Savvy Blog

Training Wellness

As high school graduation approaches, parents of teenagers with physical, developmental or learning disabilities may wonder about the next phase of their child’s life. Many local organizations, programs and services are available to help these teens transition to adulthood and into the workforce.

According to Linda Rogers, Easter Seals Arkansas vice president of programs, “Transition to employment opportunities for teens of all abilities begins with a foundation of basic work skills.”

The first step for parents, she said, is to have a firm understanding of their teen’s interests and abilities, and then keep an open mind, while exploring all options.

“Examine all the different ways your child can fit in and the potential for their future,” Rogers said. “Talk about their interests and plan for their abilities. Reinforce those abilities and start them somewhere where they can be successful.”

Vocational training programs for teens with disabilities exist within government agencies, community organizations and educational facilities.

Starting Early

At ACCESS Academy, a private-pay school for students with physical, developmental and learning disabilities, vocational training starts as early as preschool, said Becca Green, the school’s director of marketing and communications. Early on, students focus on developing independence and responsibility. Career education, job shadowing, money management, time management and following directions are incorporated by the time students reach the young adult program, she said.

On Feb. 5, ACCESS is hosting a free presentation, “Turning Point: Life After High School,” where representatives from government agencies, community providers and educational institutions will discuss topics, such as transition, vocational services, job placement, training programs and much more. For more information or to RSVP, call (501) 217-8600.

The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services administers several state and federal programs to help teens ease into the job market. DWS reaches out to high schools through a partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Labor and the Office of Disability Employment Policy. Disability Resource Coordinators work with high school students to establish job clubs, where they discuss issues like communication, networking, enthusiasm, attitude, teamwork, problem solving, money management, establishing goals, professionalism and transitioning into the workforce, said Kimberly Friedman, DWS communications director.

The Arkansas Disability Employment Initiative, a federal grant administered by DWS, assists young people age 14-24 in finding “careers to be self-sustaining,” said Friedman.

“If we reach students early and help them plan, they’ll have an opportunity waiting for them,” Friedman said. “We want self-sustaining, happy individuals in careers that are meaningful. Teens with disabilities may face different barriers to employment. We want to help overcome those barriers. There are opportunities out there for them.”

Another program available in high schools is the Arkansas Transition Project, administered through the Arkansas Department of Career Education’s Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) division. Counselors work directly with high school students with disabilities, said Kimberly Clark, ARS transition counselor.

“We work hand in hand with the school staff to enrich the lives of students and help them develop a plan of action after graduation,” she said, explaining that this plan may be for education or directly into the workforce.

ARS counselors work with students to determine interests, goals, strengths and weaknesses. They also identify community resources, job opportunities and other resources that can help in the transition from high school to adulthood.

Planning for the Next Chapter

In early January, Easter Seals Arkansas opened the Center for Training and Wellness in Little Rock to offer an array of programs and services, such as technological training, job coaching, life skills training, fitness, occupational and speech therapy and much more, Rogers said.

Related to future employment, Easter Seals programs stress professionalism, punctuality, reliability, positive attitudes, attendance and dressing appropriately. Additionally, a skills assessment is performed on each individual, and assistance is provided in searching for jobs, writing resumes, completing job applications, interviewing for jobs and obtaining modifications needed to succeed at a job, Rogers said.

Easter Seals Arkansas’s HIRE Division provides on-site job coaching and community employment placement, as well as job seeking and supported employment, Rogers said.

While individuals must be 18 or older with a high school diploma or GED to access Easter Seals’ adult programs, Rogers urges parents to start planning for the next phase before their teen graduates. She said parents and teens can take a tour of the center and start completing paperwork prior to graduation.

In the future, Rogers hopes to work with high schools so students can access programs at the Center for Training and Wellness before graduation.

After graduation, the ACCESS Life day program is available for individuals age 18-35. This program offers education on healthy lifestyles, developing independence and practicing vocational and social skills, as well as community integration, problem-solving, money management, and on- and off-campus jobs, Green said.

Both Easter Seals and ACCESS also have participant-run businesses offering on-the-job training for individuals with disabilities, including customer service and social skills. Easter Seals’ RENEW Recycling Program provides employment for adults with disabilities, while they also help the community, Rogers said. ACCESS Gardens and ACCESS Ceramics teach students about the retail industry, Green said.

This fall, ACCESS will become the central Arkansas affiliate of Project SEARCH, a national program that provides adults with disabilities, age 18-30, with one-year internships at local businesses, Green said. This program will foster confidence, self-esteem and independence, she said, and give students “the opportunity to acquire competitive, transferrable and marketable job skills.”

Competing in the Workforce

Parents must advocate for their child during this important transition into adulthood, Green said. She suggests parents assess their child’s comfort level, strengths, weaknesses and interests.

Rogers encourages parents to talk to their teens about their interests but not rush getting involved with a program. Volunteering is a good place to start, she said, because it’s an “excellent way of seeing if an interest is the right fit for the individual.”

DWS programs also encourage volunteering and “helping the community and developing skills,” Friedman said.

Friedman encourages parents to talk to their teen’s school guidance counselor about the options available after graduation. Another option is visiting a DWS workforce center, where staff can help refer individuals with disabilities to training and educational programs, like apprenticeships or needed accommodations, she said.

For teens with disabilities, training and learning what to expect in the workforce will put them on the road to success and ensure that they become competitive in the job market. Vocational training also enhances self-esteem and promotes independence, Friedman said.

“It is a competitive job market,” Rogers said. “Teens with disabilities are competing with others for the same jobs so they must have skills an employer is looking for. We can help identify an individual’s interests, strengths and abilities. Training can be provided to give the individual an edge in the job market.”

Who Can Help?


ACCESS, (501) 217-8600

Arkansas Department of Workforce Services

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, a division of the Department of Career Education

Easter Seals Arkansas Center for Training and Wellness, call (501) 367-1204

Erica Sweeney is thrilled to be editor of Savvy Kids. She has been a regular contributor to the magazine and loves sharing information with the families of central Arkansas.
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