Initiative to help disabled students transition to workforce launched in Fordham Heights high school

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On March 30, the Institute for Career Development and Discovery High School in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx launches an initiative that will grow to be citywide to help youth with disabilities transition from school to career.
Photo courtesy Discovery High School

A partnership aimed at helping disabled youth transition from school to the workforce recently launched in the west Bronx, with the hopes of providing a blueprint for expansion throughout NYC.

On March 30, the Institute for Career Development (ICD) and Discovery High School in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx, launched an initiative that will help enhance college and career opportunities for students with disabilities. The program, which will begin in September, will add one school a year in NYC over the next three years.

ICD is a New York City-based, nonprofit workforce development organization, whose mission is to help people with disabilities transform their lives through career development and employment.

“This new initiative will help students with disabilities to better understand how to advocate for themselves and successfully navigate their way through the complex systems of services and supports available to them after they leave school,” said Joseph McDonald, ICD president of development and communications. “It offers enormous potential to build the self-confidence, resilience, and agency that they will need to continue overcoming the biases and barriers to employment that they will face as adults.”

McDonald told the Bronx Times that the idea to team up with high schools first began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home, he and his staff decided to come up with a plan that would allow them to have even more of an impact on people with disabilities.

He said high schools help teens prepare to go to college, but not the workforce. This becomes even more of a challenge for people with physical and developmental disabilities, however finding a career or college can be quite difficult, he said.

 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80% of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2021.

“We’ve realized that a lot of difficulties that our adult participants have are not job skills-specific,” he said.

McDonald said people with disabilities can have socialization issues, trouble reading social cues and overall communication lapses. Many of their clients have an array of developmental and physical disabilities, so they have a curriculum that caters to all of their needs.

“We’re creating an alternative learning system for people with alternative learning styles,” he said. “For individuals with disabilities, it’s a different set of needs than the public school process.”

ICD staff members will meet with students every day and teach them how to identify their skills, help them look for jobs, build a resume, find an internship and more.

McDonald said ICD spent a year researching this initiative and looked at models throughout the country. They hope to help 120 students — mostly seniors.

Lillian Lai, the special education coordinator at Discovery High School, is eager for the partnership to kickoff, but said the problems the program is looking to address exist in every high school for students with disabilities. She hopes the program expands to more schools, because otherwise students with disabilities will continue to fall through the cracks after graduation.

“Once the kids graduate the services and support we provide, it ends,” she said, adding that students often call her after graduating saying they can’t find a job. “We’re extremely excited. Everybody wants to help the kids transition to college and life after high school, but we don’t know how. By bringing in ICD, they’re going to help us.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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