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Entrance into the real world of employment – A parent’s perspective

Jackie Charchuk

For any parent whose child has just graduated from high school and is hoping to enter the world of work, the prospect of this is scary and worrisome. If that child happens to have a disability, there are even more fears and worries. I have experience this first hand with our daughter Janet, who has Down syndrome and graduated from high school in 2001. As I look back on how we prepared for this I have a few thoughts on what we did along the way that helped her enter the real world of employment.

From an early age we helped Janet participate in community activities with her peers that involved volunteer work. Some examples of this include organizations like Brownies and Guides, Allied Youth, church youth groups etc. Thus she was known in our community as a young person who contributed and participated in community life.   At home she had jobs and chores just like her siblings and as a family we worked together on projects such as building a camp or gardening.  So as Janet was growing up she gained skills to help with her entrance into the real world of employment.  She learned the value of doing a job well, having to work to reach a goal, and the enjoyment of working with others.

In High School Janet took courses that helped her gain employability skills and experiences. Some examples include Foods and Nutrition and Co-operative Education (where she had on the job experiences in a supervised setting such as the school library and cafeteria and off site at a seniors’ residence.)  During the summer Janet had summer jobs ranging from kitchen helper at a seniors’ residence, work at a public library and program helper at youth camps.  Some were volunteer placements but others were paid through subsidised funds to the employer obtained through grants such as the “Opportunities Fund” from federal and/or provincial government.

As Janet was nearing graduation the thought of what she was going to do every day to replace the setting of school was worrisome. The goal, as for any young person entering the real world of employment, was full time paid employment.  But our real world is rural PEI and it is a challenge for most people to have full time employment and with a disability - almost impossible. At this time I realized I needed to be even more of an advocate for Janet and we would have to compromise. 

As part of Janet’s transition planning from High School we met with the staff from our Non Government Organization, Community Inclusions, that provides services for adults with Intellectual Disabilities in our area.  This organization has an employment division with a full time employment counsellor and job coach.  We have worked with them for the past 12 years and they have helped Janet in her journey with employment. Besides helping with finding employment and providing job coaching when needed, Community Inclusions has delivered employability courses which have benefited Janet. 

Janet has had a variety of jobs and accessed funding from a variety of sources to subsidize her wages as she gained skills on the job. At other times she was a typical paid employee. She has worked full time or part time depending on the time of year or job placement.  She has worked at more than one job at a time or in just one location.  All of these experiences are similar to other young people entering the real world of employment.  You need these experiences to find your way towards the career to which you are best suited and a job you really love.

Right now Janet works 4 days a week at a home based day care where she loves the children and the owner and they love her! The other day a week she works on advocacy volunteer work with the Canadian Down Syndrome Society where she is the chair of VATTA (Voices at the Table Advocacy group) writing articles, doing research, or contributing to their blog.  She is also a motivational speaker and at times works on presentations that she gives to youth groups, educators, law societies, etc. She is also working on a book that she and I are co writing.

My journey with Janet towards meaningful employment has been a learning experience for both of us.  Volunteering, creative problem solving, using the resources in our community, and focusing on her strengths have all led to Janet becoming a valued and successful employee and volunteer.