Transition Resources Help Agencies and Service Providers Support Youth with Disabilities

Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

This is the first blog in a series of three blogs in October from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In this series, NTACT will share resources and success stories of NTACT-supported agencies and providers and individuals whom the agencies and providers assist.


The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists state and local education agencies, state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices to help ensure students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment.

NTACT, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), identifies effective practices to improve employment preparation and employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, NTACT wants to remind the field of some resources available on its website that focus on preparing students for successful careers after high school and college.

  • Guide to Developing School-Community-Business Partnerships
    Guidance for various audiences including families, community organizations, employers, schools, and agencies to develop and sustain partnerships focused on employment preparation and success for young people with disabilities.
  • Competitive Integrated Employment Toolkit A compilation of resources, focused on achieving competitive integrated employment and meaningful careers.
  • Predictors of Post-School Success
    Links to descriptions of researched factors and attributes and skills correlated with post-school success in employment and other post-school outcomes.
  • School to Work Timeline
    Timeline to consider for planning career development activities with students.
  • Wow! Success Stories
    A collection of video resources for students, families, and other stakeholders, featuring individuals with disabilities experiencing successful employment and other adult outcomes.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Reflections on Where We’ve Been: A Mother and Son’s Journey with Dyslexia

Dylan and Nicola at the beach

October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.

Nicola—a mom of three and an advocate—and her son Dylan, a college sophomore, share what has made their journey unique in hopes of inspiring others. Below, they take turns asking questions and telling their story.


Nicola: I want to start by sharing what I love most about my son. He sees the world in many dimensions. He is inquisitive, caring and creative. Traveling with Dylan is one of my favorite things to do because he sees the nuances and details of the culture, architecture, food and music wherever we are. He expresses genuine joy when experiencing new things. He is very social and adventurous, and people seem to be drawn to him like a moth to a lightbulb. But what I’m most proud about is that after years of struggling with an undiagnosed learning difference, and battling self-doubt, he is a sweet and curious guy and he has found strategies to deal with his learning and attention issues.

Nicola: Do you remember what it felt like for you when you started school?

Dylan: I remember being asked in first grade to write down my name and to describe something I liked. I didn’t know how to write or spell, so I wrote how they do in cartoons with just a scribble in a bubble on the page because that’s what I thought writing was. I felt defeated—like I wasn’t normal, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t like going to school because I felt different, but I did like seeing my friends. Everything seemed easy for them, and it was frustrating that they seemed to understand what the teacher was asking but I didn’t. I kept waiting for something to click.

Dylan: When did you first really know that I was having trouble learning in school? Was it in reading or writing? 

Nicola: When you were young, we knew you had some trouble when it came to sensory things, and we worried you’d be overwhelmed in a big school. So we started you in a small, private school with your brother, hoping that a small community would make you feel secure and you could explore your ideas.

You were very creative and bright, but when it came to writing and reading you avoided the tasks; you had difficulty writing your name, yet your vocabulary was advanced.

When we asked the school why there was such a disparity and to help us figure out what was going on, we were told that you were “all boy” and you had a late birthday, but you would eventually catch up.

I knew there was something else going on, but I didn’t know what it was.

Dylan: At what point did you finally have hope and think it would get better?

Nicola: When you were in the private school, they wouldn’t do an evaluation, so we had to get a private evaluation.

The first big moment was when we finally had a name for what you were experiencing—dyslexia and executive functioning challenges. There was finally a reason why you were having such a hard time in school. However, there wasn’t a roadmap or any guidance from professionals on what kind of intervention services would best help you.

We spent years and a lot of resources finding tutors and trying to get you the services you needed.

It wasn’t until you entered middle schools—this time to our neighborhood public school—that things really turned around.

Finally, the school was proactive. They were quick to complete a full evaluation and get to the bottom of what was happening. They worked with us to put together an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and get the right interventions in place. It was then—once they were able to provide the specific type of reading intervention you needed—that you started to make real progress.

Dylan and his family

 

 

Nicola: What do you think your biggest accomplishment so far has been? And what are your goals?

Dylan: For me, it is being able to retain knowledge at a higher level and overcome my struggles with writing and reading.

It’s hard because dyslexia never goes away. I still have to work twice as hard as my peers. Ironically, it has made me a better student, and I have been on the honor roll since 10th grade.

Taking the SAT and ACT was difficult, but I was still accepted into many colleges including Loyola Marymount in Chicago, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, San Francisco University, Syracuse University, Oregon State University, Temple University  and San Diego State University. Receiving those letters of acceptance made me feel that they valued my learning style and I had something important to offer.

In the future, I want to have a successful career that I enjoy and allows me to be creative. I am interested in design, and I can see taking my ideas into the world of advertising or clothing design.

What is very important to me is that I am surrounded by friends and family and never stop learning.

Dylan: What has been the best part of this whole journey for you?

Nicola: Even though it was hard to see you struggle and it took a long time to figure out how to help, the best part is that you taught me how to be an advocate.

You taught me that in order to succeed, you have to build partnerships. You can’t accomplish things alone, and if you don’t speak up then nothing will change. I have also met a wonderful community of other parents and educators who are passionate about children and a career that I love and never imagined doing.

Dylan: If you could talk to every parent who’s dealing with some of the same worries, what would you tell them?

Nicola: First, I would tell every parent to trust their instincts; if you feel something isn’t right with your child’s education then reach out to your teacher or pediatrician.

I would add that parents should get involved and know their rights. It is every child’s civil right to an education and because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act, there are protections for your child.

If your child struggles with dyslexia, make sure he receives the correct evidence-based intervention services. Question everything, but also listen and learn. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be an educated consumer.

Get involved, connect with other parents and educators, and create a team to work on the situation together. You can’t and shouldn’t do this alone.

Nicola: What’s one thing you want to say to younger kids who, right now, are where you used to be?

Dylan: The world isn’t built for us, but we shouldn’t conform to regular learning styles. You have a unique brain and you can use that brain to solve problems and come up with solutions that other people couldn’t even conceive of. When school is difficult, it doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should try twice as hard and figure out a way to change the system. You cannot change the past but you can shape your future.


About the authors:

Dylan Frost is a sophomore in college, majoring in product design and development. He is an avid soccer player, ceramic artist, and world traveler when there is time. He is active in his fraternity and looking for an internship this summer in product design.

Nicola Frost is the Regional Field Manager (Colorado) for National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Prior to becoming an advocate, she was an Emmy-award winning producer for the Food Network and directed documentaries. Her passion is in civil rights for all underserved communities. When she isn’t advocating she is biking the Rocky Mountains and kayaking with her family.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Dylan
Posted by
College sophomore majoring in product design and development
Nicola
Posted by
Mom of three. Regional Field Manager, National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD)

ASPIRE!

ASPIRE logo

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income, or PROMISE, program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Education Department, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the U.S. Labor Department and the U.S. Social Security Administration. The program strives to improve the education and career outcomes of low-income children with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families. Under the PROMISE program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects (MDPs) serving 11 states


Veronica and VictorAchieving Success by Promoting Readiness for Education and Employment, or ASPIRE, is a PROMISE model demonstration project consortium of six states—Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

ASPIRE helps families gain a clear understanding of how benefits work and ways to earn more money while keeping their health care.

Equipped with this knowledge and the support of their ASPIRE case managers, ASPIRE Montana families are taking charge of their futures by participating in benefits counseling and returning to work.

Veronica, an ASPIRE parent, left her job to care for her son, Victor, when his seizures increased in frequency and severity. Veronica felt she could not go back to work because they needed Medicaid to cover the high costs of critical medications and procedures. This left the family with benefits that were not meeting their needs. They felt stuck between choosing health care and having enough money to pay for other essentials without going into debt.

As an eligible ASPIRE participant, Victor met with a certified benefits counselor and learned how employment really affects their benefits.

He has now set a goal to get a part-time job. To prepare for a job, Victor has learned how to read job descriptions, apply for jobs, and take advantage of the career services in his community.

Victor is also gaining independence and exploring assistive technology to help him move into employment and through life more safely and independently.

Veronica is planning to return to work.

Victor and Veronica have also shared the information they have learned through ASPIRE with the rest of their family. These two and their other family members are now connecting with services, applying for jobs, and moving toward financial security without risking the loss of their health insurance.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Finding Rehabilitation Training Materials: RSA Technical Assistance and Other Resources

National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) -- RSA Funded Assistance & Other Resources

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, check out the many resources available in the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

Bookmark the NCRTM RSA Technical Assistance & Other Resources page for quick access to the RSA portal, RSA TA centers and funded projects, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) federal partners, other resources and research databases.

In this second of a three-part blog series from NCRTM, we share information from three more RSA-funded TA centers and highlight resources that can serve as a springboard for learning about new ideas, and promising and effective practices for expanding disability employment opportunities.

View our first blog from NCRTM.


Logo - Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC)

The WINTAC helps state VR agency staff, rehabilitation professionals and service providers develop the skills and processes needed to meet the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

WINTAC helps agencies, staff, professionals and service providers with pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities and supports employment services to youth with disabilities. Pre-ETS makes up one of WINTAC’s five focus areas, all of which can be found on WINTAC’s site. The following links to Pre-ETS resources can help get you started:

  • WINTAC Pre-Employment Transition Services Page
    • Contains an overview of pre-employment transition services with information and links to promising practices and literature review, resources, training, frequently asked questions, and laws, regulations and policies
    • Describes the required Pre-ETS services that include:
      • Job exploration counseling
      • Work-based learning experiences, which may include in-school or after school opportunities, experiences outside of the traditional school setting, and/or internships
      • Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs
      • Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
      • Instruction in self-advocacy
    • WINTAC Promising Practices and Literature Review on Pre-Employment Transition Services
      • Features promising practices and full-text links to the literature related to each of the required Pre-ETS services

Logo - Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Youth with Disabilities (Y-TAC)

Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Youth with Disabilities (Y-TAC)

The Y-TAC provides TA to state VR agencies to improve services to and outcomes of students with disabilities who:

  • Are in school and not receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and
  • Youth with disabilities who are no longer in school and are not employed, including dropouts, youth in the juvenile justice system, homeless youth and youth in foster care.

The following Y-TAC resources offer information related to customized employment.

  • The Essential Elements of Customized Employment for Universal Application (co-developed with WINTAC)
    • Customized employment focuses on the individual’s strengths, needs, interests and abilities and the employer’s business needs, and is carried out through flexible strategies.
    • Guide for the universal application of these elements across service delivery and training providers.
  • Recommendations for Customized Employment Practices (co-developed with WINTAC)
    • Outlines practices that subject matter experts recommend for effectively practicing CE. This document focuses on practices related to Customized Job Development. This document can also inform training on and evaluation of CE.

Logo - National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT)

NTACT helps state and local education agencies, state VR agencies and other VR service providers to implement evidence–based and promising practices to ensure students with disabilities stay in school, progress in school, and graduate with knowledge, skills, and supports needed to succeed in postsecondary education and employment.


Do you want to keep up-to-date with new VR resources as they are added to the NCRTM? Follow them on Twitter @RSA_NCRTM and subscribe to their monthly New from NCRTM newsletter.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

It Takes a Village

NOTE: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Courtney Hansen holding her two boys on their front porch.

Courtney with her twin sons on their first day of kindergarten in a new state. The boys play t-ball together, love Super Why, biking to the park, and are in the same kindergarten class.

A guest blog by Courtney Hansen. Courtney is a non-attorney special education advocate. She advocates at the local, state, and national level for disability rights, and blogs about it at www.inclusionevolution.com


My son with Down syndrome and his typically-developing twin brother just started kindergarten. The military also just moved us across country this past summer.

There’s been a lot of change this year, and I was often overwhelmed by the idea of my first-born twins starting “real” school in a new state. I cried like a baby their first day of school, but they just marched off to school like they owned the place. I was amazed, but realized that it was the result of years of preparation and help from so many different people. Having a son with a disability has shown me the value of “the village.”

About two years ago, I really started investigating the idea of a fully inclusive education for my son with Down syndrome. I even blogged about my ultimate goal: my twins graduating together in the year 2031.

For most other sets of twins graduating together wouldn’t be a goal, because it would just happen automatically. With lower graduation rates for students with disabilities compared to non-disabled students, and even lower rates for student with intellectual disabilities, I knew our path would be hard fought. It all starts in kindergarten of course. So, I worked tirelessly over the past two years to get where we are today. Both Hunter and Troy are in the same class, and Troy is 100 percent included with his typical peers with the appropriate supports to be successful.

Too many kindergarteners with intellectual disabilities don’t have the same opportunity as my son, even though federal and state laws require the continuum of placement to start in general education with appropriate supports. You might ask how I successfully got him included 100 percent of the time and if he really is being successful. I will tell you it all starts with the village, as well as learning you and your child’s rights.

1. Find Your Tribe

Social media can be a blessing and a curse, but for parents of children with disabilities it’s often an awakening.

Getting plugged into the Down syndrome community via social media helped me realize what is possible.

Even though we’ve lived in three states since our twins were born, I’ve been able to make friends in each state and around the country who have shaped my perspective on what it means to live and thrive with an intellectual disability.

Can my son go to college? Of course, because I just talked to Beth whose son with Down syndrome is moving across country to attend George Mason University.

Can Troy really find a meaningful career? Yes! Elizabeth’s son just got another promotion at Kroger.

These friends have pushed me to set high expectations for my son.

2. Lean on Experts

No doubt about it, you are the expert of your child.

When he was little you were up in the middle of the night with his croupy cough, and you’ll be there when he ages out of the system.

Still, we can learn so much from doctors, therapists, counselors, and teachers.

I’ve always taken a hands-on approach to my son’s endless therapy sessions and education.

I always set some of the private therapy and individualized education program (IEP) goals. In return, many doctors, therapists, and teacher have taken the time to really educate me on best practices in my son’s areas of need and given me functional tips to help my son at home.

3. Start Advocating

I started advocating early ensuring my son would receive an inclusive education with proper supports. I attended conferences and special education trainings to learn my son’s educational rights.

You can start local with school board meetings and school superintendents. Request training for teachers in best practices like Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.

At the state level, I advocated for a bill that is now law in Ohio to end organ transplant discrimination for people with disabilities. Many disability organizations provide opportunities to advocate nationally either over social media or in person.

I attended the Buddy Walk on Washington, and had the opportunity to ask my U.S. Senators and House of Representatives to preserve important health care protections for people with disabilities and better fund IDEA. Positive change starts with you and me. So get out there; our children’s futures depend on it!

4. Take a Break

Most parents of children with disabilities are the most tenacious, hard-hitters I’ve ever met, but this heightened existence of higher highs and lower lows can take their toll on Type-A personalities like me.

I have to make a conscious effort to lean on friends and family outside of the disability community.

The military affords our family respite hours every month, and I use every last minute. The only way I can be a superhero for my son is if I take care of myself.

Parenting a child with a disability is a marathon, not a sprint.

Even with the strong start my son has, I know we will hit many bumps in the road.

Will I know when his needs aren’t being met? How will I ensure he’s included, but also gets the support he needs for a successful future?

My best answer is to lean on my village. I wish more people would embrace their “village.” Our children, community, and country would be better for it!

Courtney's two boys

Troy and Hunter


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Meriden Public Schools’ Community Classroom Collaborative

Assistant Secretary Johnny Collett and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kim Richey visited Meriden Public Schools during the 2018 Back-to-School Tour. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Nyrka successfully completes Meriden’s Community Classroom Collaborative Program.

Nyrka successfully completes Meriden’s Community Classroom Collaborative Program.

The Meriden Public Schools in Meriden, Connecticut creatively programs its education offerings to meet the needs of all students to ensure their success.

Creative programming requires high-quality and appropriate staffing investments, state-of-the-art facilities, and board of education and school buy in.

When evaluating the needs of our 18–21 year old students, it became clear that we needed a district-wide continuum of services. We recognized the need for transitional programming to be outside of the high school walls and in the students’ home-based community.

The Community Classroom Collaborative (CCC) was launched to serve students with varying disabilities, ages 18–21, in an age-appropriate and natural environment. The purpose of the CCC is to serve as a bridge between school and adult life by involving students in a variety of transition, vocational and employment activities, social/leisure/recreational skills training and opportunities for independent living activities.

The CCC program is based in Meriden’s city center rather than in the high school, and young adults continue to be enrolled in high school while receiving “transition only” services through the CCC program.

Meriden Public Schools created the community-based program in 2012 with the assistance of the YMCA, one of our major community partners. The program has tripled in size since then.

Nyrka, a former CCC student, is a true success story, and we are proud that she is a Meriden Public Schools’ graduate. Her personal story is not an easy one as she was presented with many obstacles both at home and at school. Nyrka was an active participant in her planning and placement team individualized education program and it was planned for her to attend the CCC for transitional programming.

While Nyrka was involved in the CCC, she participated in all that the district offered. She was supported in her employment; she learned to utilize her community for healthy/leisure activities through her YMCA membership provided as part of the CCC; and she gained skills in personal finance, self-advocacy, and independent living and life skills. With the support of the staff and programming, Nyrka became connected with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which assisted her in moving into her own apartment and aided her in making healthy life choices.

As Nyrka progressed through the program, her independence skills soared. Nyrka gained competitive employment in retail and gained enough confidence to speak at different events in regards to her school growth experiences.

Last January, Nyrka requested to complete her program early in order to attend the spring semester at Middlesex Community College in the college’s human service assistant certificate program. Today, Nyrka is employed as a self-advocate coordinator through DDS. She lives independently and enjoys her work and sharing her story with others.

We couldn’t be more proud of Nyrka and all that she has accomplished.

Nyrka’s story is one of many. When our students start in the CCC they are often reserved, unsure of themselves, and unsure where they fit in for employment and socialization as young adults. When they complete their education at the CCC, they leave with confidence in communication, confidence in knowing what they want out of their employment and confidence in being able to work through the social aspects that lie ahead.

Having the students graduate and able to live a healthy, active, productive lifestyle within the community is key to ensuring that we are giving our students a chance for a better life.

In Meriden, here all students succeed.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Patricia Sullivan-Kowalski
Posted by
Senior Director of Student Supports and Special Education Meriden Public Schools

The Importance of Connection

AR PROMISE logo

The Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income or PROMISE, program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Social Security Administration. The program strives to improve the education and career outcomes of low-income children with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income and their families. Under the PROMISE program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects (MDPs) serving 11 states.


Arkansas PROMISE program’s three primary components are intensive case management provided by a case manager, known as a “connector,” hired from the community; at least two paid summer work experiences of up to 200 hours each; and additional education provided during required monthly meetings and through a week-long, statewide summer camp.

The first component gets perhaps the least attention and is regarded as the least sustainable. Connectors support the household’s needs and engagement with PROMISE services and existing resources.

While the realities of agency budgets make small caseloads difficult, data from the PROMISE projects where small caseloads were a component may encourage us to rethink priorities and invest in a strategy that has proven its value.

We invited Arkansas youth and parents to share stories of the impact PROMISE has had on their lives and communities. Their testimonies emphasized the importance of the relationships the connector has been able to build and the lasting impact that they have had on the families they engaged.

Phillips County, located in the Delta region of Arkansas, is a prime example. The median household income in Phillips County is $26,829 and the poverty rate is 33.5%. African Americans make up 62 percent of the population and 91 percent of those individuals live in poverty.

In September, Denise Olloway, the Phillips County connector, began the final monthly meeting for her caseload participants by sharing some statistics as part of a ceremony to recognize the participants’ accomplishments. She started with a caseload of 23 youth and their families three and half years ago. Of those, four moved out of state and three did not engage with the services. Of the 16 youth remaining, 10 have graduated from high school and two are seniors scheduled to graduate in 2019. Five youth are employed full-time, and two are attending college. One of those attending college is also working part-time.

