ERIC Identifier: ED287263
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children Reston VA.
Developing Social Vocational Skills in Handicapped Individuals.
There is considerable knowledge about how to teach handicapped persons
to carry out work tasks. Research indicates that many handicapped persons can
work competitively with performance levels approximating those of nonhandicapped
workers. Nonetheless, an alarmingly high percentage of handicapped workers fail
in competitive employment placements. For some, additional skill at work tasks
is needed. However, many lose their jobs for social reasons, not because of
their inability to perform work tasks (Greenspan & Shoultz, 1981; Hill &
Wehman, 1979; Wehman, 1981). Work placement officers' reports are replete with
accounts of aberrant social behavior of handicapped persons on the job. Just as
frequently, these reports describe social deficiencies that concern employers.
SOCIAL PROTOCOLS--NOT EASY TO TEACH
Developers of social skill curricula have been plagued by two persistent
problems. First, social development cannot be treated simply as sets of skills
that can be taught in isolation from other skills. Rather, social behavior must
nearly always be understood within the context of other behaviors (e.g.,
language, play, work). In mathematics instruction, problems of a particular type
can be presented repeatedly until mastery is obtained. However, it is rare that
social curricula can be sequenced or taught in such a manner. For instance, when
teaching a child to greet others, it would be inappropriate to continuously
repeat the instruction: "We're going to say hello. When I say hello, you say
hello." (Teacher) "Hello." (Child) "Hello."
The second problem is the relationship between the conditions under which a
social skill is taught and the conditions in which it must be used. When
arithmetic problems are taught with a workbook, they can reasonably be expected
to be applied in a checkbook without much additional training. However, social
skills are rarely applied by handicapped persons under conditions far removed
from those in which they were taught. Of course, some students will apply skills
broadly after nearly any condition of learning, but these students typically do
not fail in employment. Persons who lose their jobs for social reasons are
usually those who need to be trained under conditions which closely match those
of the workplace. In other words, work-related social skills should be taught,
at least in part, in work settings.
WORK-AT-SCHOOL OR COMPETITIVE EMPLOYMENT TRAINING
The decision to focus training on work-at-school experiences, competitive
employment, or both, rests on numerous factors.
--Age. Legal age requirements for employment dictate that young students'
experiences be limited to those arranged at school.
--Motivation. A strong desire to work must either be present or developed
before employment experiences are considered. Otherwise, loss of jobs due to
lack of motivation could seriously damage the credibility of the program.
--Readiness to Perform Jobs. Competitive employment demands performance at
levels of quality and rate equal to those of other employees. There is some
leeway with subsidized jobs but it is advisable that the performance of assigned
tasks approximates the levels expected in competitive jobs.
--Previous Work Experience. If students have not had previous work experience
or have had unsuccessful experiences, it is advisable, regardless of age, to
place them in work-at-school experience at least for a period of evaluation.
--Evidence of Lack of Skill. If a student is slow in performing daily tasks,
is socially immature, or lacks basic motor adeptness in other areas of school
work, he or she should begin work experience under close supervision in a school
--Availability of Work Opportunities. Work experiences within the school
depend upon cooperation from other staff. Those essential relationships must be
developed and maintained through consistent effort by the teacher. Limited job
opportunities in the community for high school students places greater reliance
on work-at-school jobs or on subsidized work experiences.
--Administrative Support. The school principal, special education director,
and other teachers must understand that work experience entails instruction, not
just time out from classes. Although work-study experiences have been accepted
in the past, the requirement to provide instruction during that time departs
radically from conventional notions of classroom instruction. Individual
education program objectives should reflect work experience training so that
credit may be earned toward high school graduation requirements.
--Release Time. As part of the administrative support, teachers' time must be
allocated to develop and use work experiences for vocational training.
Initially, considerable time is needed to arrange work experiences at all levels
of the continuum. In order for the teacher to provide direct training at work
sites, she or he must be accepted as a daily work supervisor. Otherwise,
training may be intrusive in the work setting. An alternative is to work through
the regular supervisors and coworkers at the sites. However, that requires
considerable consulting and monitoring time and a high degree of collaboration.
TWO STRATEGIES FOR SOLVING SOCIAL PROBLEMS AT WORK
When a gap exists between an individual's skills and the requirements of a
job, the employment specialist may approach the situation from two directions.
One is to alter the job to minimize the need for the skills that are deficient
(the accommodation approach). The other is to teach skills that are needed (the
training approach). In fact, successful employment programs for handicapped
individuals employ both strategies.
STRATEGY 1: ACCOMMODATIONS BY BUSINESS. Businesses can make accommodations
for employees who lack some specific skills. Jobs can be altered to eliminate
specific tasks that present difficulties, to minimize social demands, and to
increase the amount of supervision.
STRATEGY 2: TRAINING SOCIAL SKILLS ON THE JOB. When possible, it is more
efficient to train social skills within the normal work routines because skills
can be learned in exactly the circumstances in which they are needed. This way,
staff will not be burdened with add-on training sessions. Moreover, some skills
can be taught only as part of the usual work day.
Unfortunately, it may not be possible to provide training in all skills
needed within the normal flow of work activities. Some social skill training
would disrupt business operations. For example, teaching someone to respond
appropriately to emergencies would best be taught with simulations during
special sessions before or after work. Creating emergencies in order to provide
learning opportunities would be very disruptive during rush hour periods. Social
behaviors that call for situations that would be offensive to customers or
coworkers (e.g., handling abusive language or responding to ridicule) are also
best taught in special sessions rather than within the regular work day. Special
training sessions may also be called for when a skill is needed for a sporadic
situation or one that occurs infrequently. Finally, special training sessions
are called for when training must be conducted at a level of intensity beyond
that which is practical in the normal flow of work events.
AFTER TRAINING: LEAVING SOMETHING BEHIND
It is very frustrating when a worker trained and placed some weeks ago, who
appears to be doing quite well, is suddenly fired. Unfortunately, this occurs
commonly in employment placement and traning programs. Ford, Dineen, and Hall
(1984) reviewed competitive employment follow-up studies with mentally retarded
workers. They found that performance deterioration over time after job placement
was common, even in highly systematic, intensive employment training programs.
The outcome of employment preparation programs that completely abandon
handicapped workers after an initial training period will frequently be failure.
This is a dilemma. Employment trainers cannot stay at a job site forever to help
a handicapped worker adapt to a changing environment. However, there are ways to
approach this problem.
First, workers who possess a proficient repertoire of vocational-social
skills will have more tools to adapt to changing job demands. Second, long-term
systematic follow-up should be a fundamental part of all employment training and
placement programs. Follow-up should include on-site visits, interviews with the
worker and brief checks with work supervisors and coworkers.
Follow-up checks should occur frequently at first and gradually decrease over
time if the worker is doing well. Finally, it would be advantageous if an
established employee in the business site could serve as an on-going trainer and
advocate for the handicapped worker. A coworker in this role could provide an
entree for the new worker to the social networks that exist among employees. He
or she could keep an eye out for any social or production-related deficits of
the handicapped worker and try to correct them. Last, if difficult problems
arise, she or he could notify the employment training program staff so that they
might intervene to prevent job failure.
This digest was derived from JOB SUCCESS FOR HANDICAPPED YOUTH: A SOCIAL
PROTOCOL CURRICULUM by Joseph J. Stowitschek and Charles L. Salzberg.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ford, L., J. Dineen, and J. Hall. "Is There Life after Placement?" EDUCATION
AND TRAINING OF THE MENTALLY RETARDED, 19 (1984): 291-296.
Greenspan, S., and B. Shoultz. "Why Mentally Retarded Adults Lose Their Jobs:
Social Competence as a Factor in Work Adjustment." APPLIED RESEARCH IN MENTAL
RETARDATION 2 (1981): 23-38.
Hill, J. W., and P. Wehman. "Employer and Nonhandicapped Co-worker
Perceptions of Moderately and Severely Retarded Workers." JOURNAL OF
CONTEMPORARY BUSINESS 8 (1979): 107-111.
Stowitschek, Joseph J., and Charles L. Salzberg. JOB SUCCESS FOR HANDICAPPED
YOUTH: A SOCIAL PROTOCOL CURRICULUM. 1987. Available from The Council for
Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091.
Wehman, P. COMPETITIVE EMPLOYMENT: NEW HORIZONS FOR SEVERELY DISABLED
INDIVIDUALS. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1981.