Improving Outcomes for Young Adults with Disabilities

20 Apr 2018

The Americans with Disabilities ACT of 1990 did a lot to improve inclusion and access for persons with disabilities, but they still face significant barriers in employment.

Youth and young adults with disabilities tend to have lower rates of post-secondary education or training and are less likely to be employed than their peers without disabilities. They are three times more likely to live in poverty.

The Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, aims to change such outcomes. A key goal is to increase access to and the participation of young adults, ages 14 through 24, with employment and training related services.

These career pathway services are embedded in the various programs, including Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funded programs, offered by Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Programs (RMCEP).

RMCEP serves 19 counties with offices in eight locations. It received a Round 7 MN DEI grant through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) that runs through March 2020.

As part of this grant, Nancy Stensgard was hired as a disability resource coordinator. Stensgard serves as a bridge linking families, employers, community partners and service providers with information and resources, expanding collaboration and addressing barriers to education and employment.

The first step to accessing this resource is to connect with a youth coordinator or job counselor at the nearest RMCEP location to fill out an application. Referrals also come from schools, county social service agencies, Vocational Rehabilitation and local service providers. Staff will help participants determine eligibility into WIOA and state funded programs, as well as complete an assessment and craft a career pathway.

Stensgard reiterates that “DEI is not ‘another program’ but a collection of best practices and researched based approaches that are person-centered and strength based. By integrating tools such as the Guideposts for Success and Integrated Resource Teams, community collaborations are strengthened and the process of serving persons with disabilities can be made more seamless.”  

Guideposts for Success are five principles that all youth need to transition to adulthood successfully. Activities and action plans are identified under: 1) School Based Preparatory Experiences, 2) Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences, 3) Youth Development and Leadership, 4) Connecting Activities, and 5) Family Involvement and Supports.  

Stensgard describes this as “a holistic approach that address a person’s needs across all life domains including home, school, and community.”

Integrated Resource Teams, more commonly known as “wraparound teams” may include entities such as RMCEP, secondary and post secondary schools, Vocational Rehabilitation and employers. They meet together creatively with the youth and/or family members when necessary to identify solutions to any barriers as well as a personalized blend of services.

DEI intends to improve employment outcomes for persons with disabilities, especially non-visible disabilities that may not be readily apparent, but which can affect social skills and other soft skills like time management, following instructions, engaging with others and working as a team. Stensgard relays that “about 60 percent of our clients with a disclosed disability have an invisible disability such as a mental health diagnosis.”

RMCEP youth programs give participants an opportunity to practice building work skills and soft skills in a setting matched to their unique needs and abilities. These work experiences or credential earning classes can be coordinated with a student’s IEP as well. Post secondary classes and work training opportunities, along with high expectations move a person along their career pathway more successfully.  

Stensgard reminds us that “it is not about the job itself, it is about what the job represents — a way to use one’s talents and passion, the ability to create a meaningful life, and being able to contribute to one’s community.”  RMCEP is here to be a partner on that career pathway.