To the Families of Transitioning Youth:
Congratulations, your child/young adult has succeeded thus far on a pathway toward adulthood. However, now there are many new challenges they will face. Research has examined transition experiences of young adults with severe disabilities during their last year of high school, their parents, and professionals from schools and adult service agencies. Students were remarkably articulate about plans following graduation but had few opportunities to meaningfully fulfill them. Parents hoped their child's talents and abilities would allow them to achieve fulfilling adult lives, but faced uncertain outcomes and unfamiliar procedures. Professionals approached transition by matching needs to available programs; however, some of these programs fostered dependency and denied students a genuine opportunity to achieve full adult status. Although both parents and professionals worked for the betterment of young adults, the inability to recognize diverse perspectives seriously impeded the quality of the transition process.
Effective transition from school to the adult community and employment for youth with disabilities requires knowledge of an array of state and community agencies and organizations. This can be a daunting time for parents and young adults if one is unaware of the available resources and professionals to aid with the process. Many youth with disabilities want to work. Often the most significant barrier faced when considering career options including work is lack of accurate information and fear of the potential loss of health care coverage and social security disability benefits. It is essential to dispel the fears by promoting education about benefits income and resource eligibility rules under other programs such as Housing, Foodstamps and TennCare so to ease fear and convey the advantages of working. Educating families and youth about work incentive options and providing support both short and long term often eliminates the immobilizing fear.
The Tennessee Disability Coalition's (TDC) core purpose is to work for systems change and to advocate public policies that ensure every person with a disability has the freedom and opportunity to exercise individual decisions that affect their own lives, welfare and personal dignity. Policies that promote self-determination, independence, empowerment, and the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society are endorsed. Benefits To Work (BTW), a program of the Tennessee Disability Coalition, is an integral part of a state-wide strategy at every level to educate and promote self-sufficiency. Benefits to Work is our “brand” for Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) and other employment related activities. BTW is an essential part of the success of an alliance of professionals serving individuals with disabilities. This program has been in existence since the very inception of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.
Benefits To Work employs a staff of Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWICs) who have vast experience in various areas directly relevant to their roles as CWICs. These individuals have been thoroughly trained to provide accurate, timely and understandable information about SSA work incentives and Ticket to Work. They provide long-term counseling about work incentives and the effect of work on other Federal, State and local benefit programs and employment supports in some incidences over lifetime spans. Staff understands the complexity of work incentives, disability support systems and poverty reduction programs. They are sought by other professionals in the Tennessee Disability Community as expert resources to prevent looming mishaps, e.g. loss of benefits, overpayments.
Often, younger individuals with disabilities are not encouraged to consider summer and part-time jobs, build employment resumes, plan for an economically secure future or develop self-concepts as employable individuals. We are excited to report that Tennessee is in the forefront of changing this landscape. We invite families and youth to explore the possibilities and we are here to assist. Our services are Free!