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The Team Approach for Vocational Success!


Greetings everyone!

Transition planning at its core should always start with who the person is and what are those things that make for a happy life. For many people it is the opportunity to work and contribute in some meaningful way to our social fabric. Those contributions can be reflected in different ways. Some people hope to work for someone else and others want to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of self-employment. In either instance the young adult will probably need a circle of support to make the dream happen. I am excited to introduce our next facilitator for Trending Topics is Debbie Fiderer.

Debbie is the Coordinator of the Community Services Program at HKNC. She has over 20 years of experience providing vocational services to Deaf-Blind youth and adults including vocational assessment , counseling , career development and job placement. She is a terrific resource and her department has a great track record in negotiating relationships with employers and they know a thing or two about creative approaches to addressing challenges associated supporting deaf-blind people in the community. She will tell you more about herself shortly.

Please jump right in and engage!



Mike Fagbemi

Posted 8 Mo. Ago by Mike Fagbemi

7 144 views
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Comments (7)

Hi Marlene - I totally agree with all your insights below. We see a lot of those difficulties especially in retail environments where there is significant staff turnover and the managers are frequently reassigned to different stores. Soft skills training is so important. We offer a group class and provide that training one on one as needed. The group class is great because the participants learn from each other and the instructors. It is important to provide training on how to know what accommodations you need and how to ask for them. I’m always surprised when our consumers think that their supervisor should know what they need! No, especially for the young adults recently out of school where they were entitled to supports and accommodations determined by their teachers, it is important for them to understand that the responsibility now falls on them to request what they need to be successful. It’s part self- advocacy, part education, part becoming an adult. In our soft skills class, i tell participants that if they don’t request an accommodation they need and fail on their job, the responsibility lies on them, not the employer. Of course, when providing our services, we support our consumers with this on the job. Later, if we are out of the picture, not having this skill set could easily lead to unemployment.

Debbie Fiderer

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Debbie Fiderer

Hi Debra,
Sure - we have some interesting success stories with our transition age kids. One thing to always remember is that the best transition services should begin early! When I started at HKNC back in 2000, there was very little emphasis on transition services. The schools may have had some adequate vocational programming but there was no strong priority to ensure a smooth transition to adult services. Sometimes, all the transition service entailed was making a referral to the state VR agency several months before graduating. If the student or family did not follow through, that was it. We would meet young people in their mid 20s applying for services having graduated from high school at age 21 and done nothing since then. Thankfully things sure have changed! Now we try to connect to the kids in the local schools for the Deaf and elsewhere as early as possible to provide summer work experiences and training in their homes and communities to develop independence.
Here’s a great success story i like to share:
Amy is a young deaf-blind woman who attended a BOCES vision and hearing program within a local public school. Most of her academics were contained in the Deaf program but she integrated into the rest of the school for some electives, PE, and some academics like science. The HKNC Community Services Program staff and her VR counselor from the Commission for the Blind attended her IEP meetings in the last 2-3 years of her high school program. The school, HKNC, and the Commission worked collaboratively on programming tailored to develop independently living skills and exposure to vocational options. She participated in the 2 week summer Young Adult Program (YAP) at HKNC which gave her an opportunity to meet other deaf-blind young adults and begin to explore options for careers, school, an independent living. During the school year, Amy received Orientation and Mobility training in her home area - she learned how to walk safely in her neighborhood and go to a local Target store herself. She learned how to use the local para-transit service. Amy’s mom also participated in the training because it’s often the parents who are most nervous about independent travel! Amy received vision rehab in the home to help her take on age-appropriate chores and responsibilities such as preparing snacks and meals, cleaning and laundry, etc (Her siblings who were already doing these things really appreciated that!) Another summer, Amy was involved with the CSP Summer Youth Employment Program and we supported her with getting her first work experience at a local Marshall’s where she worked several days per week doing stock and replenishment. Amy had a job coach who initially provided interpreting support and then helped Amy develop communication systems so that she can independently communicate with her supervisor and co-workers. Now that she was earning a paycheck, vision rehab staff began working with Amy on some personal finance and money management skills and helped her open a bank account of her own. By the end of the summer, Amy had done so well in her work experience at Marshall’s that they hired her to work weekends when the summer was over. Amy worked at Marshall’s independently on Saturdays throughout the rest of high school.
As Amy neared graduation, CSP again attended her IEP meetings. The focus was on next steps for her future. Because HKNC, VR and the school had started early and provided Amy with many learning opportunities related to employment and independence, Amy had a lot of personal experiences to draw on to make an informed decision about what she wants to do. The first thing she said at her final IEP meeting was that she loved working at Marshalls but she definitely didn’t want to do that for the rest of her life!
We proposed that Amy participate in a comprehensive vocational assessment which she and her family were agreeable to. Based on her experiences in school and in the vocational assessment, Amy showed an interest in art and working with children however there were concerns with Amy working in a direct care role with children due to her additional disabilities. The job placement specialist developed a work experience at a local library in the children’s library. Amy started this work experience 1 day/week and slowly built up to 3-4 days a week over the course of almost a year. Amy’s job responsibilities were varied and included reshelving books, setting up for the activities, creating craft projects for children, decorating for the holidays, etc.
The work experience was a wonderful opportunity and the library hired Amy as a Library Page. The were so supportive of her success in the library that they reappropriated a position reserved for part-time high school students for her. She has been working there for about a year and a half and there is room for growth if she wishes to pursue a Library Clerk position through the county civil service program. And Amy still works at Marshall’s on Saturdays! Amy is in our Supported Employment Program which allows us to visit her regularly, address any issues that come up as needed.
Every deaf-blind person’s story is unique but some of the factors that I think contributed to success in Amy’s situation are:
- early engagement with the school and family
- a team of service providers to address all aspects of Amy’s life as she enters adulthood
- a VR counselor who understood and supported a more flexible approach to services
- summer programming that offered Amy many opportunities to explore vocational options with support
- the ability to participate in paid work experiences - for both work experiences Amy engaged in, the experience acted as a “foot in the door” for her and gave her a chance to prove herself to the employers. In many cases like this, it works!

