Tatiana is a transition-age youth who lives with her family in the Boston, Massachusetts metro area. She enjoys modeling, theatre, spending time with her family and friends, and being part of her community. Tatiana also volunteers her time in the community and serves as a board member for two nonprofit organizations. Tatiana is willing to learn and take on new challenges with a positive outlook. She currently works at CVS and is also a student at a local community college. Tatiana’s goal is to teach young children.
Tatiana’s parents have always had high expectations for her and wanted her to have the same opportunities as other youth without disabilities. Therefore, when Tatiana turned 14, her parents started working with her to find a job. Tatiana’s mom shared:
“We realized that Tatiana was at the age that other kids work. We have a daughter who's older and she started working when she was 14, and we wanted to provide the same experience for Tatiana. Although she has a disability, it doesn't mean that she's disabled. She needs to have the same opportunities as everybody else.”
Tatiana and her parents started the process by thinking about Tatiana's interests. Since Tatiana likes animals, they thought she might enjoy working at a nearby cat shelter. Tatiana and her family visited the shelter, but Tatiana decided it was not a good fit. So, they continued exploring other options in their neighborhood. They visited and talked with managers of different stores to try and find a better fit. Ultimately, Tatiana decided that working at a local CVS Pharmacy would be a good first job.
Tatiana had taken career readiness classes through Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and a service provider, Partners for Youth with Disabilities. She was comfortable interviewing for the position at CVS and got the job right away. However, soon after she started working at CVS, Tatiana faced some challenges that led to a reduction in her work hours from four days a week to two days a week. Realizing that they needed support from a job coach, the family reached out to the state vocational rehabilitation agency and Tatiana's school, but they were not able to quickly support Tatiana. Therefore, her family decided to hire and pay for a private job coach from Bridging Independent Living Together, Inc.
The job coach began by reaching out to the employer to get feedback on areas where Tatiana could improve. The job coach let the store manager know that Tatiana is a hard worker and that she really wanted feedback. The job coach shared:
“Because a big problem we find across the board with a lot of job sites is they don't give enough feedback to the employees about what's going well or what's not going so well, so people don't know where they need to improve upon.”
Once they got the list of things that Tatiana needed to focus on, the job coach talked with Tatiana about some strategies. For example, the job coach set Tatiana up with a schedule of tasks she could complete one after the other. This helped so Tatiana could know what task to do next, such as straightening shelves or dusting, after completing the previous task, without waiting to be assigned her next task. The job coach also helped Tatiana set up social cues. These social cues helped Tatiana to continue being friendly and warm with customers, but also to know when to end conversations politely and go back to work. The job coach role-played self-advocacy skills with Tatiana, so she could let people know if there were any issues on the job. Lastly, the job coach worked with the store management to ensure that they knew how to provide Tatiana specific and clear instructions for tasks.
Tatiana only needed about 3–4 coaching sessions before she, her family, store management, and the job coach felt that it was appropriate to fade the job coach services. “She's very motivated to do a good job and to keep her job,” noted the job coach. This support helped Tatiana feel more confident helping people around the store. Now, Tatiana is satisfied with the job and is training other employees. The job coach has a good understanding of Tatiana’s skills and interests and her eventual goal to work with children. They have continued to work together to support Tatiana achieve her next employment goal.
Tatiana has steadily expanded her work responsibilities. She started in customer service where she worked to stock shelves and help customers find items and has now advanced to supporting self-checkout and working as a cashier. Five years after initially beginning her part-time, afterschool job, Tatiana has taken on additional responsibilities, including answering phones, scanning UPS items, calling for store assistance on speakers, and taking passport pictures. She is also called upon to help people with disabilities, seniors, and Spanish speakers who need extra help. Tatiana shared:
“Since we have a lot of customers who speak Spanish, like in our front store, there's no other Spanish speakers except me. So, I make sure our Latino customers who need help are assisted. I also ask our customers with disabilities, ‘do you guys need help?’ And I help them.”
Tatiana also shared that working at CVS has helped improve her social and self-advocacy skills, better manage her money, become more independent, and meet diverse people. Tatiana attributes her ability to find and maintain her job to the support she receives from her family.
- Have high expectations for the youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in your life. Tatiana’s parents expected her to have the opportunity to work just like her peers without disabilities. This motivated them to take steps to provide the support necessary for Tatiana to find and maintain her job. As Tatiana’s mom noted, “if we as parents don't dream that our kids can reach the stars, our kids are going to be stuck in the clouds.”
- Start early and be patient. It is important for youth with IDD to start working early to explore possible employment opportunities, build a vision for their future, and develop professional skills. Starting work when still in high school gives youth an opportunity to gain and practice skills and ask questions in a low-stakes environment, which makes work less overwhelming.
- Acknowledge when help is needed. Tatiana and her family moved quickly to get support for her to maintain and be successful at her CVS job once they realized that she was facing some challenges at work.