are the two lead administers of the DOR Services to Youth project in East County. They develop partnerships with consumers, stakeholders, and concerned citizens in order to create an effective base for their operations.
DOR helps students from 16 to 21 who are currently in high school, home school, college, or in an alternative high school program. Each student must have either an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in place or a 504 Plan, which is specifically designed to help students with disabilities learn in the classroom environment.
Anna and Sidney launched the Services to Students program last April. However, Sidney has worked with DOR for nearly two decades. He said that he has two teenagers himself and loves to work with that population. Anna has spent 26 years working with the state. She has three children who are young adults, so she knows the challenges facing growing children. She also has an 11-year-old niece with learning disabilities.
Both Sidney and Anna are passionate advocates for DOR’s early-intervention services because they know that young people can make their future more secure if you empower them to find their voice and provide the training, counseling, and experience that will lead to steady employment. They will gain confidence to make a positive contribution to society.
Rather than considering members of their target population as disabled, Anna and Sidney look upon them as people who simply have difficulty grasping concepts that come more easily to others. They regard the students they deal with as human beings sharing hopes and desires in common with the rest of us.
Since the Services to Youth project is still at the early stages, Anna and Sidney are focusing on recruitment. They are currently supporting 30 students. Their goal is to ultimately increase the number to hundreds. They are taking their message to schools in East County, attending interviews with administrators, and making student assembly presentations. They are setting up meetings with special ed teachers, principals, superintendents, and home-school programs — anyone working with the population. They are doing what they can to publicize the rich list of resources DOR is offering to students with disabilities.
Sidney said that a big challenge is to educate business owners and hiring managers about disabilities. They encourage them to look beneath the surface and see the enthusiastic worker who is often waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to do a job well. Employers often make the happy discovery that people with disabilities generally have a better work ethic and commitment to doing the best job possible.
Sidney and Anna’s DOR project should be an “easy sale” because the Services to Youth resources come at no cost either to students or employers. They provide a complete information set for employees interested in hiring students with disabilities. They provide access to their Workforce Development tool that searches the DOR consumer database to locate qualified job seekers to match the employer’s particular employment needs. Employers can also access the Talent Acquisition Portal (TAP), which is the country’s largest talent pool of individuals with disabilities.
In addition, DOR provides employers with access to the Workforce Development Services (WDS) that contains numerous no-cost information and training resources including Disability/Diversity Awareness Workshops, the Windmills program leading employers in successfully integrating persons with disabilities into the workforce, Disability Etiquette Training, Job Site Accommodation Consultation, plus other resources too numerous to mention.
Ideally, the students who take advantage of the Services to Youth program will enter adulthood with tools and resources necessary to live independently. They will be receiving a regular paycheck from an employer who is pleased with their performance, and they will be aware of career opportunities that they now see opening up before them.
For their part, Ann and Sidney look forward to reaping the harvest from the programs they are beginning to put into effect. I get the impression from talking with them that they will be just as excited by enhancements their students make in the quality of life as the students themselves.
Photos by Casey Quist