Learning Support funding should bridge to work
School can be difficult for everyone, but for students with disabilities the difficulties are generally heightened. The Prime Minister acknowledged this in her speech at the recent Labour Conference, when she announced the introduction of “a new workforce of approximately 600 Learning Support Coordinators to work alongside teachers across the entire country.”
The hope is that this new workforce will provide better support and advice for students with disabilities and their teachers, as well as giving “parents a single point of contact with someone who understands the needs of their child, and will advocate for them as they move through their time in the school.” It’s great to see this positive step toward improving supports for young people with disabilities as they navigate school life. Sadly, these improvements in how we support school students with disabilities will serve to highlight the massive deficit in our supports for adults with disabilities.
It’s great to see this positive step toward improving supports for young people with disabilities as they navigate school life.
For many students with disabilities the support and safe environment in the classroom will finish abruptly when high school comes to an end. In fact, the OECD “recommends that the next step for disability support services is to build supports for students to enable a seamless transition into the world of employment.” While support for students with disabilities are generally available in universities, research has found that these tend “to be related to academic issues or practical supports (e.g. use of assistive technology) rather than advice regarding future employment.” The importance of improving this transition phase only becomes more important when we note that the unemployment rate of New Zealanders with disabilities is currently twice that of New Zealanders without disabilities.
The good news is that improvements are possible. The disability support services at Victoria, University of Wellington have been working with employment support service Workbridge to do exactly that. Assistance with career plans, job applications, and job search strategies, as well as advice on how to positively disclose a disability to potential employers are important tools and supports that are now helping to smooth out the transition process from study into employment for these students. Not only that, the relationship with Workbridge means that recent graduates can be connected into a pool of employers already looking to employ people with disabilities.
Thinking ahead to how their students with disabilities can be equipped to leave their education with the same access to opportunity as their peers.
It would be great to see more training institutions providing this kind of integration, thinking ahead to how their students with disabilities can be equipped to leave their education with the same access to opportunity as their peers. With the introduction of the Learning Support Coordinators in schools, hopefully this kind of planning for transition from education to employment will become a regular part of their conversations with young people, parents, and educators.
School can be difficult, but life doesn’t always get easier as we become adults. We welcome the greater support for young people with disabilities at school, and look forward to Government, education providers, and business leaders getting serious about providing opportunities for those same young people when they get older and start looking for a job.