Vocational Training and Independent Living

Work is an important area of the life of every adult. It helps build self esteem and confidence and makes him feel that he is a productive and contributing member of his community. However, work alone is not enough. To be a contented and complete person, we also need to have other areas of interest outside the work situation such as hobbies, interaction with friends and family and so on.

How about adults with VIAD? Can they lead happy and productive lives? Can they be independent in their work, in making decisions, in managing their money, or even getting married? Can they be participating members of the community?

With early intervention and appropriate education during the early childhood and teenage years, a young adult with VIAD can move from a life of dependency to one of independence.

To be effective at work, an adult needs to be as independent as possible in communication, self- care, personal hygiene and social skills. A transition plan in school prepares the student with VIAD for work by exposing him to a variety of experiences that stimulate work situations in order to determine his aptitude and interests for certain jobs or skills. To make an effective transition plan there is a need to assess the vocational skills.

An effective transition plan or portfolio enables a smooth transition of an adolescent to a vocational program which was already thought of and put in place before hand. It is based on the students individual strengths , abilities and interests and reflects the desires of the student and his family. Work placements and experiences in the home, school and community help build self confidence and prepare a young person for work situations. Some examples of work experiences in the school are, sorting and delivering post, laying the tables at meal time, taking food orders and watering plants. Work experiences in the community include greeting customers at a restaurant, stacking materials at a store, collecting and delivering laundry, filling glasses of water and so on. At home, families need to involve child by giving responsibilities that may involve activities such as washing and sorting clothes, laying the table, stacking dishes, watering plants, cooking a complete dish or meal or even a part of it like sorting, peeling or cutting vegetables and fruits . All these various experiences help develop good work skills, work habits and help build an understanding of the relationship between constructive efforts and monetary rewards. Work based learning during the school years leads to better post school options and can be a stepping stone to future employment.

The important areas of development and training for a young adult with VIAD.
  1. Work related skills and concepts

    Young children without disabilities observe people doing a variety of jobs on a day to day basis. They see, practice and experience different jobs as they grow up. For example, their parents going to work, the postman /courier man delivering letters, the gardener tending to the garden, the cook preparing meals, the security guard keeping a watch on their house or the bus driver driving the bus. This in turn helps children develop dreams and hopes of future jobs and link it to work for money. Thus so much information is learned incidentally which helps a child without disability build concepts of the work that people do. These experiences are not easily available to children with severe disabilities.

    To develop work related skills and concepts, a young adult with VIAD needs to learn specific skills in the work setting. Depending on the combination and severity of disabilities, a young adult may be given training in general work skills which can be used in different work situations, or he may be trained to work only for a specific job or in certain skill sets with suitable adaptations, such as the use of jigs, appropriate lighting, seating and communication modes provided.

  2. Communication and Language

    The development of communication skills for a young adult with VIAD is most crucial and essential. He must have a need and reason to communicate and know language and vocabulary related to his work. Persons with VIAD use different modes of communication such as touch cues, object symbols, sign language, tactile sign language, gestures, picture symbols, speech reading, print, lip reading and Braille. A person may use only one or more of these modes based on his individual abilities and needs. He may also use different modes for receptive and expressive communication.

    When planning a vocation for a young adult with VIAD, keep in mind, the communication, and environment of the work setting.

    • Will the place provide a rich communication environment
    • What supports are needed to facilitate communication such as interpreters, adaptive equipment?
    • How will others in the environment learn the communication methods used by this young adult?
  3. Social, Emotional and interpersonal skills

    Developing social skills increases opportunities for interaction with others at work and also provides opportunities to develop friendship. At work, the young adult with VIAD will be required to greet others, wait for his turn, work in cooperation with others, and spend his lunch and free time with them.

    It is also useful to encourage socialization with persons without disabilities so as to increase the comfort levels between a person with VIAD and those without disability. This can be done through planned regular interaction with members of the local community by participation in activities such as sports, celebration of festivals, picnics and outings. Healthy and regular social interaction with the community will lead to awareness, acceptance and respect of the abilities of people with disabilities, thus leading to more job opportunities and support.

