The Salem County Disabilities Advisory Board met last night for our final meeting of the year. We discussed our recent Disability Awareness Day and believe that it was an excellent event and have already started plans for next year’s event which also will be in October. Our vendor displays were actively visited, and if possible, we would like to add to this so that we can provide even better ideas of resources and services. The “Scoot” program helped provide transportation to our event and is planning a number of scheduled trips throughout November. The focus of our advisory board between now and next year’s event will be on identifying individuals that have a positive impact on the lives of persons with special needs within Salem County. Specifically, we are looking for candidates in the following areas:
Citizenship: individuals whose leadership and dedication have greatly improved the services available to Salem County residents with special needs. This award can also high-light the success of individuals with special needs that have overcome obstacles to achieve their individual goals in terms of their education, career and support of others with special needs.
Agency Excellence: is an award to an agency or facility whose primary function is serving persons with special needs and has shown extreme leadership in the development of programs and services.
Community Service: is an award given to a business or corporation located in Salem County whose initiative and enterprise have contributed significantly to a better life for citizens with special needs. We really want to high-light the employment efforts that these businesses or corporations have made.
A topic of discussion at our meeting was the limited success of special needs citizens in securing gainful employment. Our economy is experiencing the lowest unemployment in the last 50 years, and reports from organizations like Bloomberg and the Federal Government indicate that we are basically at maximum employment, but we need to get creative to train and develop individuals to fill trade positions. The focus is not currently focused on the special needs population.
The Office of Aging and Disabilities can provide individual assistance to provide advice and counseling, but this issue is really a policy issue at a much higher level. The Department of Education has pushed STEM programs and preparation for college and university programs. Vocations programs (formerly referred to as shops and home economics) have been basically eliminated from our public schools and county vocational technical schools have started to push high level STEM programs that have actually reduced the number of vocational programs that special needs students used to be accepted into.
Students with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) should be included in their IEP meetings by the age of 14 and specific transition to careers discussions should produce a realistic career plan. However, most of these plans are based on a plan to prepare students to attend colleges and universities. The Division Of Vocational Rehabilitation is not actively recruited to attend these meetings and provide expert input to improve the development of reasonable career plans. Our discussion came to the conclusion that parents may not be aware that Vocational Rehabilitation can be included and we should try to focus on getting this message out.
As a group, we have seen and heard of the students that didn’t have a reasonable career plan created while they were in our schools with an IEP and have “aged out” in services from our public schools. They have completed their education and have not developed a reasonable career plan and there isn’t a productive process to improve their ability to find gainful employment. We are trying to have a conversation to add value to this issue, but we could clearly benefit from input from as many sources as possible.