Transition - Life after school: how to be ready for a big next step
Aidan is one of our wonderful community champions who volunteer their time to keep the community safe, supportive and a great place to be. He is blind and currently work for Wellcome Trust providing disability and access consultancy. He is a Trustee of Sight for Surrey, which provides specialist services for visually-impaired, D/deaf and deafblind people in Surrey and is the board lead for services for children and young people. Today he talks to us about transition and how moving on from school can be a scary and difficult time.
Whenever I’m asked to speak about transition and options post-school, whether it’s to a group of young people or a room full of parents, I always emphasise what an exciting opportunity this is. Forget the clinical-sounding terminology of ‘transition’ and ‘post-16,’ this isn’t about staging or numbers, it’s about moving on to a new phase of life where, for the first time, young people actually get to make decisions and choices based on their own aspirations, hopes and dreams for the future. It’s important that this is never lost even though this time of life can feel stressful, uncertain and overwhelming.
All of those feelings can be magnified when a young person has a disability – for them and their parents. It’s really important that the impact of a disability is properly managed and thought through to give any young person every chance to do their best, no matter what they go on to do. Here are the things that helped me and, whatever the current name for the statements and assessments of the day, have absolutely stood the test of time as I now see other young people making this transition.
Be prepared to take the driving seat.
For young people in particular, life post-16 is the time when you will have to take a lot more responsibility for shaping the support you receive. You will be expected to actively contribute to discussions about what help and adjustments are made for you, whatever you go on to do. This isn’t always easy, so it’s never too early to think about what would be most helpful to you, be that human support, technology or adjustments to your work. If you can find buddies or mentors that have done similar things, that is great. But make sure you have conversations with teachers, parents and all the key people around you.
If that sounds daunting, one sure way to make it a lot easier is to get advice. Talk to charities, your school and local authority: find out as much as you can. Crucially, find out what support is available where you are going next. Ask about the process, but also about whether there are things that can help that you didn’t know about. When I went to university, for example, I had no idea about optical character recognition– the ability of programmes to attempt to decipher the text from an image. With OCR scanning, I as a blind person now had the ability to read letters, leaflets, lecture handouts and, with help, even books. You don’t always know what’s out there.
A good place to get started on what to do next is the UK government website.
I’ve had my disability all my life, but as you experience new things you learn new ways that it impacts your life. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a challenge to be aware of. A couple of examples for me: when I went to university and moved away from home, I realised very quickly that I’d need to get a lot more comfortable asking for help and accepting that people genuinely didn’t mind. I had the academic support, but I could have easily had a very isolating experience. When I moved in to the world of work, I had to learn to accomplish tasks without the additional time and other allowances that had supported me through education. Having those conversations with managers, working with a support worker and swapping tasks around with colleagues were all things I had to adjust to pretty quickly.
Your new opportunities will place new requirements on you. It’s important to see how your disability could impact that and what considerations need to be made.
Bottom line: the next phase of life post-school is rich with opportunities and the time when young people take control of their own futures. Having a disability doesn’t have to stop that. Through every transition I have made, acknowledging that it has to feature in my thinking and preparation makes it easier to work with it, rather than fight it. My message to young people is that learning to be your own advocate, seeking advice and being ready to be challenged, to learn and grow will stand you in excellent stead for life’s next adventure.
Tell us about your transition experiences. Do you have a question for Aidan? Let us know your thoughts.