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What Goes into an Individual Work Plan Through the Ticket to Work?

With the shortage of activities due to COVID, my family and I have been playing more board games. Pictionary by Mattel has resurfaced with enthusiasm. Just in case anyone reading this has never played, it is basically charades on paper (or, in this case, on mini dry-erase boards). There are two teams. For each round, each team selects an illustrator. This person draws a card and takes from that card a subject, according to the color of the game board square that their team’s token occupies. Subjects may be objects, places, proper names, actions, or media titles. The illustrator must draw a picture such that the rest of their teammates can guess the subject. The whole process must take one minute or less, according to a sand-timer. Subjects in recent rounds have ranged from things that are easy to illustrate and guess, such as crutches or a basketball court to those that are much harder, including “Man About Town”, “toss” (the action), “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (the books or the Netflix show), “Shaun the Sheep” (the movie), and The Beach Boys (difficult for my twelve-year-old son who did not know they were a band). Much laughter and some frustration ensues during these games since none of us are excellent artists and there is frequently a generation gap around the subject. We also have a game called Dohdles by KOSMOS that operates on much the same principle, except that the artistic medium is modelling clay for 3D imagery.

As I discussed in my previous blog, the first step that a person with a disability takes to use their Ticket to Work is to choose an Employment Network (EN) or an office of their state’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agency and create an employment plan with that entity. As with Pictionary and Dohdles, a good employment plan is one that illustrates clearly and with as much realistic detail as possible how the Ticket holder is going to transition successfully to work. A poorly executed plan might lead Social Security to guess incorrectly that the person’s goals are either too ambitious or too simplistic for her/his actual situation.

Technically, the employment plan is called an “Individual Work Plan” or “IWP” if it is created when working with an EN and an “Individual Written Rehabilitation Program” or “IWRP” if it is created when working with VR. Since I have direct experience reviewing IWPs, I will provide more detail about those below, but the general requirements and operation of IWRPs are very similar. There are nine required components to an IWP.

1. Adequate documentation that the Ticket holder and the EN have had one-on-one, individualized discussion that resulted in the development of reasonable career goals, and clarity about the services and support the holder will need to reach the goals and a workable time frame.

2. A concise and specific statement of the holder’s goals. The goals must be realistically attainable, clear, and measurable; and they must advance the Ticket holder towards sustaining self-supporting employment.

3. A thorough description of the specific services and supports that the EN will provide both while the person is moving towards self-supporting work, and after they have reached that level in order to help them sustain it.

4. Conditions related to the provision of services listed in component 3. This may include whether the services will be provided by the EN directly or by referral to another entity.

5. A statement that the Ticket holder gives permission for the EN to contact her/his employers to verify work and earnings.

6. A description of the Ticket holder’s recent earnings, prior to assigning their Ticket.

7. A statement acknowledging that the EN has explained to the Ticket holder how her/his timely progress towards the work goals is evaluated and what that means for ongoing disability reviews.

8. A somewhat extensive—this is a government program, after all—list of the responsibilities of the EN towards the Ticket holder and…

9. Signed acknowledgement that the Ticket holder’s approval of the IWP effectively assigns her/his Ticket to that EN.

Here is an example of how an IWP might work, with a focus on the bold sections above.

Ted is 20 years old and has one more year in his high school’s transition program and currently receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid because he has a disability. Ted lives with his parents but would like to be more financially independent with a view towards moving into his own place. Ted decides that he is ready to go to work and has learned that he can use his Ticket to Work to help himself. Ted is passionate about animals, particularly birds. Ted interviews several ENs and choses one that seems like a good fit. They create a work plan with the following basic components.

  • Ted and the EN meet several times by Zoom so that Ted can explore his interests and the EN can assist him to develop attainable goals, based on these interests.

  • Ted and the EN together craft this short term goal: Ted will apply for and obtain a part-time job working at a local bird-focused pet store. The couple that owns the store knows Ted’s aptitude with animals because he has volunteered for them, and they will hire him without a high-school diploma. By the end of 18 months, when Ted will have completed his transition program and left school, Ted will be working 22 hours/week at an expected wage of $11/hour and earning $968/month.

  • Ted and the EN together craft this long term goal: Ted will apply for a position as a veterinary assistant with one of several exotic animal veterinary offices in his hometown his home. Ted will work 30 hours a week, starting at an expected wage of $13/hour and earn $1,560/month.

  • The EN will help Ted to create a resume and draft cover letters, to screen job postings to find those most suitable, to review and respond to communication he receives during the job application process, and to prepare with mock interviews. Once Ted has obtained a position, the EN will help him talk to his new boss about the fact that Ted uses a picture-scheduling app on his phone as a reasonable accommodation to manage his work responsibilities. The EN will also help Ted to understand and prepare for the impact of his work on his SSI and Medicaid eligibility.

When you are playing Pictionary, Dohdles, or a similar game, part of the fun is laughing at the ridiculous and erroneous conclusions that the illustrations sometimes generate even though those incorrect guesses prevent a team from advancing. When you are building your work life, however, you will want your plans and illustrations to be as clear and comprehensible as possible to make sure that you advance at every turn.

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