Real Choices, Real Jobs

ImageWhat happens after your child graduates from high school?

Will he or she be able to get a job?

Will he or she be able to live independently?

These are questions that parents of children with disabilities ask themselves, often when their child is still in elementary school.  For the parent of a “differently-abled” child, these questions are imperative because the traditional paths of college, career and independent living may or may not be on the horizon — A journey I’ve experienced personally.

My son Ryan was born in 1993. I remember thinking that he would be a Notre Dame student, class of 2016. That dream quickly transformed to questions, and at the time that he received his diagnosis, I keenly remember saying to my friend, Jeanne, “I guess that he won’t be going to Notre Dame.”

In that moment I knew his future would take him down different paths and questions began to swirl through my mind: Would he go to school? What would his future hold? Will he work?

The latest news on the employment front for individuals with disabilities is disheartening. According to the United State Census Bureau, individuals with disabilities are three times less likely to have job, and if employed, tend to be paid less. In January of this year, the unemployment rate among those with disabilities was 13.7 percent. That number was up by about 2 percent from the prior month, reportedly due to a growth in the number of job applicants who have disabilities.

We do our best to see that all of our children have the very best education until they are 18 or 21 years old, but then what happens?   The success of supported work and school-to-work transition programs demonstrate that people with disabilities can thrive in regular employment, given the proper supports.

Thankfully Ryan had support. He graduated from McDowell High School in June 2012 and entered the working world in the fall. He participates in a training program at the Barber National Institute working 15 hours a week, along with a part-time job at Bello’s Market.

Ryan loves work! Working gives Ryan purpose, making him successful for a job well done.

My hope is that employers will recognize the value and the talents that persons with disabilities bring to the workplace and that we begin to reverse the statistic and offer real choices as well as real jobs.

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