Transition program helps people with disabilities

Transition+program+helps+people+with+disabilities

Hannah Feakes

Cheshire School District graduates with a wide range of disabilities are working jobs alongside Quinnipiac University occupational therapy (OT) students and faculty as part of a transition program to prepare and better their social skills for upcoming real world experiences.

The Cheshire/Quinnipiac Transition Collaborative takes place on the North Haven campus and was created six years ago by Karen Majeski, a part-time faculty member at Quinnipiac and occupational therapist at Cheshire High School. She said wanted students with disabilities to break out of the system at Cheshire High School that kept them “bound” by rules, restrictions, schedules and bells.

“I was looking for community partnerships for job experience and real world training for our students aged 19 to 21,” Majeski said. “Quinnipiac University was one of those partnerships seven years ago, and it has grown through our collaborative efforts into what you see today.”

Majeski wanted to bring a sense of reality to these individuals so she decided to start her program in an area that was accessible to all kinds of social interaction and real-world job experiences. The program currently has 11 workers.

The program is intended to provide opportunities and experiences to the workers to develop the skills they’ll need in life. It also enables them to be determined to live a “quality, happy and productive life.”

Quinnipiac OT students work side-by-side with the Cheshire students on the North Haven campus because it gives them experience working with people who need assistance in independent living.

Majeski is the main connection between the OT students and the workers. She works closely with both parties to ensure everyone is benefiting from the program.

There are three OT students collaborating alongside the Cheshire/Quinnipiac Transition workers: seniors Gabrielle Heaven, Brandon Husband and Melissa Ercolino.

Husband said he likes talking with the workers.

“They’re funny,” Husband said. “[It’s nice] to have them remember your name and not just the face of a stranger who comes in once a week.”

One of the workers in the program wheels people out of their rooms. If problems arise on the site, the occupational therapy students take the problem and work on it one-on-one with the worker to help them learn.

“It feels like we are more involved in the actual process of assessment and we aren’t just watching and overseeing,” Ercolino said. “It is very integrated with the work we are doing in our classes, everything is connecting very well.”

Secondary transition specialist Anthony Zaino said the change in the workers is remarkable.

“The maturity you see when [the workers] first come here and when they leave,” Zaino said. “And just the confidence they have in talking to somebody and being able to go through the building independently, not asking permission to use the bathroom. They just start blooming.”

Traci Hussey, the special education supervisor, said sometimes the transition program is used for high school seniors, as well.

“Sometimes kids need that transition process earlier, so we transition seniors [in high school] so that they can get a feel and a flow,” said Hussey.

Hussey, Zaino and Majeski determine whether a candidate has the means to attend community college with a support system, or if they are eligible for the transition program.

The program offers workshops for the workers to increase their different skills in preparation for the real world. One of these workshops includes a technology workshop. This focuses on speech support, memory support and writing support.

“The workshops have been great,” Majeski said. “We’ve done oral hygiene, first aid, independent living skills and transportation. Most of our student won’t drive so finding means of transportation is another huge goal of ours.”

Majeski said the program is intended to help the workers find jobs in the community someday.

“Our hope is that they [the workers] find jobs in their little home communities,” Majeski said. “What we are really hoping for is that every Quinnipiac employee or graduate student will learn from this experience and pay it forward.”

Although the disabilities of the workers vary in range, they are ambitious to succeed in this program and in their future jobs.

One worker spends most of his time doing maintenance, working in the kitchen and the mail room and wants to be a Public Safety officer for Quinnipiac when he ages out of the program, which happens for all workers at 21.

“We see a need for another population that traditionally would not have an opportunity such as this,” Hussey said. “We are looking to include a different type of student, one that may have cognitive ability but struggles with transitioning from high school to college.”