January 2012

Featured Emerging Leader

Transition and Employment Projects

We hope your new year is off to a fantastic start! One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.


Interviewed by Ellen Condon, Transition and Employment Projects Director


Danielle is 18 years old and a senior in high school. She lives with her mom, stepdadDanielle and Her Dog and two dogs in Dillon, Montana. Her newest dog, Abby, is a Cocker Spaniel that she adopted from the Humane Society in Dillon on her first day volunteering there. Her job is to walk dogs down the gravel road next to the shelter. This particular dog was so attentive to Danielle that he stopped, sat down and looked at her every time she stopped. Her support person called her mom and described the dog and the dog's interaction with Danielle. With the understanding that this would be a one-time thing, Abby was adopted the next day and moved into Danielle's house with her and her family.


Danielle is volunteering to gain some work experience, contribute to her community and learn about her skills and abilities with the idea of working once she graduates. Danielle is clear about what she likes. She smiles, vocalizes and greets people she knows when she runs into them at school or in the community. She enjoys the color pink and owns several pairs of wildly colored cowboy boots, although she prefers to carry them on the back of her wheelchair rather than wearing them. Danielle enjoys helping wherever she can. At home she offers to carry in groceries for her mom and at school she is happy to help with sharpening pencils and shredding paper.


The challenge for Danielle's IEP team is to identify places where she can actively participate in work experiences. Danielle uses a motorized chair to get around. She can operate her chair on her own but sometimes support staff cautions her to slow down and watch out for stairs or other uneven spots that might be dangerous to her as her depth perception is impacted by her disability. Danielle is deaf. She understands some sign language but doesn't use it to communicate with others due to the limited mobility in her arms and hands. She is working on using a Dynovox, a vocal output device with picture icons, to initiate communication. She has two switches that she operates with her feet, one to start the scanning of the computer and one to select the icon she wants. When this isn't quick enough for her she will also get people's attention and point with her foot to let them know what she wants.


Danielle will need someone to help her with the physical components of a job or activity that she cannot physically do. This person could either serve the role of caretaker for Danielle or be her personal assistant or coworker. She relies mostly on her feet to manipulate things and to communicate. She even high fives to greet people with her foot. Her IEP team knows from her first work experiences that she is motivated to help out and be busy. The goals for her next work experience are to increase the tasks she can do, have a predictable routine to allow her to self-direct the tasks, and to increase her overall level of participation on a job. The team is looking for an accessible environment, close to school, that needs stapling, hole punching, shredding, and messages or information shared...basically any task that she can perform using a switch to turn a machine on and off or to relay a message.


While Danielle is still in school she will have a school employee accompany her to a work experience or a job in the community. We don't know at this point if she will need a paid person with her 100% of the time; the more accessible her environment and her materials are the less dependent she will be on someone else. The goal will be to learn more about her support needs through the next work experiences.


Danielle and Her Horse 




Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This publication was produced by the University of Montana's

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects.