young man with Down Syndrome serving a customer in a coffee shop

Visit Transition to Adulthood for more resources on the transition process. 

Work is an important part of adult life.  Workers have a feeling of worth by contributing to society, and it’s a meaningful way to spend the day.  Work is a place to learn social skills and responsibility.  Employment is also a way to combat isolation, loneliness, and depression.

People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than people without disabilities.  Work experience during school, postsecondary education, and family involvement help youth be successful as they transition to adulthood.

Where do we start?

One of the first steps is to explore what careers match their strengths, preferences, and interests.  Students likely have completed an Educational Development Plan (EDP) at school.   State law requires local schools to begin developing an EDP in Grade 7 and requires that every student has an EDP before high school.  The EDP shows educational and career goals, a way to achieve these goals, and the activities accomplished.

More getting started resources:

What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs provide employment services for students, youth, and adults with disabilities, empowering them to engage in competitive, integrated employment and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

What are Pre-ETS?

Pre-Employment Transition Services are available through MRS and BSBP to students with disabilities who are age 14-26 who are in a secondary or post-secondary school. Pre-ETS are designed to be an early start at job exploration, and includes:

  1. Job Exploration & Counseling
  2. Work-based Learning
  3. Post-secondary Exploration
  4. Workplace Readiness Training Including Social Skills and Independent Living
  5. Self-Advocacy Instruction

BSBP provides vocational rehabilitation services to individuals who are blind or visually impaired to achieve employment and independence.

What about getting the first job?

Families and youth can work towards that first job by focusing on building skills employers want, developing good work habits, and showcasing talents.

What about working as a volunteer?

Volunteering helps connect people with similar interests and is a good way to develop new skills.  Volunteering can be a great way to gain new experiences and put you in a position to find employment.

What agencies or organizations can help with employment?

Michigan Rehabilitation Services has job coaching as part of their services.  Ticket to Work is a Social Security Administration opportunity that includes job coaching, job counseling, training, benefits counseling and job placement

Job coaches are individuals who specialize in assisting individuals with disabilities to learn and accurately carry out job duties. Job coaches provide one-on-one training tailored to the needs of the employee.

What about accommodations?  After IEPs are gone, then what?

There are two main federal disability-rights laws that protect the rights of adults with disabilities.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 cover postsecondary education and training, employment, and for independent living. Under the ADA you can request an accommodation during the application process or while you are employed, but you first have to disclose that you have a disability.

Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a source for workplace accommodations and disability employment information. 

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeship programs offer the opportunity to earn money while learning technical skills.  This includes job fields like construction, health care, information technology, transportation, and many others. Apprenticeships can open the door to long-term careers for people with disabilities. . 

What is supported employment?

Supported employment is for persons:

  • with more significant disabilities,
  • who need intensive or ongoing job support,
  • who have traditionally been excluded from competitive work settings, or
  • whose work has been interrupted or intermittent because of their disabilities.

Supported employment is based on the principle that individuals with severe disabilities have the right to be employed by community businesses where they can earn comparable wages, work side-by-side with co-workers with or without disabilities, and experience all of the same benefits as other employees of the company. This idea is often referred to as “Employment First.”

Individuals with disabilities fare better financially from working in the community rather than in sheltered workshops.

What is customized employment?

Customized employment is a process for individualizing the employment relationship. Customized employment is an option for individuals who are significantly impacted by their disability and desire competitive, integrated employment. This may include job carving, negotiated job description, or creating a new job description.

What about self-employment?

When you are self-employed, you would be working for yourself rather than for an employer.  You are your own boss. A small business is sometimes called a microenterprise.

Can you work and receive social security?

Work Incentives are special rules that make it possible for SSI beneficiaries to work toward an employment goal while still receiving monthly payments and health care benefits (Medicaid or Medicare).

What about subminimum wage?

Currently some people with disabilities are paid less than minimum wage.  The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) put significantly limits on placements at sheltered workshops where people are paid sub-minimum wage.

Great Resources



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