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Students with disabilities learn about 'real world'

November 21, 2011
Jenn Brookens , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - The transition from high school to adulthood is a difficult one, even more so for students with disabilities.

Fairmont is one of the few areas that still has a strong Community Interagency Transition Committee, which is meant to help in the transition from student to adult for people with disabilities.

"It was never funded, but the committees are still supposed to be operating, but most aren't," said LeeAnn Erickson of ARC southwest. "Ideally, it's to inform families about the resources available to help these young adults become more independent, so they can get that extra support in leaving school and transitioning into adult life."

Article Photos

Martin County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Vasvick talks to a group of students about issues such as getting a driver’s license and harassment during a recent seminar.

Local counties, employment agencies and schools have a good collaboration, according to Erickson.

"The key to living independently is not by doing it alone," Erickson said. "Many can live as independently as possible with the right support. And that's the purpose of this transition is knowing the resources that are out there. If you can't do it on your own, who can help you?"

During a recent seminar that brought together students from five area school districts, there were staff from Minnesota Valley Action Council, Avery Weigh-Tronix, Kerry Ingredients and Minnesota West college on hand to give job hints.

"The disability employment rate has always been low," Erickson said. "They didn't get employed even when the job market was good."

These days, it's even tougher with the poor economy and lack of jobs.

"A lot of these people are not going to come across well, doing the traditional filling out the job application route," Erickson said.

She cited one young adult who had been fired from employment areas for people with disabilities and from group homes.

"This young man was fired 17 times," Erickson said. "So we asked him to list three things he liked. He listed music, drama, and kids. What they did was took him to the local YMCA to meet and talk with the manager. He had been a cheerleader in high school, so they let him volunteer to do cheers with the kids there. As he got acquainted with more people, he ended up getting a paid job to do exercise and dancing. One of his issues was he liked to be bossy, and in that setting he could be."

Instead of simply taking students around to places of employment looking for jobs, Erickson said some of the best matches are made simply by introducing the students to their areas of interest.

"We ask, 'What's important to you,' and have them list three things. Then we just go and talk to people in those areas, and sometimes that's how jobs just happen," Erickson said. "A lot of times, we see success through the small single-business proprietor."

Another example Erickson gave was a student whose main interest was swords.

"It'd be tough to find a job just dealing with swords," Erickson said. "But he was taken to a museum, and he clicked with a person there, and that led to him being a part of a business that specially dealt with swords. The business didn't last, but from there, he had received training in working with steel, and he was able to take those skills and apply them to a job he likes."

Jobs are not the only factor in managing in the real world.

"They also need to learn self-advocacy, being able to stand up for themselves, and knowing where to find others to turn to when there's trouble," Erickson said.

Enter the many self-advocacy groups such as SMILES and People First! And of course, there's law enforcement.

"They always have a lot of interest in someone in a uniform," Erickson said, as the students asked deputy Chris Vasvick of the Martin County Sheriff's Office all sorts of different questions from dealing with harassment to getting a driver's license.

The seminar also shows students they are not alone in their situations.

"There are other people out there in the same situation, and together they can all do much more," Erickson said.

For more information on resources available to people with disabilities, contact ARC southwest at (507) 235-8580.



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