Wokability: When Special Education Is More Than Academics
It's Friday and the party-supply store is busy. Luckily, there are plenty of hands behind the counter and throughout the store to help the owner of this small business handle the sudden surge of customers.
The students are eager, but there's something unique about them. It's not the looks; many look like your typical high school teen. Their work ethics vary, just like their peers. However, these students have disadvantages that would make them hard to employ if they were not part of a special program operated through an agreement with local businesses and the school district they come from.
These students have learning, behavioral, or developmental disorders. They may have mild to moderate conditions that make them capable at most jobs. Others have moderate to severe conditions that limit their employment options. In many cases, these students are they type that often struggle to find jobs.
So how did they get their jobs? It was done through the help of a work program coordinated by the local school district with the help of the California Department of Rehabilitation. It is better known as Workability.
Its goal is to offer vocational training, job etiquette, and work experience to students.
What is Workability?
Workability is a transitional program operating in California’s public school system. This particular program is an example of a work-related education program offered in other states. It is meant to help students with special needs find employment during their secondary school years.
According to the California Department of Education website, Workability (or its full name, Workability I) is described as a program in which “Students Learn to Earn.”
It was the result of a 1981 study by the California Department of Education which revealed that students with disabilities were not being adequately prepared for the labor market. Later that same year, a pilot project was created to “test the concept of work experience for youth with disabilities.” (CDE, 2012).
Currently, Workability exists as cooperation between several agencies. The public school district will work with the local department of rehabilitation to coordinate it. Several businesses – especially those eager to hire students with special needs – will take part in the program, as well.
Contrary to popular belief among educators, the program is not designed to place students on a particular career path (there is another program for that). Its goal is to offer vocational training, job etiquette, and work experience to students.
Usually, these students will be assigned to clerical or service-oriented jobs. They will work contracted hours per month, and will be based on their grade level. For instance, a freshman will be relegated to 50 hours per month. As he advances through the grades, his hour and pay (in some cases) will rise. By their senior year – if they choose to stay with the program – they may work close to part-time hours (again, this is based on the school district, state laws, and/or contract with local business).
Workability may not place a person in a career-type job, but it helps to steer them toward one through job training. This happens when the program coordinator places a student in business that matches his or her post-secondary career goals. Often, these goals are mentioned and recorded onto the students’ transition page of the Individual Education Plan (IEP).
One example of this is when a student states he/she wants to be a mechanic or mechanical engineer. The coordinator may be able to find a clerical or janitorial job at a firm or auto-shop where he or she can observe – or job shadow -- a mechanic or engineer in action.
Usually, each state has a link to their special education and work programs through its state education website.
Workability Around the Country
While this article focuses on California's system, workability and other work programs do exist in other states. One such example is VESID in New York. Also, many of these programs are encouraged by the national law Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA or its current incarnation IDEIA).
Usually, each state has a link to their special education and work programs through its state education website. These can be valuable tools in understanding the programs and knowing how to ensure students with disabilities can take part in this program. Also, most, if not all school districts serving high school students will have information on it.
Eligibility for the program may vary from one district to another; however, there are some common features. Most notably, the students must be eligible for special education services.
In many cases, students:
Must have taken an inventory assessment. These assessments gauge a student’s job interest.Are in high school (in recent years, there has been a community college version put in place).
Have a minimum grade point average of 2.0 or passing most of their classes (not all districts do this, and doesn’t usually apply to students with intellectual or developmental disorders).
Have it listed as part of their transition goals in their IEP.
As mentioned, the pay scale is based on a contracted monthly basis. The checks are usually issued through the school district every month. A word of caution: this type of contract with businesses may vary throughout the state’s numerous school districts.
... Workability I has been a pioneer and has been named one of the top-ten programs of its kind in the United States
Other Types of Work Programs
Workability I is one of many transition programs in the state. This includes Transition Partnership Program (TPP), which is usually intended for juniors and senior who don’t plan to go to college or will not graduate (earn certificate or completion, instead) and planning to enter the job market after their final high school year.
Also, there is a Workability II, which is for college students with special needs – particularly community college students -- in California, which offers similar services to this particular population.
Still, Workability I has been a pioneer and has been named one of the top-ten programs of its kind in the United States. Most importantly, the program is popular with students with disabilities who want to earn some money.
More information on California's Workability Program
- Funding Profile (ID 2186): WorkAbility I (CA Dept of Education)
The Workability I program provides comprehensive pre-employment training, employment placement and follow-up for high school students in special education who are making the transition from school to work, independent living, and postsecondary educat
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Dean Traylor