Column: Daily routines can provide insight for transition planning

With another school year under way we are getting used to early hours and school routine. Often transitioning to this time of year is a bit easier with preparation. We start getting the kids to bed earlier before school starts to prepare them for the early alarm clock. In doing so we hope to avoid the ‘morning grumbles’ and make sure there is time for a good breakfast. We all know that the best-laid-plans aren’t always a sure thing, but can be worth the effort in producing the desired outcome.

Transition plans through school ages 14-18 (and sometimes through age 22) are much the same. We are familiar with the idea of helping our child prepare but don’t always know exactly what he will need. Let’s go back to that school routine for a minute. Will my child need a simple morning call, “Hey, it’s time to wake up,” or does he need more of an impact by adding a loud alarm clock? Does the alarm clock need to be across the room? Does he need a follow-up support of you checking in on him to be sure he didn’t dive back into bed for “five more minutes”? This scenario is much like planning for transition for you child with disabilities.

Lisa Grady Column GraphicThe way to plan for the best outcome is to be aware of the child and who he really is. What does he need? What can he do? What does he like or not like? Under what conditions does he perform best? These can be broken down into PINS: preferences, interests, needs and strengths.

Too often we hear about other children and how they make strides. We think, “Wow, they did this and it worked out well for their child.” “I think I will try that with my Ricky.” We set the same process in motion and it does not work out as well. It becomes frustrating and we give up. We have found that in transition and when working with individuals with disabilities, one fact remains unchallenged: you will not often find that one student is just like the other. Throughout education and all aspects of life, planning is most comprehensive when it is person-centered. When we sit down and really get to know the child, we can then create a plan that will guide him toward future success.

Much of this can happen during transition planning meetings where the team discusses the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the student’s past and current level of performance, as well as his preferences, interests, needs, and strengths.

It is very important that you say where you want to see your child in the future. When planning for a young transition-age student (ex. 14-16) the future planning may be quite difficult. You are unsure as you have not seen enough academic, social, vocational progress to be sure about where he might be in the future – but don’t let that deter you.

Your child, wherever possible, should express for himself where he sees himself in the future. Often we see future planning that includes being an actor, a doctor, a veterinarian, a mechanic, a video game designer, or a pro athlete. This is fine in the early stages of planning. We have all been there, too. Once your child progresses through transition, we hone the post-graduate goal to the assessed strengths, skills and interests that will lead to the most achievable goal.

Simply taking the time over a few days or a week to break down your child’s day and add his PINS – preferences, interests, needs, and strengths – can provide invaluable input in the planning process for transition. Describe what your child can do and what your child struggles with. Once you have all of this information, it is much easier for the IEP team to determine what needs to be prioritized for the school year in order to make progress work toward the transition goal.

Transition planning lasts anywhere between four to eight years. Make the most of it. Bring your child to the planning table and encourage him to share who he is or provide that information to help the IEP team to determine the logical steps for making progress toward his future.

Often times I attend IEP meetings where the parent/individual does not seem to feel that she is an active part of the planning. We’d like to change that. We want to encourage you to share your valuable and formative information. This process is, and always should be, a team approach to creating a transition plan.

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How data can drive disability hiring initiatives

Finding meaningful work is a goal many people strive to achieve, and people with developmental disabilities often want the same opportunity. Since Ohio’s Employment First initiative was signed into law four years ago, it has raised the expectations for people of working age with developmental disabilities.

The initiative also required data tracking for employment services providers and County Boards of DD. This information, which includes wages received, type of work, transportation, number of hours worked per week, benefits received and other data, can be analyzed for trends to help guide decisions and resources in the future.

Nathan Column GraphicIn Hamilton County, it’s no surprise that nearly 40 percent of people with disabilities work in the food service industry, which has long been a strong employer of people with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “restaurants and other eating places have gained 1.2 million jobs since 2010.” Strong job growth in this sector helped more people with developmental disabilities to find jobs.

Marketing, sales and retail is the second most popular occupation type with 25 percent of the total jobs. Many retailers are able to utilize people with developmental disabilities in various roles within their respective organization. Providers of employment supports are working diligently to build and maintain relationships with hiring managers so customized options for employment are becoming available. Many large retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Kroger, to name a few, are now concentrating on developing disability hiring initiatives to increase diversity in their respective organizations. This is a positive trend and will help to increase options for job seekers in the future.

