The gifts are unwrapped. The parties are over. The pomp and circumstance has ended. As families and friends celebrate a graduate’s accomplishments, they also ask, “What’s next?”
This is a particularly important question facing youth with disabilities and their families. When school ends, so do Medicaid-provided services and in-school care. In some families, it may also mean a parent must give up his or her job to become a full-time caregiver – even a single parent who must sacrifice his or her only income. Sadly, for many young people with disabilities, there won’t be much to follow but “graduation to the couch.”
Families and care providers of children with disabilities already know the difficulties of finding the right supports during high school. These issues are magnified when it comes to finding a real transition to employment and housing. Many young adults with disabilities and their parents aren’t getting the right information and tools at the right time, which means the end of school can be filled with isolation and loss of skills. That’s why United Way of Allegheny County’s 21 and Able initiative is building a better transition roadmap.
Individuals with disabilities and their families, partner agencies, funders, private businesses and the state and local government in Pennsylvania’s second largest county are working together to help youth and adult systems work more seamlessly.
Beginning with the coordination of supports between youth and adult systems, 21 and Able is approaching these challenges with an initiative that includes:
Changing public policy through advocacy supported by local, state and national partners.
A campaign to increase public awareness of the urgency of lacking services and the transition issue.
The development and testing of projects that address the needs of youth and their families in employment, housing, better information sharing and resources.
In the months to come, we hope to share with you our progress in changing systems that everyone knows are broken. These necessary changes will aid in building the possibility for more students and their families to know that when they accept their diploma and cross over to adulthood, they are ready for their future and can still celebrate after graduation.
Learn more and join us at www.21andAble.org/.
Mary Anderson Hartley is the Project Manager for 21 and Able at United Way of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. 21 and Able is working with individuals with disabilities and their families and 46 partner agencies in Allegheny County to build a better roadmap for youth with disabilities as they transition to adulthood. Before her work at United Way, Mary was the Manager of ACHIEVA’s Disability Healthcare Initiative, a statewide stakeholder effort in Pennsylvania to increase access to health care for individuals with disabilities. She has worked with teams across the state to develop viable solutions in healthcare. Mary has authored legislative reports and briefs resulting in legislation, has advocated for access to health care at the state and national level. Working with teams, she has produced online accessible educational tools, including videos. Mary recently co-authored a book chapter on oral health access for Springer: Handbook on Children with Special Health Care Needs. She is the mother of a 13- year-old son with autism.