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High Expectations for Employment

Winner of the World Cerebral Palsy Day 2017 Contribution Award, US based project ‘High Expectations’ is helping teens and young adults with physical disabilities open new doors with on-the-job training and experience.

This project was a World Cerebral Palsy Day Award winner in 2017. Enter your project or campaign in the 2018 Awards!

The project

Run by the Center for Independence through Conductive Education in Illinois USA, the objective of the High Expectations program is to prepare individuals with disabilities for workplace success and expand job opportunities through collaboration with local businesses.

The Center has a mission to: ensure children and young adults with physical disabilities are healthy, independent, self-determined, fully participating members of the community.

With that goal in mind, they deliver intensive training programs that focus on improving life and self-care skills, work readiness, self-direction and self-advocacy.

A parent of a participant explains the benefits:

“I think it’s a fantastic way to get a door open for the disabled community in a work environment. Thank you so much for the opportunity this has given my daughter. She needs work experience to qualify for most jobs and this is going to help her as she moves forward. I think it also helps the employers involved realize they can provide work opportunities for the disabled in their companies.”

As a great testament to the project’s benefits,  one participant was hired in a permanent job after completing the internship.

The plan

Participants for the vocational training program came from the Center’s Intensive Motor Training Program. All of them live with cerebral palsy.

A transdiciplinary team of physical therapists, occupational therapists and conductive education teachers work with participants to get them work ready.

Getting students to identify interests and skills to facilitate job choice is the first step.

‘Soft skills’ required for work readiness such as organization, time management, social etiquette and dress and workplace norms are taught to all participants, as are technological skills and navigating the community via transport.

Participants also create a resume and undertake mock interviews to familiarise themselves with the process.

Staff help students with networking to identify potential job shadowing, internships or employment opportunities.

Understandably, the project is not without challenges, particularly when it comes to finding placements.

Social Worker, Ani Hunt, explains, “A major challenge in getting the vocational program off the ground was identifying businesses that were willing to take on an intern. The apprehension wasn’t due to unwillingness to hire a someone with a physical disability, rather the inability to change long-standing hiring policies and practices within the company.”

Working together

The Center for Independence partnered with AT&T, The Coleman Foundation, BlueCross/BlueShield of Illinois, and United Way to get the project up and running.

Numerous other local businesses have supported the project and have established an ongoing relationship with the Center’s vocational program.

Key achievements

To date 38 participants have completed the program with placements including:

  • paid internships
  • paid part-time employment
  • volunteer placements, and
  • additional work readiness training for younger participants.

The outcomes have been extremely beneficial for participants, not just by giving them skills and experience, but also building their self-confidence.

Feedback from participants speaks for itself:

B: I want to work and I know that I can contribute. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show people that I have skills. I now have a job on my resume! It has given me a lot of confidence!

R: I want to be a preschool teacher. I have gone on so many interviews and now I finally have a job. Thank you! With the experience I have from working in the day care, I think I will be able to find a part-time job doing what I have always wanted to do.

D: Thanks for the encouraging words! I can’t wait to do another job!

Where to from here?

The project has been established as a sustainable offering at the Center for Independence for Conductive Learning and there are plans for expansion.

“We plan to expand our reach to individuals who attend our newly opened location in the southwest suburbs where the majority of families are low income. This year we are focused on potential long-term employment at these sites once the internship has ended,” explains Ani Hunt.