Denise had asked three youth and three parents to say something about how PROMISE had impacted them, but almost every youth and parent at the ceremony chose to speak.

The youth used the words, “PROMISE changed my life.” They spoke about how they had learned to earn money, use money wisely and save. They talked about how they had learned about communication and work skills. One young man talked about how he had been living on the streets and stealing to survive before PROMISE, and now he was earning and bringing in money.

Parents talked about how PROMISE had “opened doors for our kids.”

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about all the things the kids have learned. When they said we had to come to these meetings, I thought, ‘I’m not going to meetings,’ but I came to the first one, and I’ve been to all of them since then,” said one father who attends required monthly meetings.

As each youth and parent spoke, it was clear that “Ms. Denise” was the stimulus that brought people into the program, got them engaged, encouraged them, goaded them to keep them motivated, and kept them involved in working toward their education and employment goals.

One mother talked about how Denise had “come into our home, not with anger or disrespect, but with the same [positive] attitude every time.”

It was clear that the youth and families felt loved and supported by Denise, and that they loved and supported her in return. Every single person present said to her, “We love you” or “I love you.”

I attended the meeting in Phillips County to give a presentation about the Arkansas no-cost extension, which services would continue, and to reassure participants that they were not being left alone.  However, that presentation proved to be superfluous.

Denise had done her job well. She had connected the families on her caseload with local and statewide resources that could provide assistance and showed them how to access those services. She had helped the youth and parents identify goals and the steps needed to accomplish those goals. She believed they could achieve their goals, and they believed in themselves.

The participants in Phillips County did not need PROMISE any more. They did not need a connector. They will always want Denise in their lives as an encourager, mentor and friend, but they did not need her as a service provider. She provided them with the knowledge, skills, and connections to continue achieving their goals and setting new ones.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

NDEAM 2018 | Kwik Trip

NOTE: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Kwik Trip Storefront

In addition to assisting individuals with disabilities prepare for, secure, retain, advance in or regain employment through the provision of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, state VR agencies provide training and other services to employers who have hired or are interested in hiring individuals with disabilities under the VR program. A few state VR agencies in the Midwest have demonstrated how uniquely positioned they are to meet the needs of both individuals with disabilities and employers through their partnership with Kwik Trip, a family-owned business of convenience stores.

Several years ago, Kwik Trip realized its ability to deliver exemplary customer services was sometimes hampered by the range of functions its Guest Services Coworkers had to manage while also being available to serve customers, especially at busy times of the day. To address this issue, Kwik Trip developed a new position, the Retail Helper, but early efforts to implement the position within the company were unsuccessful—until the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation proposed a solution. The state VR agency would serve as a single point of contact to implement a uniform approach to designing the Retail Helper position by recruiting individuals with disabilities and training them to be successful.

The partnership in Wisconsin provided quick results and Kwik Trip soon replicated the model with Vocational Rehabilitation Services in Iowa, where the company operates as Kwik Star, and Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

Today, Retail Helpers in stores across all three states handle a range of responsibilities allowing Guest Services Coworkers more time to focus on customer service.

Currently, roughly half the company’s 634 stores employ Retail Helpers. Not only do state VR agencies help recruit and train individuals with disabilities for the positions, but they provide ongoing supports, as appropriate, including supported employment services.

After five years, the partnership has been a boon not just for recruitment, but also retention. In 2017, the rate of turnover among Retail Helpers was just 9 percent compared to 45 percent for all part-time employees. Many Retail Helpers have been promoted to Guest Services Coworkers—creating new opportunities for them and those hired to take their place.

Kwik Trip Employees

For these reasons and more, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation recognized Kwik Trip as its 2018 National Employment Team’s Business of the Year.

For more information about the VR programs that collaborate with Kwik Trip, please visit our partners at the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services; and Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.


