TennesseeWorks partners collaborate on initiatives to transform employment landscape for people with disabilities

Next Steps scholarship recipient Jason Van Wulven works at his internship at the Muncie Mart at the Commons Center.

TennesseeWorks, a statewide partnership of agencies and organizations committed to improving employment outcomes for Tennesseans with disabilities, is collaborating with key partners on several initiatives and activities.

The initiatives target a wide variety of issues and stakeholders, including youth with disabilities, educators, and employers. These coordinated efforts aim to transform the employment landscape for people with disabilities, so that all are provided with the preparation, supports, and opportunities to pursue meaningful employment.

Preparing transition educators

A central focus of the TennesseeWorks partnership is to equip transition educators with the knowledge, skills, and commitment to implement high-quality transition practices. With that goal in mind, Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Department of Education are partnering to design a comprehensive transition framework for educators in Tennessee, accompanied by online and on-demand modules illustrating how those best practices can come to life in the classroom.

“This strong partnership with the Department of Education will ensure that teachers all across Tennessee have access to the very best resources and strategies for helping youth with disabilities transition well to life after high school,” said Erik Carter, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator (PI). Carter is professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College and a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center researcher.

Several TennesseeWorks staff members are coordinating the development of the online modules. A statewide task force has met twice to provide input and to contribute content to the manual and modules.

Tennessee Partners in Education (PIE) Conference

The TennesseeWorks partnership was well-represented at the 2016 Partners in Education (PIE) Conference, Tennessee’s statewide special education conference, held Feb. 9-11, 2016. Numerous TennesseeWorks partners presented on core issues surrounding transition to life after high school for students with disabilities.

Transition assessment was the focus of a session presented by Drs. Carter and Lauren Bethune, staff scientist with TennesseeWorks, along with Jenn Bumble and Carly Blustein, Vanderbilt University doctoral students.

Community conversations as an innovative strategy to improve outcomes for students with disabilities was presented by Dr. Bethune, Bumble, Blustein, and Alex Manikas, a master’s student at Vanderbilt.

Two panels of employers and service providers were moderated by Dr. Lynnette Henderson, associate director of Adult Community Services at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, and Michelle Halman, TennesseeWorks educational consultant. Educators learned how to create effective partnerships with businesses and to link their students to agencies supporting individuals with disabilities into adulthood.

Other presentations at the PIE Conference by TennesseeWorks partners included:

  • Charting the Life Course Toward Employment and Youth Readiness Days: Preparing for Life After High School–Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities
  • Pre-Employment Transition Services and LEA/VR Collaboration–Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Preparing and Engaging Youth in Planning for Life after High School–Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP)
  • Transition: Not Just Another Page of the IAIEP–University of Tennessee Center for Literacy, Education, and Employment (UT CLEE)
  • Introduction to Adult Services and Getting a Head Start with VR–The Arc Tennessee

Employer Outreach Initiative

TennesseeWorks is busy engaging employers statewide, helping them recognize the contributions that people with disabilities can make in the workplace. The Employer Outreach Initiative shares the business case for hiring people with disabilities.

Trained presenters visit employers and local civic organizations in their areas. So far, 28 trainers from a variety of partner organizations have reached over 1,300 people in 46 counties statewide.

Want us to come to your county or business? Email lynnette.henderson@vanderbilt.edu.

For more information on the Employer Outreach Initiative, visit www.tennesseeworks.org/employer-outreach-initiative

To get updates on the transition grant with the Tennessee Department of Education and all other activities, subscribe to the TennesseeWorks monthly e-newsletter at www.tennesseeworks.org/subscribe.

Rachael Jenkins is TennesseeWorks dissemination coordinator.

Pictured top of page: Next Steps scholarship recipient Jason Van Wulven works at his internship at the Munchie Mart at the Commons Center. Photo by John Russell/Vanderbilt University.

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