Preparing for Life in the Community: Get Started Now

In community brokering, I am working with a young woman with disabilities who has been included in school since she was in preschool. Her mom understood that someday she was going to grow up and be a member of the community. If her daughter was always in segregated education settings; how was she going to be part of the whole community. This parent started early helping her daughter have experiences with her peers and introducing her to the community. As we start working with more youth through Community Brokering, we will be offering more youth with disabilities opportunities to participate in activities that will help them develop relationships, explore new experiences, visit different places and perhaps learn to ride public transportation. This is important because at some point in these youths' lives a transition plan will be created. The effectiveness of this plan is dependent on the time that has been spent on meaningful activities, work experiences and living skills the students have done in the real community.

Too often, people with disabilities and their families do not start thinking about preparing for life in the community until they have nearly completed their educational experiences. Some students with disabilities finish high school and go on to more special education programming until they are 26 years old. Others finish high school and are done. The problem is that while some special education takes place in community settings it is often done with one instructor and a group of students with disabilities. Independent living and self-care skills are taught in classrooms rather than natural settings. This may or may not really prepare the student to live independently in the community.

As more students with disabilities are being included in regular education, more of them are going to be looking forward to a life in the community that is similar to their peers without disabilities. Transition services should be a set of coordinated activities (not necessarily a special program) that support the students to prepare for life after school. These activities can be academic, community based experiences, supported employment, and independent living experiences. These activities should create pathways to the community rather than special programs. The plan should be based on the students' desires, interests and choices about how they want to live their lives.

That's where Community Brokering can be done in tandem with Special Education programs and other services for people with disabilities. We can help the youth explore new places, activities and relationships that provide opportunities to think about the future in the community. If it is done well they will be prepared for a life in the community that is of their choosing.