The healthcare job category is currently at 3 percent of the total employment picture in Hamilton County. National trends in this field indicate that there will be substantial opportunity for employment growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “healthcare industries are expected to have the fastest employment growth and to add the most jobs between 2014 and 2024.” This substantial growth could lead to more opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to contribute in the healthcare field. Marketing and outreach to this industry may be a sound strategy over the upcoming years.

Our data, in the chart below, represents more than 10 occupation types, which shows more businesses are beginning to see the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. It’s also encouraging to see more available career options for people with developmental disabilities, who have the right to make informed decisions about their chosen career path to obtain jobs in community settings that meet their individual needs.

People with developmental disabilities can complete almost any type of work when given the opportunity. Employment is a priority for Hamilton County DD Services, and we will continue to work with businesses to expand opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to live and work in their communities.

Nathan Beck is the Employment Coordinator for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services.

Occupation Type Chart FIXED

Column: How does having a job impact your benefits?

Many parents of students receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are reluctant to allow their high-school-age child work due to the misunderstood impact that earned income has on a benefit check. It is true that earned income will cause the SSI check to decrease, however, it is also true that earned income causes overall total income to increase. This happens because Social Security will exclude more than half of a person’s countable earned income before they reduce the SSI.

Did you know that the work incentive for SSI recipients under the age of 22 who are regularly attending school, called the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), allows for someone to exclude up to $7,180 of earned income per year and $1,780 per month?

Antonio Akins column graphicFor example, if someone earned $885 a month from working, Social Security would count only $400 of that amount against the $733 SSI check. This would leave them with $333 in SSI, plus $885 in earned income, for a total of $1,218. As you can see, a person receiving SSI who is also working always comes out on top.

In addition, what if I told you that by applying the Student Earned Income Exclusion (SEIE), a person receiving SSI and working can come away with even more money than what was described in the previous example? A student working part-time and earning about $598 a month gets to keep their full $733 SSI check and their $598 earned income due to SEIE. That is a total of $1,331 a month, which is nearly double the amount of the SSI benefit.

Did you also know that when a person receiving SSI goes to work, not only do they increase their earnings and develop a work ethic along with valuable experience and skills, but they also pay into Social Security? This means if they pay enough into Social Security, they will eventually earn enough credits to draw disability benefits off of their own work record. In other words, they’d be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The maximum amount of work credits that anyone can earn, disability or not, is four per year; one credit is $1,220 of earned income. Therefore, if someone earns more than $4,880 a year, they would have earned the maximum amount of credits anyone could earn in a given year. It is also important to know that the younger you are, the fewer credits you need in order to draw off of your own work record. For example, a person younger than 24 years old, need only to have earned six credits in order to draw off of their own work record. That is a total of $7,320 of gross earned income. For someone who started working part-time when they were 16 years old, it is likely that at the time they turn 18, they’ll be eligible to draw off their own work record. This is beneficial because having Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as opposed to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) means having access to more extensive and supportive work incentives.

As you can see, it’s not always true that working hurts benefits, talk to a benefits specialist with more questions. You will then be able to make an informed choice regarding your employment goals. Don’t let fear of losing your benefits remain a barrier to you accepting more pay, hours or even a job!

Antonio Akins is the Benefits Specialist for Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services.

Column: The Power of Peer Influence

Have you ever felt the influence of your peers? Maybe it was going skydiving after your friends convinced you to try it. Maybe it was volunteering with your colleagues in your community. Or perhaps it was signing up for a benefit walk to help a cause your peers also support.

Recently, I read an article that discussed the power of peer influence on one’s decision-making process. It made me think about how this concept could be applied more broadly to employment people with developmental disabilities. Why not use this potential power of peer influence to promote positive interactions among individuals thinking about working in the community?

Nathan Column GraphicMerely 19 percent of people with disabilities are actively participating in the workforce, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Competitive employment results in many positive outcomes, so why aren’t more people participating? From my experience in the field, lack of exposure to the possibilities of employment can be a hindering factor. Also, individual choice is a factor and some people may not have a desire to work in the community.

