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Planning Beyond High School (continued)

In addition to the Individual Transition Plan, the DDS Transition Coordinator helps families learn about the services and supports that the Department provides to adults. This includes an array of possibilities: service coordination, individual and family support, employment support, transportation and residential support. Typically, the Department provides employment services and supports through a network of qualified Employment Service Providers. There are about 100 employment service providers throughout Massachusetts, allowing each young adult a choice in finding a program that is a good match, based on his/her needs and the availability of DDS funding. See the following section to learn more about what employment service providers offer, how to find them and how to decide the best match for your son or daughter.

Assuming your son/daughter:

  • Has left high school

  • Has had an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) written with the help of the school and DDS Transition Coordinator

  • Has been found eligible for DDS adult services

The DDS area office will next assign a Service Coordinator to your family. And, just like the school assembled a team of professionals for IEP meetings, the Service Coordinator will assemble a team who will work together to develop an Individual Support Plan (ISP) for your young adult. The ISP team may be made up of representatives from adult service programs, such as employment service providers, additional involved professionals and others you and your young adult choose to invite. The Service Coordinator will provide information about different services in your area and help make referrals to a DDS-funded employment service provider, based on the plan that has been developed for your young adult and the funding that is available. The ISP, like an IEP, is an on-going process of establishing goals for your young adult and identifying supports, assessments and strategies that will help him/her reach those goals.

Employment service providers are organizations that contract with DDS and other state agencies to offer a range of employment services for young adults with intellectual disabilities. When comparing employment service providers, families will find that some specialize in job placement and support while others specialize in comprehensive planning and assessment, and others do it all. Since employment services providers vary in a number of ways, it is important that families and job seekers are actively involved in deciding which employment service provider and type of program is the best fit. People with disabilities and their families have more say in the services they receive than they may realize.

Here is a list of the types of services offered by employment service provider programs to assist young adults in finding jobs:

  • Development of a career plan to identify a job search direction and a job-finding process, created with input from the young adult and his/her family

  • Assessment of skills and interests

  • Arranging job try-outs and job-shadowing experiences

  • Time-limited job skills training, such as computer skills training

  • Help with developing a resume

  • Job development assistance, including locating and talking to employers about jobs and the hiring process

  • Job coach assistance in the workplace, which focuses on learning job tasks, adjusting to job requirements and ensuring a stable, ongoing employment experience

  • Follow-up support to the worker and employer

  • Assistance in arranging accommodations that may be needed on the job

  • Travel-training assistance and/or help with arranging transportation

  • Information and guidance on the impact of earning an income on public benefits

The types of employment services available to your young adult will depend on the steps s/he has already taken:

  • If your son or daughter obtained a job while in school, then the focus of services will be on job coaching and ongoing support services to enable continued success on the job.

  • If your son or daughter is just beginning his/her employment search, then services will most likely start with an assessment of interests, skills and abilities, followed by the development of a career plan, and help in finding and keeping a job.

Success Story: A Seamless Transition from School to Work


Even before he had graduated from high school in Pittsfield, BRIAN started a job he loved, thanks to thoughtful and thorough pre-planning at his high school and collaboration with a local employment provider and the DDS area office. Brian became a gardener at Hancock Shaker Village. How did the transition from school to work go so smoothly? It started when the high school and DDS developed an Individual Transition Plan for Brian at age 19. Brian had not enjoyed the culinary arts and clerical courses he had taken at school and was anxious to find a career that suited him. The high school and DDS arranged a full vocational evaluation for Brian, which was conducted by a local employment service provider. When horticulture emerged as an area of great interest from the evaluation, arrangements were made for Brian to take double classes in the subject. The fit was right! From there, the provider used its established relationship with Hancock Shaker Village to arrange a position for Brian in its garden department. Furthermore, Brian's team worked it out so that he could start his job before graduation, and the transition was seamless. Central to Brian's success was having an employment provider who started working with him while he was still in school. Gone were Brian's anxieties about working, replaced by a genuine satisfaction with his gardening position.

Not all employment service programs are alike; they vary in size, types and variety of services offered, qualifications of staff, range of people served, and most importantly, quality of results.

One of the ways in which employment service programs differ is based on the employment model they use. Individual job placement is the most typical employment model. This is an integrated, individual job placement where a young adult is working in a regular job in the community, hired and paid directly by the business, and earning similar wages and benefits as other employees. In these situations, young adults receive individualized support as needed by a staff member from the provider program, including job coaching and related supports. These services supplement natural supports that exist in the workplace. The intensity of support provided to the individual worker on the job generally decreases as s/he develops skills and becomes more independent.

Some young adults may benefit from experiences in a group job placement. In this employment model, the employment service provider makes arrangements for a number of workers with disabilities to meet a need at a community business. The workers are under the supervision of the service provider program and most often are paid by the provider organization. An example of a group placement would be members of a stocking crew at a department store or members of a custodial maintenance crew at an office building. Group placement options can also include employment provider- run businesses, such as landscaping or a catering service.

Some young adults start out with a supported individual job, while others start in a group placement and then move into individual jobs. Group job placements can function as a transitional service to help facilitate a young adult's movement into an integrated, individual job placement. This opportunity can provide young adults the chance to explore career interests, different types of work and work settings, and develop work skills, work habits and independence that may be important to succeed in an individual job.

A small but growing number of young adults are starting their own businesses with the support of employment service providers. This self-employment model requires careful thinking, planning and support; for young adults with a particular set of skills and interests, it can be the right approach. For further information on self-employment, check out

success story: Out of School and Then What?

