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Possibilities: A Financial Resource for Parents of Children with Disabilities

Your Child’s Employment — A Growing List of Options and Support

As of this publication’s writing, individuals with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than their non-disabled peers (see “Getting and Keeping the First Job” (PPT). A curriculum created by the National Family Advocacy Support and Training (FAST) Project. PACER Center. 2010.). Yet a growing list of advocacy organizations and government programs are committed to forging new employment pathways so individuals with disabilities can find meaningful work and become as self-sufficient possible. Available work options allow your child with special needs to work and either continue receiving government benefits or become completely financially independent and self-sufficient.

Prepare Your Child for Employment

A statement in PACER Center’s March 2006 Parent Brief, “Preparing for Employment: On the Home Front,” reads: Work-based learning during the school year leads to better post-school employment outcomes.

The point here is this. Transitions services provided to your child as part of his or her Individual Education Plan (IEP) can play an important role in preparing your child for employment, should that occur during or after high school, or after post-secondary education. Your child’s post-secondary coursework and experiences play a similar role. They all give your child opportunities to develop career skills such as gaining knowledge in a specialized area, interviewing practice, and asking for accommodations. But they are not the only stepping stones to employment.

Consider the employment skills your child can develop in volunteer experiences, unpaid internships, and paid employment while still in high school and post-secondary school. Consider also the input from members of your child’s person-centered planning team. They may be able to provide opportunities for work-related experiences, or simple advice about life while on the job.

Know thyself, the famous philosopher Socrates advised. As your child comes to know personal strengths and weaknesses, he or she can use that knowledge to form career and life goals. Offering a supportive environment to get to that point will help your child develop self-determination and self-advocacy skills. Here are some suggestions for creating that environment:

  • Encourage your child to set and meet goals.
  • Allow your child to take risks and experience the consequences, positive and negative, without compromising safety or overall well-being.
  • Involve your child in making decisions for purchases, health care, assistive technology, accommodations, managing money, vacations—for any situation that helps your child better “know thyself.”
  • Involve your child in coming up with creative solutions for reducing expenses, managing time, and staying organized.


As the years pass, the network of people that support your child grows, through family and friendships, person-centered planning, the professional that care for your child, or through his or own networking activities that were part of a transition plan. Your child’s network may be full of people eager to see him or her succeed. Encouraging your child to contact people in this network may result in job leads, or the names of other people to contact for job leads.

The key to successful networking is to keep at it—to keep following up with people contacted so they think to call your child when an appropriate opportunity opens up.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Your child can apply for VR services  at any time—during or after high school, or post secondary education.

How Vocational Rehabilitation Services Work

These federally-funded services are provided to your child through local agencies free of charge. To receive these services, you or your child must apply for them and meet the state's eligibility requirements. Eligibility is based on a disability that is a barrier to getting a job. Your child is automatically eligible if he or she receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).

If the VR agency has to purchase any services to assist your child, you or your child may first need to demonstrate financial need before they are ordered, and you may have to help pay for those services. As an example, your local VR agency may pay a company to provide assistive technology services and related training.

The Post-Secondary School Connection

The best time to contact your state VR agency is while your child is still in high school. PACER recommends that families invite VR counselors to attend their child's IEP meeting no later than the student's junior year in high school.  

The Individual Plan for Employment (IPE)

Once your child becomes eligible to receive VR services, together with a VR counselor, your child will develop an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE). The IPE is based on your child’s employment goals and abilities. Here is a list of services that might become part of your child’s IPE.

  • Vocational counseling and guidance
  • Job placement assistance
  • College or vocational training
  • Skills training
  • Job coaching or tutoring
  • Transportation
  • Interpreter and reader services
  • Assistive technology services

To find a VR office near you—there might be more than one if you live in a large city—contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):
Call 1-800-526-7234 (Voice) or 1-877-781-9403 (TTY)

Work for the Federal Government — The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP)

Federal government job recruiters work with post-secondary Disability Support Services (DSS) offices to screen, interview, and hire highly motivated and talented students with disabilities for summer jobs. Often these jobs lead to full-time work. This program, the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) is implemented by colleges and universities of four-year programs.

WRP recruiters visit campuses once per year to conduct interviews with qualified job seekers. To be eligible for this program, your child must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student, or have graduated within 12 months since the month of March of any year. Not all schools participate in this program. If you think your child might be interested in a federal government job, he or she should ask if the post-secondary school of choice participates in the WRP, or apply online.

Find Workplace Accommodations — The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

A service provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), helps all individuals with disabilities identify workplace accommodations that will enhance their employment options. JAN does not help individuals look for actual jobs.

