According to the Department of Labor, by 2020, there will be millions of jobs available without enough people to fill them. Conversely, by some estimates, nearly 85% of individuals with disabilities are under or unemployed. To help reduce those numbers, the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Education jointly finalized the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) in October, 2016.
The new regulations and guidelines are intended to encourage “innovative strategies that support coordination to improve workforce development, employment services, and vocational rehabilitation services.” These WIOA goals and initiatives are achievable by implementing evidence-based practices, collecting accurate and timely data, enforcing accountability measures, and increasing adult basic education and literacy education– many of which can be achieved through the expanded use of technology.
WIOA is a unique and under-utilized resource for schools, organizations, and agencies with transitioning individuals aged 14-21 as is the use of technology to help those transitioning individuals with special needs. “One of the most exciting aspects of WIOA is the way it encourages the use of technology to aid in the transition process,” explains Dr. Alice Parker, Chairperson of the ONEder Advisory Board, “WIOA almost mandates using technology, in the form of data collection, which is really essential to being able to demonstrate program effectiveness for accountability measures, or an individual’s preparedness for work.”
As mentioned previously, data collection isn’t the only case for using technology in transition programs. Using technology in transition can also help to:
● Personalize instruction or training for individuals with disabilities, making content accessible for each learner at their level.
● Differentiate career and interest inventories or skills assessments so they both accurately evaluate an individual’s strengths and uncover interests as well as provide relevant resources for those pursuing career and technical education (CTE) pathways.
● Provide resources, such as visual schedules, GPS-enabled routing maps, or timed reminders to increase a user’s self-determination.
● Include accommodations, such as text to speech or enlarged text, that are automatically enabled, to increase independence for those with disabilities.
Benefits of Using Technology
There are many benefits to using these kinds of technology with youth with disabilities who are undertaking the post-school transition in the CTE field. According to Melanie Johnson, Executive Director of Brite Success in Texas, one of the most important benefits of using technology with her clients is the way it provides ongoing support and resources to ensure her clients are successful on the job. “By giving my clients a tool to refer to when they need it – whether it’s a visual schedule or tips for specific situations – we build self-determination, confidence, and enable them to become increasingly independent.”
Another benefit is increasing capacity. When the Arc of Northern Virginia created a travel curriculum (TravelMate) using the ONEder special education platform, they saw an eight-fold increase in the number of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) who were serviced by their partner organizations. Almost 100% of program participants increased their ability to travel independently to and from work with less support, while nearly half increased their ability to travel independently alone with TravelMate.
TravelMate project coordinator Kymberly DeLoatche, explains, “One of the hallmarks of this project is that it has changed the expectation of travel training for individuals with IDD. Before the project, everyone involved with people with IDD knew travel training was a necessary piece of transition to adulthood and employment from the school system, but no one knew quite how to accomplish it in a real or sustainable way. With the provision of TravelMate through The Arc of Northern Virginia’s Travel Training Program, which was developed using information from Easter Seals Project Action and WMATA’s own guidelines and resources, now teachers have a usable curriculum that is available in a way that engages these individuals and that they can utilize at home to practice so that the professional, the individual seeking to use public transit, and their family members are ALL empowered to work towards achieving this skill, which is so desperately needed for a higher level of independence.”
Finally, using technology allows individuals with disabilities to blend in rather than to stand out. “Imagine, how much more inclusive it is to have a smartphone or iPad – just like your peers – instead of having a job coach shadow your every move,” said ONEder Advisory Board member Dr. Alexa Posny. “By using technology just like everyone else, you bridge the gap between individuals with disabilities and their peers building an environment of true inclusion.“ “With my ONEder app, I can do more things without help and without looking like someone different,” explained PJ, a Brite Success client working in Walgreens.