An Occupational Diploma Means Work!

/ August 2, 2016

   About the Author

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Janet Shouse is a parent of a young adult with autism, and she is passionate about inclusion, employment of people with disabilities, medical issues related to developmental disabilities, supports and services, public policy, legislative initiatives, advocacy, and the intersection of faith and disability. She wears many hats at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including one as a disability employment specialist for TennesseeWorks.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at

By Janet Shouse

A few weeks ago I shared information about a new diploma option called the occupational diploma from the perspective of two educators. Today a student, Taylor Graff, and her mother, Krista Brown, discuss what they see as the benefits of the occupational diploma.

Taylor lives in Cookeville, TN, and attended school in Putnam County. For the past four years, Taylor has been a part of a Putnam County Schools transition class called the Independence Program, which is located on the Tennessee Tech campus. (How cool is that? Students with disabilities 18 to 22 years old are being educated on a college campus with college-age peers!) Her teacher at the Independence Program was Vanessa Johnson.

Taylor said that Mrs. Johnson talked with her about the occupational diploma during her Individual Education Program meeting, and they agreed that it sounded like a good idea. When asked what made her decide to work toward the occupational diploma, Taylor said, “To help me get a better job because I got experience working at other places.”

Taylor’s mother, Krista, agreed that this seemed like a good idea. “We discussed the occupational diploma at Taylor’s IEP meeting going into her senior year. Her teacher recommended it because it would give her another document to show future employers that she has even more work experience.”

The occupational diploma requires work experience, and Taylor got several kinds of work experience.

“I worked at Collegeside Mother’s Day Out, and another local day care,” she said. “I was an assistant to the teacher, and helped with watching the kids. At T.J.Maxx I worked on the floor, putting up clothes, and in the fitting room, where I checked in clothes and did a little cleaning.”

For Krista, probably the most appealing part of the occupational diploma to you as a parent was “the fact that it gave Taylor more work experience in her areas of interest– working with children and in a retail store.” And she added, “Anything that provides extra opportunities for work experience is a plus!”

And Taylor said she enjoyed the work that she’s done.

Now that Taylor has graduated, she has joined the ranks of the working world.

“I’m working at T.J.Maxx in the fitting room, and I normally work one or two days a week, but I’m working toward getting more hours.”

Taylor’s favorite part of the skills-building called for in the occupational diploma: “Doing the mock interviews.”

Krista also saw the value of the practice interviewing.

“The mock interviews gave Taylor insight to what an actual interview works. She was given feedback on her mock interview, which is an invaluable opportunity! We were told that Taylor’s confidence in the work environment definitely improved. She made more eye contact while interviewing, and she finished the tasks given to her with little or no difficulty.”

Taylor was one of three Putnam County classmates who received an occupational diploma this year.

I asked Krista what she thought other students and families should know about the occupation diploma. “I would say that this diploma will give him/her more confidence in the workplace. It also enables employers a chance to see firsthand what special needs people can do.”

And for many employers, seeing what our students can do can make all the difference!

Congratulations to Taylor and her classmates on receiving their occupational diplomas! And good luck in your employment!

For additional information about the occupational diploma, check out What is an Occupational Diploma? and the Skills, Knowledge and Experience Mastery Assessment (SKEMA).

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