One of the most important goals of transition planning is preparing for future employment and career opportunities. Unfortunately, people who are deaf or hard of hearing experience higher rates of unemployment and underemployment over a lifetime. Employment challenges, usually based on communication issues, can include difficulty obtaining, performing, and retaining a job, as well as advancing in a career. However, much can be done to help youth who are deaf or hard of hearing reach their employment potential while still in middle school or high school.
Searching for a job requires an awareness of a variety of occupations. At the same time, students need to explore their interests, preferences, learning styles, abilities and skills. Through this process, students should identify specific skills they bring to the job market and other skills that may need further education and training. Education is an important predictor of future employment and can be crucial to avoiding underemployment and attaining career advancement opportunities. Today, most jobs require some type of postsecondary education or training. By researching a variety of career possibilities early, students can begin to see the need to develop their academic skills to a level necessary to access postsecondary education options.
Work readiness skills are another important step along the path to successful employment. These are a set of skills and behaviors that are necessary for any job. Work readiness skills are sometimes called soft skills, employability skills, or job readiness skills. These skills include being on time, dressing appropriately, communicating effectively, knowing where to go when a problem arises, asking appropriate questions to clarify intent, and becoming a self-starter. Work readiness skills can be taught and learned both in school and during work experience opportunities. The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) competencies is one list of work readiness skills and can be found in the Employment Teacher Resources section. This list can help teachers focus on some of the work readiness competencies required for all employees. In addition to working on this wide range of work readiness skills, teachers should provide practice activities, as well as instruction, on employment vocabulary, writing a resume, filling out applications and writing cover and thank you letters. Students have an easier time creating a resume and filling out job applications by creating a complete and accurate personal information form. The Teacher Resources section also contains a Personal Information Sheet that can be shared with students for this purpose. In addition to direct instruction, other methods such as role-playing, scenarios, and simulations can be used for practicing job interviews, handling demanding customers, communicating with supervisors, getting along with co-workers, and so forth. Work readiness skills are the first step in preparing youth for high demand, high wage, high skills jobs and careers and should be included in transition planning with each student.
Meaningful employment in high school is one of the most essential factors in long-term employment success. Many students who are D/HH have no idea about what happens in the workplace or the many job occupations in any given career field. Students should talk to a variety of people about what they do at work and how they made their particular career choice. One way for them to do this is to conduct informational interview. Students also need to experience the workplace. Help students participate in informational interviews, job shadowing, unpaid or volunteer work, or internships. Work with families, local businesses and community connections to help students secure summer and after-school employment. Teachers need to help youth and their families see the importance of work experiences during high school and set this as a priority during transition planning.
Both communication skills and access to communication are critical to success in employment settings for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Learning communication strategies that will lead to successful interactions and exchanges of information with coworkers and supervisors is an important skill that needs to be developed during the transition years. Transition aged students should have a good understanding of their hearing loss and be able to explain its impact to an employer or co-workers. Other communication skills include: sharing communication strategies that were previously successful in other settings, showing employer inexpensive options for making environmental cues visible, asking school transition specialist or Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) counselor to offer deaf awareness training for employers, and knowing about and communicating workplace accommodations.
Learning about workplace accommodations is essential knowledge for students transitioning to the world of work. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can be affected by a number of environmental issues such as background noise, visual obstructions and distractions, acoustics, lighting, seating arrangements, and others. Knowing ways to overcome these obstacles, learning about laws that cover workers with disabilities, such as the American with Disabilities Act, discussing disability disclosure and determining when job accommodations are needed to complete your work and communicating these ideas to supervisors are all topics students need to know about before entering the world of work. The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) has great online resources. In addition, a D/HH Workplace Accommodations Checklist, which incorporates many ideas of the JAN website, can be found in the Teacher Resources of this document.
Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may qualify for help with employment through Minnesota’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services. D/HH teachers need to be familiar with these services and help students and their families contact the agency for more information, or to be included in transition IEP meetings. D/HH teachers may want to arrange for VRS counselors to come and talk to students and parents about their services as early as freshman year, although most VRS referrals won’t begin before junior year. Once a D/HH student has graduated from high school or a school transition program, the young adult may continue working with a VRS counselor in order to move forward with their employment plan. For many VRS clients who are D/HH, an employment goal can prepare them for a competitive job with no need for ongoing worksite supports.
If a D/HH student has any additional disabilities and is likely to need significant, permanent worksite supports beyond the first few months on the job, they may require supported employment. This ongoing support service is funded through counties. Qualifying for these services varies greatly and is based on individual needs and qualifications by each county. If you think that a student may need supported employment services in order to work competitively, speak to the student’s IEP team to consider whether that student should apply for county services and/or VRS services. More information about VRS is located in the Additional Considerationssection of this document.
Employment teacher resources (PDF):