In recognition of NDEAM and in partnership with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), OSERS highlights one of the many successful business partnerships that state VR agencies have developed across the country.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Kathleen West Evans, Director of Business Relations, Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Posted by
Director of Business Relations Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR)
Chris Pope
Posted by
Rehabilitation Services Administration Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education

The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM): Finding Promising and Effective Resources in the Clearinghouse Library

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, check out the many resources available in the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM), funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

We offer pointers for finding up-to-date resources in the NCRTM library and showcase a few products from the RSA-funded technical assistance (TA) centers.


National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) Homepage

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) supports a vision that people with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities, can work in competitive and integrated employment.

The NCRTM is one of the first places you should go to find promising and effective practices that have been shared by RSA-funded projects and TA centers so that vocational rehabilitation (VR) personnel, employers, families and individuals with disabilities can improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

What Do These Icons Stand For

We constantly add new resources to the NCRTM library, which you can search for by keyword or topic. You can also quickly search the library by clicking on icons that link to RSA information and guidance, products developed with RSA funding, RSA-funded TA centers, peer reviewed products and sign language interpreter resources.

Whether you are a person with a disability, a VR professional or service provider, an educator, interpreter, or in business, the NCRTM contains useful, interesting and accessible resources to learn more about a topic or share ideas and resources with others.

The following resources from three RSA-funded TA centers demonstrate the type of information you can check out as you explore ways to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

ExploreVR logo

Job-Driven Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center (JDVRTAC)

JD-VRTAC has identified, adapted, embedded and sustained job-driven practices in order to lead to improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Their lasting contributions include toolkits such as:

  • Business Engagement Toolkit
    • Useful information and tools to optimize interactions between employers, VR, and other organizations
  • Employer Supports Toolkit
    • Useful information and tools for services provided by VR in response to businesses’ needs
  • Labor Market Information Toolkit
    • Useful information and tools to use labor market information to assist job-seekers and understand employer hiring trends
  • Customized Training Toolkit
    • Useful information and tools for programs and partnerships to meet employer or industry needs for skilled workers
    • Contains the Paid Work Experiences Toolkit that explains internships, pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships and includes case studies and highlights models across the U.S.

Though funding for this JDVRTAC ended September 2018, the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC), in partnership with the Institute for Community Inclusion and the University of Washington, will continue to provide technical assistance to VR agencies in the topic areas covered by the JDVRTAC through September 2020.

Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Targeted Communities (VRTAC-TC) (Project E3TC) logoVocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Targeted Communities (VRTAC-TC) (Project E3TC)

Project E3TC provides technical assistance so state VR agencies and their community-based partners can address barriers to VR participation and competitive integrated employment of historically underrepresented and economically-disadvantaged groups of individuals with disabilities.

  • Project E3TC Poverty Resources
    • Collects resources on targeted populations representing high-leverage groups who are underserved or achieved substandard performance with needs in economically-disadvantaged communities across the country
    • Highlights poverty research and resources that are updated regularly.
  • The Forerunners (30-minute film)
    • Tells the stories of people with disabilities working successfully as information technology professionals in Chicago
    • Helps reduce stigma around hiring people with disabilities through use of a 30-minute, award-winning MIND Alliance film funded by Hunter College – City University of New York and developed jointly with Southern University of Baton Rouge
    • Has helped change employer attitudes against people with disabilities in the workplace

Rehabilitation Training and Technical Assistance Center for Program Evaluation and Quality Assurance (PEQATAC) logoRehabilitation Training and Technical Assistance Center for Program Evaluation and Quality Assurance (PEQATAC)

PEQATAC helps state VR agencies improve performance management by building their capacity to carry out high-quality program evaluations and quality assurance practices that promote continuous program improvement.

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Program Evaluation and Quality Assurance Program
    • Certification program intended to increase state VR agencies’ evaluators and quality assurance specialists numbers and qualifications
    • PEQA Evaluation Studies Certificate Program’s fifth cohort started the online certificate program Oct. 1, 2018
    • PEQA Certificate Program has 34 individuals from 29 states actively participating in the coursework and capstone projects to date
  • 11th Annual Summit Conference on Performance Management Excellence
    • VR professionals from 50 states attended September 2018 summit in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
    • Attendees collaborated and shared resources for quality employment outcomes from state-federal vocational rehabilitation services to people with disabilities.
    • Attendees learned evaluation results and research outcomes from practitioners and researchers and gained insight on VR agencies’ strategies for internal controls, program evaluation, skills gains, and other workplace integration processes.
The first PEQA graduate, Margaret Alewine from South Carolina VR, presented her Capstone project, which designed to enhance the Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment (CSNA) related to services for youth and students, at the Summit Conference. She received her certificate at the completion of the conference.

