Section 7 - Post-16 Preparation for life after School?
When a child comes to the end of his secondary school career, Parents/Carers will again need to help. The Post-16 period introduces new concerns for Parents/Carers of young people with a visual impairment. For example: What will happen at the end of secondary school? Will my child be able to get a job or Further/Higher Education in the near future? Will he have the relevant skills which will enable him to achieve and compete in the workplace with his sighted peers? If necessary, can some additional help be put in place?
These are only some of the barriers that will have to be overcome during this difficult period of transition, and the relationship between home and the professionals working with the young visually impaired person becomes even more important.
To keep things simple, we will focus on preparations for employment separately from those for post-16 education.
Transition to Work
The issue of career planning demands a higher level of preparation, organisation and a realistic approach from the young person involved. Undoubtedly, there are careers that will be difficult for those with sight loss. However, the young person must be made to appreciate that there are many other occupations that can and should be thought about as potential career options. Often young visually impaired people have less confidence than their sighted friends or they may have a limited understanding of the world of work. Most young people are unfamiliar with the skills required by employers, and need help and support to explore the range of jobs ‘out there’.
Advance preparation is the key
By the time children reach their S3 year at secondary, discussions about future career plans are usually well under way as part of the school’s Personal and Social Education (PSE) syllabus. Children will be exploring lots of career options, and will be invited to a meeting with the school’s Careers Advisory Team. Often children who attend a mainstream school with a Unit attached or a special school, will benefit from the additional assistance of a Special Needs Careers Adviser, who has a particular knowledge of the needs of children with a visual impairment and of the many kinds of jobs open to them.
In S4, most secondary schools in Scotland coordinate a Work Experience Programme, where the young person spends up to a week on a placement at a local workplace. This provides a perfect opportunity to experience the reality of working life and to decide if a particular career is worth looking at. Many pupils come back to school either determined to follow a chosen career path or alternatively equally determined to follow an entirely different route.
Preparation for work experience has to begin at the earliest stage in S4. Often employers have concerns about having a young person with visual difficulties in their place of work. These worries can be overcome by a reassuring phone call or visit by the pupil with a teacher or Parent/Carer.
Work Experience issues worth considering
- Prepare the young person for work experience by discussing placement options ( meaning actually working in the job for a week or so to see what it is really like); access technology, (special technology to help you work a computer and so on); special equipment required; provide advance mobility input, if required.
- Many employers may have a concern about health and safety at work issues. Normally, a visit before the person starts work, at which the employer can meet the young person face to face, can help stop any worries. Access technology should also be used if necessary.
- Teachers/support workers may attend a work placement with the VI pupil if the employer feels this is necessary. The length of time depends on the individual needs of the child, and/or the wishes of the employer. (Teenagers may not appreciate a parent attending a work experience placement with them – you may cramp their style somewhat!).
With the help of the school advisory service, the young visually impaired person may decide to go into the workplace immediately from school. This can be in the shape of a training programme (Skillseekers, etc.); a supported placement (Remploy); or full employment. All demand careful consideration and advance preparation. Depending on the individual needs of the visually impaired person, various degrees of support can be given, which can ease the transition process. This can include part-time employment with a support assistant – which can be extended at a later date; financial help towards getting to and from work or to buy assistive technology. Detailed advice on employment matters can be obtained from a Special Needs Career Adviser, Careers Scotland; through the school, or a Disability Employment Adviser at the Job Centre.
Transition to post-16 education
One of the biggest problems faced by young visually impaired people considering a move into post-16 education is the lack of information open to them. Many prospectuses are inaccessible or have to be accessed in an alternative format that is time consuming and dull. The level of communication and collaboration between the school and college is often at a minimum, and it may be necessary for the young person involved to gather information as well as ensuring that his needs are to be met on arrival. This is an extremely difficult task at a time when the student is having to do coursework or examinations at school. It is the student’s responsibility to pick a college/university; choose a course of interest; arrange any visits; and organise special arrangements and equipment.
Issues to be considered:
Schools regularly take students to ‘Open Days’ throughout S5/6, but your child will benefit from additional visits to several potential campuses. This will allow him to meet college/university advisers, who can give added information on the support available to students with disabilities..
Application to UCAS (The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) is normally made by December, for admission the following September/October. Many Colleges demand direct applications only. Therefore, applicants must be organised when deciding which college/university to attend. Help with this can be obtained through the school’s Careers Service or Head of Upper School who has responsibility for overseeing applications. However, you may have to assist with form filling which can be complex. So be warned!
Once a formal application has been made and the young person has made his choice of placements, it will be necessary to gather more detailed information about the various places. This might include the suitability of the college/university – thinking about the size and location of the campus; mobility and access issues; living and/or study accommodation.
The various colleges/universities will have a Disability Support Team to deal with the individual needs of the visually impaired student involved. An early meeting with a Disability Adviser would be an ideal opportunity to highlight support issues; the types of specialist equipment to be used and any necessary special exam arrangements.
Adequate funding is vital if your child is to manage financially through college/university for 3-4 years; as well as making sure that all the right access technology is in place before he starts. It is advisable to submit grant applications at the beginning of the entrance year – January/February. This is done through the Student Award Agency for Scotland (SAAS). In addition, financial support is available for disabled students through the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). This provides funds for assistive technology (e.g. Braille note-takers, laptop computers, CCTVs, tape recorders, etc.) It will pay for personal support such as – readers and scribes, as well as overcome extra costs that are a result of the the student’s visual impairment.
An assessment of needs must be carried out in advance of application for the Disabled Students Award. This can be conducted by the RNIB, although many colleges/universities now provide this service themselves. To obtain more information about entitlements and the current award levels contact the Students Awards Agency Scotland (address from main index).
There are other financial agencies that give bursaries and allowances on request. For example, if a young person has mobility problems there have been examples of local authorities providing transport to and from college/university through the Social Work department. However, this costly provision would have to be dealt with on an individual basis. Many colleges/universities also have hardship funds that can be applied for. Details about such Trust Funds can be obtained from Disabled Student Advisers.
To improve the success of transition to college/university there are certain skills that most students should have achieved. Independent living and travel are extremely important if the visually impaired student is to fully appreciate FE/HE life. The student should be able to work as independently as possible, but also know when to seek assistance if required. Good communication, study skills and a working knowledge of IT and assistive technology are essential – most colleges and universities work via e-mail and provide course information and notes on a Network. Finally, social and inter-personal skills will allow the student to blend in, make friends and enjoy student life to the max.