Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dan Marino's Forward Pass for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

The Dan Marino Foundation this week unveiled plans to create a vocational educational program for adults ages 18 to 28 with autism spectrum disorders, Asperger's syndrome, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disabilities. The Palm Beach Post has a good explanation of the program, called the Dan Marino Foundation Vocational Campus, to be located in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and serve 60 students starting in the fall of 2013.

This is a program worth watching. The foundation, started by former NFL quarterback Dan Marino 20 years ago after learning his 2-year-old son had autism, has a record of building programs and raising money to help people with developmental disabilities. This new program aims to teach students skills, in fields such as culinary arts and auto mechanics, so they can get jobs and live more independent lives.

As many families dealing with autism and other disabilities can understand, such a program also addresses a fundamental question: what will our kids do after they finish school, after they turn 22? In Florida, only one in five people with developmental disabilities have a job, the Marino Foundation points out.

The Marino project is not alone, as other nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and social service agencies work to build or expand programs to include people with disabilities in the work force and society in general. The Easter Seals, based in Chicago, has long worked to train and place people, and now counts people with autism as a key constituency. A program called Think College, based at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, offers educational programs and training classes. This article in The Chicago Sun-Times reports on a career development program run by the Turning Point Autism Foundation of Naperville, Ill. The Jewish Vocational Service of Metrowest, in New Jersey, recently opened a career center for people with autism. There is also a Danish software company made famous by Harvard Business Review as its technical director, the father of a child with autism, applied some insights he learned as a parent to hire people with autism to do quality control work.

You may know of other programs, and I invite you to post a comment on this blog with more information.

It can be daunting to think of our kids' future when they grow up and wonder what it holds for them. Programs like these are not the answer for everyone, but the Marino Foundation's information flier on its new vocational center is worth reading. It says, in part:

There are over 341,000 students in Florida who have a disability

77 percent will graduate or age out [of school] without a standard diploma

79 percent will not qualify for further educational opportunities

70 percent do not believe they will ever have the means to live independently

Only 8 percent of companies in the U.S. report hiring people with disabilities

90 percent of individuals with autism are unemployed

But the most meaningful statistic of all is that there is a 100 percent chance the Dan Marino Foundation Vocational Campus will make a difference