The first PEQA graduate, Margaret Alewine from South Carolina VR, presented her Capstone project, which designed to enhance the Comprehensive Statewide Needs Assessment (CSNA) related to services for youth and students, at the Summit Conference. She received her certificate at the completion of the conference.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

I REALLY Love My Life!

Rachel Mast posing on the floor

NOTE: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

I am Rachel Mast. I am 19 years old. I really love my life.

I have a great life, and I love telling people how great my life is.

I was born in Memphis. In third grade, my family moved to Olathe, Kansas.

I love lots of things about my life. I love my church. I love my school.  I love my family. I love dancing, acting, and singing. One of the best things about my life is my friends.

I graduated from Olathe South High School in May. Just like my friends, I got a diploma. I loved my school. I was on student council, and was the volleyball manager for four years. In ninth grade, I was on the Winter Court. I was the Prom Princess. I was in National Honor Society and on the honor roll.

Rachel Mast on stage as Strato in “Julius Caesar”

Rachel Mast on stage as Strato in “Julius Caesar”

I took general education classes with my friends. My favorite classes were my theatre classes. Even though it was hard, I learned Shakespearean monologues. It is hard for me to memorize, but I worked very hard and did a great job. One of my best high school memories was being Strato in “Julius Caesar.” I am a member of my school’s thespian troupe. I have my name on a brick at my school.

I liked all my classes, but I don’t like math very much. Math is hard for me. I really like English. My favorite book was “Romeo and Juliet,” but I didn’t really like Frankenstein.” I worked very hard in my classes, so I could make good grades and go to college.

I really liked my parenting class. We pretended we were going to have a baby—that was funny. I had to bring a baby home and I named her Sarah Nicole. She cried three times during dinner. I decided I do not want children.

My senior year, I worked in the attendance office and the counseling office. It was so much fun. I took passes to people and greeted people. They told me my smile made everyone happy. I just got a job as a hostess at the Olive Garden. It is kind of like what I did in the school office.

One of the best things I remember in high school was scoring a touchdown at the powder puff football game. During homecoming weekend, the junior and senior girls always play a powder puff game. My friends helped me out and, when I got the ball, I scored a touchdown. It made me have happy tears.

I love my friends very much. My volleyball friends called me the #bestmanagerever. I gave them pep talks. My theatre friends helped me to know when to do things on stage. They helped me when I was on the crew for the “Addams Family.” I love them very much. My friends from church are the best. We go to church camp together. We went on mission trips. We had fun. I miss them very much. We still pray for each other.

Theatre is my life. I have been in 22 plays. My favorite was “Hairspray” because I love to dance and sing.

I have the same dreams as my friends. I want to go to college. In January, I am going to start as a student at Missouri State University. I will be in the first Bear POWER class. I am so excited to live in the dorm, take theatre classes, and make friends. Some of my friends go there, too!

I also travel to Washington, D.C., and to the Kansas state capitol building in Topeka to talk about laws that will help people with Down syndrome. I even got to testify in Topeka. I helped to pass the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. I was the first person to open an ABLE account in Kansas. U.S. Senator for Kansas, Jerry Moran, says that I am “the best lobbyist in Washington, D.C.”

When I started going to Washington, D.C., I told them to support the ABLE Act so I could live in a pink house. My dream is to move to New York City, be on Broadway, get married, and live in a pink house.

Did I mention I have Down syndrome? I have Down syndrome, but I am not Down syndrome. I am Rachel. I have dreams. I REALLY love my life.

Rachel, now an Olathe South High School Graduate


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Rachel Mast thumbnail image
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Olathe South High School Graduate and future Missouri State University student