Setting up those with developmental disabilities for life after high school

By Taylor Chartrand
May 12, 2019 - 3:58pm

MEDICINE HAT, AB - Living with developmental disabilities can have its challenges, but is no reason to not have a good quality of life.

That was the theme of yesterday's 'Life After High School' event hosted by Inclusion Medicine Hat.

"What we're trying to do is give parents a picture of the full inclusive life that their children with developmental disabilities can live," explained Inclusion Medicine Hat president, Monica Braat.  "So, we looked at every element of a good adult life."

The session focused on four major elements which included:

  • Relationships,
  • Post-secondary education,
  • Employment,
  • And home.

"So, there's a hesitancy around believing that someone with a developmental disability can go on to college, be employed or own their own home. But, there's also barriers around needing to make some supports. We may have to modify some things and make it work. So, we kind of have to be a lot more intentional about what we're doing."

Which is why Braat and Inclusion Alberta brought in speakers to speak on each of the topics.

The first was registered provisional psychologist, Angela Irvine.

She spoke on relationships.

"I was really focusing on how we create opportunity for social-relationships and how do we create the opportunity for those authentic friendships," explained Irvine. "We're a relational being and so, without those friendships, if we do become isolated, we may run into some problems."

Problems like physical and mental health issues.

"So, to really create awareness around the important relationships for all people including individuals with developmental disabilities and what benefits there are to the entire community. Not only the individual with the disability, but the community as a whole."

Irvine says in schools, children are surrounded with a presence of their peers every day.

After high-school, that may disappear, meaning a person would have to be more intentional about how they develop healthy relationships.

"It's looking for people and not activities. It's not about finding a club, it's about finding those people so you can have the opportunity to build those relationships."

Irvine believes establishing those relationships are key to having a good quality of life.

"If we don't have that community network, we can't be successful in our life. So, it's really the key for all of us, including those with developmental disabilities. It's just the fact that we have to be a little more intentional sometimes to provide that extra support." 

And to do that, Irvine says people need to focus on the strengths and not the weaknesses.

 "If we can focus on the cans and the strengths, it really opens up a whole world of opportunity. So, it's about getting creative, focusing on the strengths and finding the people, not the activities."

The next speaker was Karen Neuman.

Neuman is the Inclusive post-secondary coordinator at the Medicine Hat College.

She spoke on post-secondary.

"I believe that a lot of what people with developmental disabilities have experienced in the past is that when you get to high-school, there is nothing after that," explained Neuman. "Now, we have that opportunity to know there is that chance to come to college to learn and express ideas. It allows people to look outside for employment of what would typically be employment for people with disabilities."

Neuman then stated that post-secondary education nowadays has such a vital role in finding a good paying job.

"Education is valuable, for everybody, including people with developmental disabilities. To have that piece of paper saying you attended college is pretty substantial when it comes to sitting across from that employer to say you have the skills and the knowledge." 

She believes everyone, not just those with developmental disabilities, should start thinking about post-secondary as soon as possible.

"As we all do with our children, we start thinking about what their passions and  goals for the future might look like. So, when you start thinking of this at 12-13, start mapping that out and when those discussions begin, reach out to me and let's talk."

Next, speaking on employment was Sheri Herselman.

Herselman has a learning disability and has been working for the City of Medicine Hat for several years.

She says although it takes her a little bit longer to learn things, she never let that slow her down on her road to finding a quality job.

"I just kept going," Herselmamn explained. "I learned to adapt. If there was something I couldn't do like a curb, that's alright, I just went around. I don't let my disability interfere. I have support around me, which is awesome and that helps as well." 

Herselman says events like these are beneficial because they really open the eyes of the community to the fact that people with developmental disabilities can contribute to society in meaningful ways.

"It doesn't matter what their disability is. They can get work, go to college and hopefully find their dream and what they want to accomplish." 

She believes the toughest part to finding a job for a person with developmental disabilities would be the training aspect.

"Where to learn or not having an understanding of how to do it and possibly about going to find a certificate or a diploma. Just like myself with the City, it takes a little time, but it's doable. I took some online courses working with the City like Excel, Powerpoint, etc. I also took writing classes and reading helps a lot as well."

And for those with a developmental disability who are out of work and maybe looking to catch a break, Herselman says 'don't give up'.

"Maybe just call places and see if they're hiring or walk into places and drop off a resume. Don't ever live with 'can't'. Erase can't and put can because you can. There's no such thing. If you want it, you can get it. You just have to find some ways to achieve it."

Finally, speaker Barbara Nish touched up on finding a home.

According to Nish, her son Andrew had some significant disabilities and for awhile, he lived in a group home.

With the support of several community members, Nish says they were able to help Andrew eventually own his own condo.

She says the toughest part was probably the financials.

"Whether you own, rent or lease, that's always a significant issue," explained Nish. "So, trying to figure out, how do we overcome that piece of it."

Another key issue that Nish talked about was getting over the public-assumption that people with disabilities need to live in a group home.

She believes the first step a person can make is figuring out what a home looks like for them and they can go from there.

"If you can identify in yourself what home means, that sanctuary, that place of refuge, that place where you can be free to be you and that's where you begin. Then you can determine if you want to rent or own."

Nish says any person living with a developmental disability is equally as capable of doing the same things everyone else does, including owning your own home.

"Not thinking less because they have a disability, but thinking about how can we do this instead of how not." 

She finished by saying:

"Live life as anyone else would."

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