Debbie Fiderer

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Debbie Fiderer

Hi Mike,
I wanted to chime in here with what I have seen as being the biggest two reasons why people with disabilities lose their jobs. One is not having the needed soft skills required to maintain employment. This is so crucial. The other thing I have seen is when there is a supervisor change and they don’t understand the accommodations that the person has been given by the prior supervisor. How to prevent this? Having youth with disabilities learning soft skills prior, during and after they obtain employment. Also once they have obtained employment having the CRP really work with them on the soft skills, educating them about contacting DVR (if they don’t have long-term support) as soon as there are any sign of issues on the job, and really focusing in on natural supports. For those who have long-term supports really having a CRP who understands, or assisting them with learning about, consumers who have combined vision and hearing loss. Unfortunately the majority of people throughout the US do not have the level of support of the consumers who work with HKNC’s New York program ongoing.

Marlene Swarts

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Marlene Swarts

Hi Deb, developing jobs in the community presents a number of challenges. One of the challenges which is often not discussed is supporting this person in keeping the job. What are some of the best practices that you find to be most successful in reducing recidivism ?

Mike Fagbemi

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Mike Fagbemi

Hello all and Happy Holidays!
I am excited to facilitate the discussion on this topic - supporting Deaf-blind individuals with accessing the services and supports they need for vocational success is what I get to do everyday as the Coordinator of the Community Services Program at HKNC. It is especially appropriate that discussion on this topic follows Dee Spinkston's forum on Person Centered Planning. The PCP process is an essential part of transition planning and can be engaged in on an ongoing basis as young Deaf-blind individuals grow and move into adulthood. Here in NY, the Community Services Program functions in many ways as the direct service providers to help carry out the action plans developed in the PCP.
The Community Services Program (CSP) is a unique model program providing transdisciplinary services to Deaf-blind youth and adults. Our staff consist of professionals in many of the disciplines that Deaf-blind individuals can access to attain greater independence. They include Orientation and Mobility Specialists, Vision Rehabilitation Instructors, Vocational Placement Specialists, job coaches, and case managers. The "Team" approach encompasses even more players depending on the needs of the Deaf-blind individual. These include the VR counselor, low vision specialists, audiologists, community mental health providers, community habilitation providers for individuals with intellectual disabilities, supported housing staff, etc.
Under WIOA, initiation of VR services is encouraged at an earlier age and greater intensity than before through the use of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The vocational services offered through Pre-ETS include:
- Work Based learning – internships, summer jobs, and other worksite based learning experiences
- Job exploration counseling
- Counseling about vocational and educational opportunities
- Job readiness skills development such as independent living skills and social skills development
- Self advocacy skills development
While the first 3 services focus particularly on vocational goals and skills development, the last 2 services are areas where our Deaf-blind students often miss out. Skills such as the ability to plan a trip and travel, express their goals and develop their own action plans, manage their time and follow a schedule, communicate with the hearing public, carry out age appropriate home management tasks, manage personal income and pay bills are all part of a foundation of skills and knowledge that are essential for living and working successfully in the community. This is where the team approach really makes a difference.
There are many topics to explore in this forum. I would love to hear your successes and challenges with developing that team of service providers and resources. What have your experiences been with vocational services and how have you worked with VR to ensure that your Deaf-blind students are able to fully access transition services? I will also share some success stories that our students here in NY have had!

Debbie Fiderer

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Debbie Fiderer

Hi Debbie,
What would you say are the top 3 effective strategies for teaming for vocational success, as well as the top 3 barriers to doing so?

Charlotte  Spinkston

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Charlotte Spinkston


Ms. Fiderer,

Can you share a success story from beginning to end, please? I am very much interested in the negotiating relationships with employers and your creative approaches.

Debra Pickens/ NC Co-Director for the Deaf-Blind Project

Debra Pickens

Posted 7 Mo. Ago by Debra Pickens

NCDB : The Research Institute : Western Oregon University : 345 N. Monmouth Ave. : Monmouth, OR 97361
Contact Us: 800-438-9376 |

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