A Work-Trial Pilot Program for Young Adults with Pediatric Onset Disabilities

The Bridge to Work Project is a unique partnership between the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University Human Resources, Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) including the MRS Business Network Unit, Work Skills Corporation, and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

PURPOSE

The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation provides rehabilitative care to thousands of young people with pediatric onset  disabilities who require assistance with transition to adulthood.  From kindergarten through high school graduation, transition services provided through local schools and Intermediate School Districts include vocational evaluation, training, and placement, often in conjunction with Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS). However, upon graduation – potentially as late as age 26  - these young people face community expectations about further education and career choice, for which they require continuing guidance.  While many of them may still receive services from MRS, they often cannot find training opportunities or exposure to work settings that are  consistent with their interests.

Vocational services for these young people optimally include seven stages of transition to work: (1) clinical review and assessment of appropriateness for a work trial; (2) vocational evaluation of aptitudes and interests; (3) identification of a well-matched work trial site; (4) informational interviewing; (5) job shadowing; (6)  work trial; and (7) transition to community employment.  Unfortunately, these opportunities are often difficult to locate in the community.

In order to address this need, affecting thousands of young people in Michigan, we are actively developing the University of Michigan Bridge to Work Program, using the UM Ann Arbor Campus as a therapeutic work trial laboratory.  In conjunction with MRS, WISD, and Work Skills (a local rehabilitation agency) this program will identify therapeutic work placements throughout the University of Michigan campus. The therapeutic work placement provides several advantages, including (1) exposure to “real world” work demands, (2) access to specific information about the expectations associated with specific job types, and (3) “on-site” opportunities for a participant’s vocational and clinical teams to assess their ability to meet those expectations.

 

Discussion

The University of Michigan is a national leader in the creation and support of a diversified work environment.  This program adds another important component to the University’s existing array of innovative programs that promote the welfare of persons with disabilities.  Through a program like the one proposed, local communities and the State of Michigan derive benefits from opportunities to increase the number of persons with disabilities who  have an improved pathway to paid employment.  Most importantly, this program will add substantially to each young person’s quality of life, their sense of self-worth, their potential independence, and to their long term productivity.

Research Perspectives

If successful, the pilot program will result in an expanded Bridge to Work program for young adults having a history of cerebral palsy, spina bifida, early traumatic brain injury, or other perinatal neurological insult (e.g., anoxia).  In addition to serving the vocational needs of this population, the goal is to support research projects that examine variables that contribute to: (1) effective matching of participant and work site; (2) patterns of cognitive impairment that predict successful outcome; (3) relationships between work outcome and assessed quality of life for both the participant and the family; (4) the contribution of family support patterns to successful outcome; (5) employment patterns across the developmental life span; and (6) other emerging investigations based on observations of critical factors during the course of work trial placements.