Navigating Systems

Important Tennessee Systems

Here are some important organizations in the state that provide support during the transition period:

Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a joint federal-state program focused on finding employment for individuals with a wide variety of disabilities. Young people can apply for and meet with a VR counselor when they are still in high school. After being assigned a counselor and if determined eligible, services offered include: assessment/job training, counseling and guidance, job coaching/supported employment, assistive technology and other accommodations.

Tennessee Career Centers

This network of one-stop career centers is operated by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Job seekers can find the closest center to where they live and get access to comprehensive labor market information, job listings, trainings, and employment-related workshops.

Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD)

DIDD supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The agency provides a wide variety of services, but the Medicaid Home and Community Based waivers are one of the most important. Some employment-related needs can be covered by the waiver. It is important to apply as soon as possible due to the lengthy waiting list.

What Do We Mean By Navigating Systems?

Tennessee has many resources outside the school system that help young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in their transition from school to the workforce. However, many young people, their teachers, and families become overwhelmed when trying to navigate the complex constellation of organizations, agencies, and services that can provide assistance. Too often, parents and young people get a list of agencies without clear explanations of what they are, how to access their services, and helpful strategies for getting the most out of these supports. Often, educators and other disability professionals are unaware of these resources or uncertain about how best to connect student and families to the constellation of formal and informal services existing in the state.

Why Is It Important to Navigate Systems Effectively?

When young people with disabilities leave school, they need to have a clear understanding of what their adult life will look like. The agencies listed above can help provide this direction; they can take the reins from the school in order to ease the young person into their transition and help ensure their success. If young people get involved with these services and begin their employment at a young age, they are much more likely to achieve a higher level of independence and self-support for their adult life.

How Do I Navigate Systems?

In addition to understanding all available supports that can help young people with IDD as they transition to adult life, numerous resources provide tips and strategies on how to engage these systems in the most effective way possible. Read more about vocational rehabilitation in the box on this page. The Arc of Tennessee provides a comprehensive Secondary Transition Handbook that includes information on navigating many Tennessee systems. Support and Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP) in Tennessee also provides great information packets on Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) and vocational rehabilitation programs.

Where Can I Learn More About Navigating Systems?

The following links (also referenced above) include strategies, resources, and other information related to navigating Tennessee systems for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities:

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