Tools and Tricks to Assist Disabled Students in Gaining Employment

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Special needs students are presented with a challenge, in school, that non-disabled students do

not face. That challenge is the inability to become gainfully employed; and results from some situations, not always by design, and that is because they have very little interaction with other adults and other students. This can be a barrier to employment when they go out into the real world. They are in a situation where typical behavior, and interactions are not something they can easily interchange with and learn from every day. This poses a social-emotional, interpersonal and psychological challenge because they have not had an inclusive school experience; many times, special needs students are separated or integrated into classrooms, and true integration does not happen. (Fitch 2003).

At the school where I work, as a Transition Specialist, for an 18+ program, it is our job to work on skills that relate directly to our student's goals, and make a plan for each student that will support their goals, despite the challenges they face as a person with a disability. We have found that this what works in preparing our students for the workforce:


This is the most challenging and most frustrating part of this process. Especially, if you are on a traditional campus and only have a short time with the students. The process is called Self-Determination. A great site called, I'm Determined, has lessons, worksheets, and videos that will give the student an idea of what self-determination is and how to get them to start thinking more goal-oriented. The sooner a student gets involved in planning for their lives, the more drive they will have to accomplish the goal.


The next step is to have the student talk to their parents about their dreams, hopes, and goals. Sometimes, this is a new concept for many families, so I find it best for the student to talk to the parent before we plan to meet. The student should schedule a meeting with all of the people that support them in their life. This could be a neighbor, grandparent, sister, etc. The meeting style in my program is called a Personal Centered Plan (PCP), and many governmental agencies use this same format (Minnesota University, 1998). The format we use is very visual, and we write all ideas and concerns on very large pieces of paper so that everything is seen and documented. This plan is helpful because, if a student wants to be heard, the reality of how everything can be done as far as support, transportation, and agency connections can be addressed. Once the plan is made this is when the student’s work starts.


Much like is a business and in life, our special needs students need to know their why, as well. It may not be as reflective and deep as yours or mine, but it gives them a direction and drive. But many, I have heard, are no different than typical students their ages. Some examples I hear are: I want to make money, I want to buy a car, I want to help my family, I want an apartment. If the answer is because my parents are making me, or I don’t know, these students will struggle to find the motivation to do the work.


I know many students have not worked, but a resume is a tool to store information. It makes it easier to apply for jobs online, on sites like, who can create a profile for you if you upload your Resume. This makes applying for jobs more accessible to students that have a hard time with spelling or grammar or forget information. Students will be able to copy off of the resume to complete a paper or online application. I always add jobs that students do at school or in the community, as well as references. This is a valuable tool as well for those with phones. They can save it on their phone and have all the information they need in one place.


This may seem like a strange tip for getting ready for work, but research suggests that even the highest functioning special needs adults should participate in social skills, necessary for employment. (Yamamoto et. al. 2013). These are much different from the typical lessons on social skills. Intelligent students that have had social skills training, usually have all the answers, but struggle to execute the steps when faced with real life situations. I have had many students with stellar grades struggle ordering a soda at McDonald’s, because they had never experienced ordering anything and therefore lacked the social skill necessary to do so, until this exercise. These experiences give students confidence and success in less intimidating situations.


This trick I started recently. Many of my students suffer from short-term memory loss and forget things very easily. It only takes a few minutes to talk about what we did right, and how we can improve next time. This reflective tip reinforces the objective of practicing the skills and ultimately helps them to remember.


I was watching an awards’ show and heard Gabrielle Union teasing her mom about being a dream killer. It was comical, but in a position as a support person for a student with special needs, it is important to stay positive and not to be a “dream killer”. I have met many students with a very big dream of becoming a basketball player; singer; or rapper; but, before you kill their dream, you also have to think that in their eyes that may mean a different thing than you imagine. One of my students plays in the local basketball league. His dream was fulfilled; another student performed at his dayhab’s talent show and his dream was fulfilled; and I have had students who became amateur singers, with their parent’s support. It is our job most times to get them ready for their first job. Make sure they have the skills, the rest is in the hands of the family that supports the student and the student to take it as far as they can go.

In conclusion, many of the work interactions are social and collaborative. These skills have to be practiced, so that students will find and keep jobs. If the above 7 steps are followed, more students will be successful in finding work. Hopefully, they will make valuable connections at work (CNBC, 2018). I always tell my students that everyone wants to work with people that they like and enjoy more than grouchy and rude people.


Minnesota Univ., M. I. on C. I., & Minnesota Univ., M. R. and T. C. on R. S. and C. L. (1998). Person-Centered Planning with Youth and Adults Who Have Developmental Disabilities. Impact, 11(2).

Fitch, F. (2003). Inclusion, Exclusion, and Ideology: Special Education Students’ Changing Sense of Self. The Urban Review: Issues and Ideas in Public Education, 35(3), 233–252.

Yamamoto, S., Kagami, Y., Ogura, M., & Isawa, S. (2013, January 1). Effects of Basic Social Skills Training and Simulation Training on Acquisition of Social Skills Related to Employment: Adults With High-Functioning Pervasive Developmental Disorders. JAPANESE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION, 51(3), 291–300.

CNBC (2018, November 13). Why work friendships are critical for long-term happiness. Retrieved, February 20, 2022 from

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