Matt attended a residential school. By age 22, he was out of school and living in a group home but had no job. His interests included construction work and electronics. His employment service provider and Service Coordinator at DDS both had a pre-existing relationship with a nearby Sheraton Hotel and knew of job opportunities at the hotel. With their support, Matt interviewed for a job in the engineering and maintenance department at the hotel and was offered a job that same day. He started painting and repair work at 25 hours per week and now works 30 hours per week. He benefits from a supportive crew of six co-workers who supervise him and help him to keep on task. His crew gave him a tool set for a birthday gift that he faithfully brings to work each day. Matt's favorite part of the day is lunchtime when he can sit outside with the "guys," chat and laugh. His job coach no longer stays with him at the job but maintains regular check-ins with Matt's supervisor.

Success Story: Choosing the Provider that Feels Right for You

At 24, Marissa enjoys her part-time job at Starbucks, for which she receives competitive wages and benefits. Marissa also works part-time at a Social Security office where she does filing, bookkeeping and data entry. She receives supports through an employment service provider in the Worcester area, which include transportation and a job coach. To augment Marissa's work schedule, she spends one day a week on community outings with other individuals who also receive services from this provider. Before Marissa got started with this particular service, her mother took a look at a few employment service provider programs. One didn't offer the kinds of services and activities she thought were important for Marissa. Another didn't feel family-friendly. She settled on a provider which had a particular expertise in serving individuals with behavioral and communication issues, which is exactly what Marissa needed.

Learning about employment service providers

In order to know which employment service provider program to advocate for, start by understanding the alternatives.

  • Think about how relatively important each of the following is to your young adult: wages and benefits, safety/security, fun people to work with, location, and potential for promotions and growth. Pay attention to how well you think the program will take these into account as they work with your young adult.

  • Visit and interview a variety of employment service providers. DDS and Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (See page 19) staff can supply you with a list. Other families are also a great resource.

  • When visiting different providers, inquire about the following issues:

    • Basic program offerings. What employment model(s) do they use: group placement only, or individual job placement? What services do they offer besides finding employment for people with disabilities? How many people do they serve, with what types of disabilities and which ages?

    • How they work with individuals. What is the typical process for providing services? How do they help people figure out the kind of job they want? What is their success record and, on average, how long does it take to find an individual a job? What happens when a person does not succeed on a job?

    • Staffing. What kind of qualifications does staff have? What is staff turnover like? What are caseload sizes?

Exploring employment programs in your area will give you information on the services and related resources your son/daughter may receive, and will give you a sense of which provider is the best match. You will be in a well-informed position to discuss and plan with your DDS Service Coordinator.

When shopping around for an employment service provider, be sure to inquire if the providers best-suited to your young adult have current openings and, if not, how long it would be before an opening would become available.

A complete checklist of questions to compare employment service providers is included in Appendix B of this booklet.

Success Story: Self-Direction--Developing and Managing Your Own Services

To support Lindsay in her job as a concert greeter and in her volunteer positions, Lindsay's family chose to hire their own staff for transportation, job coaching and job-related activities. Some young adults and their families have found that tailoring a plan to individual situations provides families with greater flexibility, choice and control in services. In these situations, the young adult and his/her parents take the lead in making plans, and based on the amount of funding allocated by DDS, hire and manage their own staff, such as job coaches. Payment for staff goes through a fiscal management service which DDS arranges. This arrangement is called an ISO (Intermediary Service Organization). Families can ask their DDS Service Coordinator for more information about this option.

Websites for College Planning

Here you will find materials on topics such as person-centered planning, differences between high school and college, strategies for being successful in college, funding, and sample schedules. It also includes a database that lists colleges across the country that support youth with intellectual disabilities, as well as discussion boards, a listserv, many additional web links, publications, and documents about the inclusion of students with significant disabilities in postsecondary education.

This website contains information about living college life with a disability. It's designed for high school students and provides video clips, activities and additional resources that can help students get a head start with college planning.

About DDS for Transition-Age Youth

More information about employment services and supports is also available in The Road Forward, a DDS publication for families of transition-age youth. The first half of the guide provides introductory information on topics such as ITPs, eligibility for DDS services, and services and public benefits provided by state agencies. A resource section in the second half contains brief descriptions and contact information for state and private organizations that provide services and supports for youth entering adulthood. Each DDS area office has customized this section for families to highlight the organizations that provide these services in their local area. Families can request a copy of The Road Forward through their Transition Coordinator or by calling the area office. A generic copy is also available on the DDS website in the Turning 22 Section of Publications. Click on "More" to see the expanded list of publications.

Best Practices for Successful Employment Outcomes

Experience has shown that when certain principles are followed while supporting young adults in their employment efforts, the most meaningful and successful outcomes are achieved. These principles are sometimes referred to as "best practices" in community employment services and include:

  • Focusing on individual jobs in the community, paid directly by the employer
  • Using a "person-centered planning" approach, where job placement is based on the individual's interests, needs and preferences, and the individual is supported to take control of his/her job planning process
  • Emphasizing "job matching"--searching for employment that closely matches what the job seeker wants, is good at doing, and where he or she will fit in and be comfortable
  • Thinking broadly about where the individual can work, not limiting ideas to traditional workplaces such as supermarkets and fast food chains
  • Taking advantage of personal networks--tapping into job seeker, family and staff contacts to gather information, resources and potential job leads
  • Using "natural supports," including job orientations, trainings and mentors, to meet the needs of the young adult on the job
  • Fading out paid staff supports as the young adult becomes more settled, comfortable and independent in the workplace

Stepping stones to the right job

It is not unusual for a young adult to have a few jobs before finding one that is the right fit. Each job is an important learning experience and acts as a stepping stone to the next. Once the young adult secures a job that s/he likes, s/he will likely become increasingly independent, have co-workers who provide support and a supervisor to approach with questions or needs for accommodations.