  4. Orientation and Mobility

    A student with VIAD may have learnt to travel independently in familiar surroundings such as his home or school. However, as a young adult, he may need to travel in familiar and un familiar areas using public transport. He will need to know bus routes, train stations, and to request strangers for assistance. He will also need to learn how to move around safely in his work environment.

    Young adults, especially those with severe disabilities involving physical and cognitive areas may not be motivated to travel independently. It is important to ensure physical access and effective communication to encourage them to achieve a maximum degree of independence in movement and travel.

  5. Basic Math, time and money management

    A young adult needs to know numbers, use of money, simple money handling, and concept of time, reading and writing. These skills of basic math and money management will enable him to work, shop and travel with minimum support.

    Based on his sensory, cognitive and /or additional disabilities, a young adult with VIAD can be taught skills at different levels. For example, if he is going to work in a book store, he can be taught the skills of managing the store, including keeping stock and accounts; or at a very basic level, he can learn how to sort and /or pile different books such as notebooks, long books, graph books and so on. In money concept, if the young adult has limited math skills, it may be easier for him to learn whole numbers with notes rather than with change. He also needs to be aware of reading a clock, relationship of ‘time’ and ‘duration’ and the ability to complete tasks before the deadline, punctuality- in short, concept and management of time.

  6. Self care health and hygiene

    Self care and personal hygiene includes bathing, grooming, combing hair, trimming fingernails, getting a haircut and so on. In addition, for a young women, training in self care also includes menstrual hygiene including use of appropriate steps and sanitation to stay well during this period. For a young man, self-care includes his ability to shave, apply aftershave lotion and so on.

    Appropriate dressing includes wearing clean, presentable, age appropriate, and occasion appropriate clothing. To increase independence in dressing, adaptations in clothing such as Velcro in place of buttons, tactile markers for front and back of shirt/dress and so on are helpful.

    Good and healthy food habits include skills in self feeding, choice of food , serving oneself, use of appropriate plates, spoons, use of table mats and disposal of left over food and cleaning of used vessels.

    Development of self-care skills is closely linked to social skills leading to easier acceptance of the person with VIAD in groups. Cleanliness is a habit which needs to be cultivated for a healthy living. Appropriate training ensures that adults with significant disabilities too can lead a clean and healthy life. A person with VIAD who needs assistance in bathing can learn to communicate his discomfort at not being bathed on time, make a choice in dressing and so on.

  7. Independent Living

    Independent living includes all activities that help a person live his life without support. This includes activities in the home such as cooking, dusting, washing utensils, sweeping, mopping, ironing clothes, changing bed linen and table covers and activities outside the home such as shopping and paying bills. The development of independent living skills is important. If the young adult with VIAD lives with his family members, they value his contribution even if it is partial, and if he lives away from home, these skills become important and necessary.

    A young adult with VIAD may learn to cook a full meal or he may be able to do a part of it, such as peeling/chopping/washing. In the same way, he may be able to clean the full house independently, or he might be able to clean only one area of the house with assistance. What is important is developing a sense of responsibility and understanding of looking after oneself and the surroundings he lives in.

  8. Recreation of Leisure Skills

    Recreation is another basic need in all our lives.

    We all have our own ways of unwinding and relaxing, be it by playing a game, going on a holiday, a visit to the garden, eating out at a restaurant, shopping, active sports, exercising, watching television, listening to music, gardening or “anything that we like to do other than routine work/activity.”

    Sensory and/or severe disabilities in an individual lead to a feeling of isolation and a sense of disconnection from people and the environment. A hobby and preference for an activity helps the young adult with disabilities relax and cope with challenges of life. However, to discover his preferred activity, a young adult with VIAD needs to be given varied experiences and exposures to different activities. In time, he will find his favourite activity, which may be playing a board game, listening to music, knitting, cooking a snack or meal, sitting on a swing, or even a car ride.

This abstract is taken from the book "Creating Learning Opportunities: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Students with Vision Impairment and Additional Disabilities, Including Deafblindness." To learn more or place an order for the book, please contact at infoperkins@gmail.com.