Launch My Life helps youth with disabilities

Taking the step from high school to college or the workforce is a major transition for any student. For students with disabilities, additional resources often are needed, and while help is available, finding that help can be a challenge.

To facilitate the search, a consortium of agencies that work with young people with disabilities has created an online resource at (www.LaunchMyLifeND.com) that brings a wealth of information and tools into one location.

Browsing the website Tuesday, Cellest Hofer, a client of Vocational Rehabilitation in Minot, pronounced it easy to use and packed with information.

“I would have loved to have this when I was in high school,” said Hofer, now a university senior. “There’s so much we had to find on our own.”

“It’s nice that everything is on one website,” added Kari Kingsolver, a counselor with Vocational Rehabilitation at North Central Human Service Center. “There’s such vast knowledge on there. It’s going to be very useful.”

Kingsolver said many youth with disabilities who are headed to college or the workforce need assistance technology, and the Launch My Life website can get them started in finding that help.

The N.D. Department of Human Services’ Vocational Rehabilitation Division provides auxiliary aids, along with counseling and other assistance with postsecondary education and training. During the 2013 fiscal year, Vocational Rehabilitation served 1,900 young people younger than 21 and helped 200 youth gain employment.

Students can turn to Launch My Life for information about when to disclose a disability to an employer and to learn about reasonable accommodations. The website lists transportation services, offers resources related to community living and links to job and internship postings and to state college and university websites. It includes a checklist for each year of high school to help students and their families stay on track so they are prepared when graduation comes.

Another resource on the website advises students about advocating for themselves rather than relying on teachers or parents.

“If they need some assistance in the adult world, they have to advocate for themselves,” said Cheryl Hess, executive director of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Bismarck.

Hess said it was natural to create an online resource because most students get their information these days through technology. However, Launch My Life also is designed to be used by various agencies and professionals.

Kingsolver said the website is most valuable as a tool for students when there is guidance from parents, school personnel or counselors.

The online resource portal, which launched in mid-April, was developed with financial and program support from the Department of Public Instruction’s special education unit, the N.D. Center for Persons with Disabilities at Minot State University, the N.D. Protection and Advocacy Project, the N.D. Department of Human Services’ Vocational Rehabilitation Division and the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.

A consulting group conducted focus groups on design and layout to create a website that keeps students engaged. The website remains a work in progress, though.

“We are continually looking at other resources and ways to improve it,” Hess said.