Thursday, May 29, 2008

National Parks Employ People with Special Needs

As we traveled across the country visiting National Parks, I was glad to see the number of people with special needs employed at the national parks. I think this is such a great opportunity for them because of the safe environment for them to work and live in. Many of the employees live in dormitory type housing. On the site is also a place for them to do laundry, a store to get supplies, place to eat such as a deli or snack bar or restaurant. There is law enforcement that monitor the park and usually a clinic if it is a large national park or in a remote place. A couple of the parks even had a bank on the site. What a great place for someone to live an independent life but still be sheltered in a way. I looked at many of these parks and realized that there are also many people who come from other countries also working there. This would be a safe place for them also. In an environment like this, there is less of a chance that the disabled or naïve would be taken advantage of or harmed. It is structured enough so that once the initial uncertainty wears off; they would feel comfortable with the day to day responsibilities. Many of their duties seem repetitive and easy for them to learn so they can be successful in their jobs.

I talked to one man who was autistic and had a great conversation with him. He said he has been working there during the season for a few years and he likes it. When I asked him what he did on his day off he told me that he works on “life skills.” I asked him to explain that and he said that he cleans the place that he lives, goes to the store, and does his laundry. He said that he liked getting a paycheck all on his own and spending money without anyone telling him what he could spend it on. He doesn’t have to pay rent or utilities because it came with the job. The only thing he spends money on is his supplies, food, and laundry.

Another park had a person with special needs working the cash register in the store. He would not make any eye contact with me but he was very friendly and willing to answer my questions. His answers were much like the man mentioned above.

I’m so glad the government is employing people with special needs because it helps them be more independent and raises their self concept. We aren’t supporting people with disabilities by saying they can’t hold a job and putting them on some governmental aid because of their disabilities. This belief in them helps raise the expectation that they could do more than most people realize, it helps expose more children and adults to others with disabilities. Children become more tolerant of people with differences and learn to socially accept them. I think this program is a successful and worthwhile program!

Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park by elmada


M-Dawg said...

Very cool! Such a great idea. I wish more places would employ people with Special Needs (besides the local grocery stores).

I had a student this year with autism (the first time in my career) and it was a struggle since I've had no training or background (my school provided NO support). Are you aware of any workshops or professional development opportunities about autism? Or any books that you would recommend for me to read over the summer?

We've been told that we will getting more students with autism in the next two years and I would like to be prepared. :-)

loonyhiker said...

I learned a lot about teaching students with autism by trial and error but thankfully I had a great rapport with parents who shared with me what worked and didn't work with their child. Each child was very different even though they had the same label. I know that daily visual timestables worked well with each one of my students. Here are a couple of links to some great site:

The Autism Society

The Truth About Autism
and I just finished a great book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon