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Exploring Opportunities beyond school for an Adult life in the Community

By Inés Elvira de Escallón

22.InesEscallon2Inclusive education and a committed school working together with us as a family, made a difference for Julian’s life today.

Julian graduated from Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School (MMSS) in Toronto in 2008. Little did we know about the journey that lied ahead after the school years, as we set out to fulfil our dreams and expectations of a life for Julian included in the community.

Today as I have learned about employment for people with intellectual disability I can reflect on certain things that almost by instinct we did well when he was at school, and about others that could have been done much better if we had just known or gotten the right support at the time.

Over the years our strong belief as a family in inclusion and its value for Julian, has driven our pursuit for better opportunities that assure he is a contributing member of the various groups where Julian lives his daily life today. We believe that securing a job, acquiring the needed skills to becoming independent, building relationships and networking, are essential components of Julian’s life. These allow him to participate in the community as a valued and contributing citizen.

The journey has not been easy, it has been a swirling and many times painful road, but we all agree we would not have it any other way.

I will reflect on my learnings over the last years and the possibilities I see at the school level, hoping that they might inspire others in their journey.

Research and practice indicates that there are six key building blocks for inclusive and effective labour markets, which result in the employment of people with developmental disabilities.

  • Employer Capacity & Confidence
  • Employer- to-Employer Networks
  • Entrepreneurship & Small Business Development
  • Inclusive Post-Secondary Education
  • Service System Modernization
  • Youth Transitions to Employment

None of the above alone will be able to provide job opportunities for all. I will focus on the Youth Transitions to Employment because I believe it is here where opportunities at the school level and inclusion helped us achieve what Julian has today.

How could the school have supported us in a better way? What helped in shaping today’s life for Julian?

The school had to provide a Transition Plan, something we never saw drafted or well structured. Today I am aware that if implemented right, it would have helped us immensely.

22.InesEscallon3Julian has always pushed for independence. So he made sure we provided a learning experience for him in order to allow him to arrive and leave school by public transportation just like his peers did. One of the best programs he attended with Community Living Toronto (CLT) was the TTC training that allowed us to take calculated risks. Today we feel comfortable when he travels independently to his work and to many activities. He even uses his smart phone to search for help when he gets lost.

After a couple of years at school I saw a list of student names and the hours that they had fulfill as part of the 40 hours of community time required for graduating. Although he had done volunteer hours at Mount Sinai Hospital and at the Ride to Conquer Cancer, Julian’s name was not on the list. We brought up the issue and the next time I was at the school, Julian’s name had 20 hours of certified community time and a plan to achieve other 20 hours was implemented.

We learned that in the last years of school students could do Co Op Placements in their areas of interest. As a family we were able to find support in developing a Person Directed Plan (PDP) with Plan Toronto (today Partners for Planning). The involvement of Maureen, Julian’s special educator in the school, was fundamental in the search of a Co Op placement that drew from his interests and goals. The school understood well his passions and interests. They also identified that searching for a Co Op placement should be led by the same professionals that helped every student in MMSS get a placement. We understood this was not the task for the special education department.

We missed some opportunities such as the Take your Children to Work and also having explored with the school support for summer job experiences. We even missed out on making sure that other experiences he attended during the school years, like a program called Youth to Work provided by CLT, could have been delivered with an understanding that they were steps for future employment opportunities for Julian. Now we know that Julian’s life is about continuous learning, about understanding his passions and providing innovation in order to help him achieve his personal and professional goals.

From the Toronto Star, published on Nov 2, 2015
Julian Escallon has Down syndrome. He earns a legitimate wage — $11.25 an hour organizing souvenir hockey clothes for sale at the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD4uZ837Aws

Check out Julian’s story at the link below: http://hub.partnersforplanning.ca/Resources/18493/Man-of-Many-Passions

A World for All Film by Julian Escallon in Association with Lulo Films(2014) represents his experience of finding employment at the Air Canada Centre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zvf5Vrro7g&feature=youtu.be

Youth Transitions to Employment Research shows that the single greatest predictor of youth (age 23-26) having a paid job at or above minimum wage two years after leaving high school is having a paid job while attending high school. There is a need to work with employers, community services, and education systems to build partnerships and community capacity to assist youth with developmental disabilities in order to make the transition from high school to employment in the mainstream labour market.

22.InesEscallon1Inés Elvira de Escallón lives in Toronto with her husband and family. A Microbiologist and Biochemist by training, the birth of Ines’ third child, Julian in 1987 mobilized her to create the Corporación Síndrome de Down in Bogotá, Colombia in 1988, which she directed for the next 16 years. From 2000 to 2002, she was elected as a member of the District Council for Persons with Disabilities, in Bogota, representing people with intellectual disabilities. In 2003, she became involved with the work of Inclusion International (II), supporting the Global Report on Poverty and Disability, “Hear Our Voices” in 2006, as well as coordinating the World Reports on Inclusive Education, “Better Education for All When We’re Included Too” in 2009; Living and Be Included in the Community, “Inclusive Communities = Stronger Communities” 2011, and the Right to Decide “Independent. But not Alone ” in 2014. She continues to support initiatives in the areas of Family and Self-Advocates, Inclusive Education, Community Living and Legal Capacity; as well as aspects of membership, organization of international events and projects with special emphasis on the Americas. Today she is strongly advocating for employment opportunities in the labour market for Julian and others in Toronto.