Through JAN’s effort, employers come to know the value that individuals with disabilities add to the workplace. In this way, Jan helps pave the way for employment opportunities for all individuals with disabilities.

Through JAN’s Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) database, your child can explore accommodation options based on his or her disability and for educational and work settings.

For more information about the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):
Call 1-800-526-7234 (Voice) or 1-877-781-9403 (TTY)
Visit and click “Search Accommodations Database”

Job, Career — What’s the Difference?

Job: What you do to earn a living. It can be a temporary job, such as part-time work while you’re studying for a degree or while you’re looking for career-oriented work.

Career: This includes what you do to earn a living, but a career requires special training and knowledge. Examples of career professions include accountants, landscape gardener, construction manager, and National Forest Service recreation planner. A career usually lasts a long period of time.

Over the course of your career, you might work at a variety of jobs as you become more skilled and knowledgeable in a particular area. And you might work for several companies or organizations. For example, a National Forest Service recreation planner may have started out as a volunteer fire-fighter for a local community, then moved up to a state organization to help manage forest service contracts, then on to a national organization as an outdoor recreation planner.

Resources for Helping Your Child Prepare for Employment

Office of Disability and Employment Policy
A comprehensive site for individuals with disabilities looking for information on employment issues; topics include disability-related legislation, job search, self-employment, and youth employment.
Call 1-866-633-7365

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth)
Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), NCWD provides state and local workforce development programs with resources to better serve youth with disabilities.
Call 1-877-871-0744 (Voice) or 1-877-871-0665 (TTY)

Where Workers with Disabilities Look for Jobs

Through the advocacy work of many individuals and organizations, workers with disabilities have growing employment support among corporations and other organizations. Two job search Web sites created expressly for job seekers with disabilities offer a variety of job search tools and support. provides job seekers with an online community of support through a mentoring network, the ability to link with others who share similar health and life experiences, and blogs about experiences in the workplace. To check out
Call 1-866-352-7481
1545 US RT 206, First Floor
Bedminster, NJ 07921

Work While Remaining Eligible for Government Benefits — The Ticket to Work Program

Through its Ticket to Work Program, the Social Security Administration encourages individuals with disabilities to find employment and reach their employment goals. This program provides career and job search services through Employment Networks (ENs) located throughout the country. Individuals who use the program can still receive SSI, SSDI, and Medicaid benefits, as long as income received from employment doesn’t exceed a certain level.

How Employment Income Affects Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and
Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) Benefits Under Ticket to Work

SSI benefits will decrease as a worker’s income increases. The first $85 of earnings is not counted in determining a reduction of SSI benefits. For someone receiving both SSI and SSDI, the first $65 in not counted. And, only half of a workers income amount is subtracted from the SSI benefit amount. 

Use the formula below to calculate the affect of your child’s income on SSI benefits (see Social Security Online. Electronic Booklet. “Working While Disabled—How We Can Help.” SSA Publication No. 05-10095, January 2010. Retrieved from on November 23, 2010. -- See the section titled “How your earnings affect your SSI payments.”): 

  1. [Gross monthly earnings (before taxes are applied) – $85 (or $65 for recipients of both SSI and SSDI)] ÷ 2 = Countable Income.
  2. Monthly SSI benefit – Countable Income = Adjusted SSI benefit

SSDI benefits work differently. One either receives the full SSDI benefit or not at all. SSDI rules allow workers to gradually increase their earnings and still receive benefits, potentially over an eight-year period (see Social Security Online. “Program Development & Research: Work Incentives—Detailed Information.” Retrieved from  on November 23, 2010.). 

Here’s how it all works. Workers can work intermittently over a five-year period to accumulate the equivalent of nine months of work. This is referred to as a “trial period” so workers can test their ability to work for nine months. During this trial period, workers receive SSDI benefits no matter how much money they earn as long as their work is reported and they have a disabling impairment (see Social Security Online. “Program Development & Research: Work Incentives—Detailed Information.” Retrieved from on November 23, 2010.). 

After that five-year period is over, if a worker earns over $980 per month (according to 2009 rules), he or she will stop receiving benefits. But if that income drops below $980, a worker can begin receiving benefits again. This fluctuation in benefits can occur with a worker receiving or not receiving them for the three-year period beginning on the date that the five-year period ended (see Social Security Online. “Program Development & Research: Work Incentives—Detailed Information.” Retrieved from on November 23, 2010.). 

For more information on how employment income affects SSI and SSDI benefits, contact the Social Security Administration:

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