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Employment for Persons with Disabilities: Where are we now and where do we need to go?

by Wehman, P.

Nicki is a 21-year-old student with moderate intellectual disabilities who lives with her family. She has limited expressive language and communicates primarily through her body language and willingness to participate in activities. Nicki participated in a community-based vocational education program and then received supported employment services to assist her with gaining and maintaining a job. As a result, she has worked part-time at a small college dining center as a food preparation assistant for more than 1 year while still in school. Her job duties include making salads and preparing potatoes for baking. She also assists her co-workers with cleaning the work station by taking dirty pans to the sink area. Notably, her job was created by negotiating specific duties from a food preparation worker’s job description. Nicki works approximately 25 hours a week and every other Saturday as part of her school curriculum and earns $8.25 per hour. Transportation is provided to and from work by the school during the week and by her parents on the weekends. Nicki is supported at work by her co-workers, managers, assistive technology (AT), and her job coach.

For example, her co-workers assist her with clocking in and out; putting on and taking off her hair net, apron, and gloves; setting up and replenishing her work supplies; and going on break. The assigned co-worker provides verbal and physical assistance throughout her work day as needed. Technological assistance has also been incorporated into the routine. For instance, the manager ordered a magnetic scanning card, which eliminated the need to manually enter her employee number into a computer in order to clock in and out. An audio prompting/praising system was also developed to provide her with consistent intervention and to decrease her dependence on co-worker prompts. The job coach provided upfront assistance with developing the job and then provided one to one jobsite training using systematic instruction, and helped identify and facilitate co-worker support. Now, the job coach is on site at most once or twice a week.

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