Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding a niche: reshaping the idea of disability

By Lindsey Hill, marketing manager, Tangram

Listen to Scott McGuire, a UIndy student, talk about the differences his life coach has made. Diagnosed with severe dyslexia, this spring he completed his junior year, passing all his classes. During the summer, he worked on campus and made connections for his senior social work practicum. Scott and his life coach, Megan Lauman, continue to work on organizational skills, time management and setting priorities. Together, they have developed a plan and work in tandem with UIndy’s Baccalaureate for University of Indianapolis Learning Disabled (BUILD), program and the school’s tutors to attain his academic goals.
The problem

Four years ago, nearly 2.8 million of 53.9 million school-aged children were reported to have a disability. What this U.S. Census Bureau statistic did not include were students who had learning differences or “undiagnosed” disabilities.

While some of these young people try college or enter the workforce, many are unsuccessful.  Just a quarter of students who received help for their disabilities in high school acknowledge in college that they need the same assistance, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. And while 94 percent of high school students with learning disabilities get some kind of help, just 17 percent of learning-disabled college students do and are more likely to drop out.

One nonprofit’s solution

While some community organizations serve this population, Tangram, a local nonprofit, also took on this challenge. With nearly 30 years of experience serving individuals with disabilities, four years ago, it created Tangram Life Coaching to help young adults with hidden or undiagnosed disabilities become independent. Specifically, they work with families/support teams, incorporate clinical oversight and pair students with life coaches.

Last fall, Tangram recognized this need to provide services to schools concerned about graduation rates for this underserved population. It secured a grant from Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to design and implement a pilot program that would improve graduation rates by intensifying services to complement and enhance the existing supports available to students. As part of the project, they would also develop tools that can be useful to other nonprofits that serve these students.

The grant provided services for 10 students, who were juniors and seniors at Midwest Academy High School in Carmel and University of Indianapolis. Five students from each school were assigned a life coach who could provide continuity and meet individual student’s needs.

As part of the project, Tangram developed Workforce Accelerator, a database to match students and other individuals with disabilities, including veterans with employment possibilities. The tool uses a patent-pending algorithm to match individuals to jobs, leading to more successful placement and better potential for long-term employment.

Before using the database, however, students completed the Wisconsin Quality of Life Index (W-QLI) Assessment to evaluate quality of life. Armed with these results, together they developed a personalized Quality of Life Plan (QLP) to shape personal goals.

During the past semester, students met weekly with their life coaches to work on:

  • Finding a tool to keep them organized and then putting it to use daily.
  • Evaluating service eligibility, like vocational rehabilitation, student loan services, and then applying for appropriate services.
  • Working to find and secure employment by practicing job searches and job procurement skills, assembling a portfolio, and using social media if applicable to job searches.
  • Completing a career inventory to identify potential career paths and/or identify potential areas of study to further education.
  • Working with a life coach to widen professional and social networks.
  • Identifying and getting involved with interest groups.

Application to nonprofits

Tangram believes this program can be replicated at other schools and nonprofits to improve graduation rates and post-graduation success for these undiagnosed students.

Nonprofits and schools interested in exploring Tangram Life Coaching opportunities for their students should e-mail coaches@tangramlifecoaching.org or call the information line at (317) 968-9035. You can also visit www.tangramlifecoaching.org for more information.

After Lindsey Hill graduated from Butler University in 2010 with a B.A. in English Literature, she put her talents to work for the organization, spreading the word about Tangram’s innovative solutions to barriers faced by those with disabilities.

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