- by Nancy Hawkins and Pam Walker
As adults, we often identify ourselves by the vocation we have chosen. Our jobs and work places become an extension of our identity, self-esteem and purpose. Tragically, in some of our client's lives this sense of identity is destroyed as the result of a tragic accident or illness; we are suddenly unable to continue our lifelong career path. Or even worse, we cannot even begin to develop an alternative career path. What is one to do when faced with this kind of redefinition of self? There are no simple answers. This process of rediscovery is intricately involved and requires an unflagging commitment from both client an provider alike.
The first and most important step of this process is for the provider to understand the philosophy that an individual can find a way to be productive regardless of ability. In seeking a path for our clients, it is essential, that we, as providers, focus our rehabilitative efforts and our clients attentions on the considerable abilities that they still possess. If we do not, together client and provider risk being distracted by ruminating on those abilities that the client may have lost. This accomplished, it then becomes the responsibility of the providing agency to identify potential job sites and work experience locations in the community.
A typical search for supported employment usually focuses on service oriented positions because these jobs are readily available due to their high turnover rate. In addition, these jobs require only entry level skills and are comprised of responsibilities that are easily organized and simplified. Common service jobs include, but are not limited to: food service workers, custodians, service station attendants, warehouse stockworkers and laundry workers. Service jobs are not the only positions that have been successfully utilized for supported employment however. Some additional ones include file clerk, day care assistant, veterinary assistant, data entry clerk, teachers aide and automotive helper.
It is important not to lose our creativity when looking at employment possibilities. The search for supported employment should not be limited to service oriented positions. Often the client can return, given some supports, to a position similar to their pre-injury employment. A gentleman who was a minister responsible for a large parish was confronted by problems after his mild concussion. He feared that because of his short term memory deficits he could no longer be effective in the counseling component of his job. With a little creativity, however, a solution was found. His wife became his assistant, preparing him before counseling sessions with specifics and sitting in on the session with him (to take notes). Within six months his congregation assimilated this unique idea and expressed satisfaction with the new arrangement. His career was maintained.
A client's family members must also be considered when looking at possible job placements. The family's moral values and perspective on a potential placement will lend itself to the client's feeling of self worth and success. If a family believes being a custodian is less than desirable, the pressure of this may result in placement failure. If a family's religious teachings disagree with working on Sunday, a client will not be satisfied with a position that requires Sunday working hours. It is important to conceive of the placement as a joint venture, not a solo act. As much as the job coach and client create a team, the family and other involved professionals become the cheerleaders and relief players. If we treat them like spectators, that is what they will become.
When approaching potential employers, it is essential to explain how job coaching and job support work. The care provider must carefully explain to the potential employer exactly how a job situation can be arranged which will provide optimal job training for the provider's client without interfering with the employer's own productivity or with that of his other employees. We have all experienced the need to educate families, educators, and even physicians about brain injuries. Likewise, employers are not born understanding vocational rehabilitation, so they must be educated. There will always be individuals who are not interested in learning. However, for every one of those encounters, there exists one who is open to the experience. It becomes a matter of a persistent search.
While you are developing potential job sites, your client must be assessed and evaluated to determine strengths, interests, endurance as well as work readiness. First, the client should be using a series of examinations designed to determine the client's vocational aptitude and attitude. The assessment is a diagnostic procedure whose sole intent is to determine a client's strengths and weaknesses. These tests will quickly help the provider to determine the scope of the job evaluation and job search. There is little time devoted to career exploration and development. However, using the the information gained from the assessment, the provider can proceed with an evaluation in which the client is placed in job-like situations and observed for behavior, safety awareness and willingness to participate. The evaluation should entail a hands-on participatory environment in which the client's attitudes and aptitudes can be tested experientially. The evaluation process is a shared one and may take days or weeks.
Once assessment and evaluation have been completed and a potential job position has been put in place, the provider's next step is to select a job coach. The job coach and the client must form a team. This team is the key factor in success. The job coach must be personable, have a working understanding of a client's abilities, and possess the ability to juggle many people, problems and duties while remaining focused on the individual they serve. Their many responsibilities include:
Vocational placement is not as simple as putting client A into slot A. Sometimes we must allow an individual to attempt a position that has been identified as not suitable in order to move forward - success after failure. Reality in a safe setting often lends itself to growth. We must keep in mind that many adults tried their hand at other jobs before deciding on a life long career. Our clients deserve the same opportunity, as long as they are not placed in a known risk.
Supported employment programs have been developed to insure the disabled the same right to work as the non-disabled. Many individuals with a disability can perform in a competitive job. They have the right to earn wages and benefits equal to a non-disabled worker. (There are some special compensation arrangements available for individuals with severe disabilities who are not competitive but have a desire to work.) As workers they contribute to their own care as well as to the economy, they promote their independence and self esteem and decreased their boredom and frustration. Pursuing a vocation can be a life long experience. Vocational coordinators and job coaches are the invaluable keys to that search's success. Remember, we all deserve that chance, no matter what are abilities, or disabilities, are.
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Revised: Saturday, March 30, 2002