Stepping out into the workforce can come with risks, and often it may seem that the risks far outweigh the benefits. However, offering forums to talk about employment possibilities can help others seek out opportunities of interest, or, at the very least, provide information. These forums also offer support in an informal, non-threatening and relaxed environment.

At Hamilton County DD Services, we recently put this concept into action. Latasha Walker has worked at Beckman Adult Center for many years, and this summer she made the decision to find a community job. She was hired by LaRosa’s Pizzeria and shared her story with her peers who attend Kidd Adult Center.

Latasha at Kidd
Latasha Walker talked to her peers at Kidd Adult Center about community employment.

The conversation was thought-provoking and many who listened to Latasha’s story asked her questions about transportation, wages and other topics related to work. This shows her peers were engaged and interested in learning more about having a job outside of the adult center environment.

Positive encouragement and the opportunity to hear a successful employment story may elicit more interest and help someone understand the benefits of working in the community. And maybe this forum, like others, motivated someone to seek out potential opportunities.

Making the choice to join the workforce is a personal decision based on that person’s interest in employment. Ohio’s Employment First initiative has changed the expectations for individuals with disabilities of working age, placing employment as the preferred and expected outcome. Our agency and others in Ohio have many great resources to assist individuals in their quest for employment. Hamilton County DD Services is committed to making employment a reality for individuals who have a desire to work.

Column: How to prepare for transition planning

As summer winds down and we get ready for another school year, let’s take a moment to talk about transition. Transition services are provided to school-aged individuals with disabilities in order to develop, explore, and pursue a person-centered path to employment. When providing transition services (usually ages 14 to 22), a teacher will invite local professionals and agencies who can provide input, planning, and services that lead to an educated and experiential path to employment.

You and your child are the most important members of the transition team organized to create a comprehensive plan.  So, what can you do to prepare for transition planning?

Start to write down your child’s interests, no matter how diverse or trivial you think they may be.  A vocational professional can then discuss and explore avenues where those interests may fit into employment.  Add preferences as well:  likes crowds, does not like loud noises, likes to work in a small group or independently, cannot tolerate heat, is afraid of dogs, etc. Be specific wherever it applies.

Lisa Grady Column GraphicAlso, list needs: cannot prepare his lunch (open containers), needs extra time to process verbal input, does best with picture directions or a checklist as a way to remember things, etc.  You have vital information that will help develop your child’s Preferences, Interests, Needs, and Strengths (PINS).  If you are able visit favorite sites in the community, list the name and what specifically draws your child’s attention at that site.  Can your child volunteer at that site through school work-study or something you set up?  Speak to your teacher about this.

It is also very important to help your child develop work skills at home.  Choose something motivating, not something he/she dislikes.  For example, have your child help to put the groceries away (food is often a motivator, so it may not be as difficult as suggesting laundry for example).

Start small, just one bag of groceries. Take notes as they approach the task for the first time. From there, guide your child toward efficient (a decent pace), logical (foods go in proper places), and thorough (task completion) participation. Start with guidance and fade out of the process as soon as possible. Guidance should always be in a positive and supportive manner and task completion followed directly by a preferred item or break, which helps to foster confidence and future participation. Starting this at any transition age is appropriate and helpful in the development of core work skills.

Finally, there are a number of other resources that can be helpful for planning transition services. Check out the OhioMeansJobs website, see what it has to offer (tutorial guide), and perhaps start a back-pack for your transition-age youth. There are many ways to use this site when preparing for employment and/or college, and everything you do can be saved on this site so you can share access with your child’s teacher, if you wish.  Ask your teacher if they are using OhioMeansJobs in their transition planning or if they use Naviance (some schools pay for this separate and equally useful system). Ask for guidance on how best to use the sites and how it can be incorporated into the transition plan.

Agencies such as Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, mental health providers, Job and Family Services, and other agencies you may already be working with can collaborate in the planning and provision of transition services. The State of Ohio’s Employment First website is a great resource for learning about initiatives for all individuals with disabilities.

The Ohio Department of Education’s website is full of useful information to help you understand more about transition and its importance in your child’s education.  Also, your local State Support Team 13 has a multi-faceted site where you can find resources, seek support, and obtain information regarding transition services.

That’s it for now – enjoy the rest of your summer vacation!

Lisa Grady is the Transition Supervisor for Hamilton County DD Services.