Cornell University

October 28 2011

What Works

Innovative approaches to unemployment explored in documentary

One of today's most haunting economic questions centers on young adults.

How can students – especially those with disabilities – possibly compete for a place in the work world?

A Sunday television documentary produced by ILR's Employment and Disability Institute explains how collaboration between schools, businesses and students with disabilities pays off with real jobs for teens.

"What Works?" premiers at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on WCNY, Channel 24.1. On Time Warner, the show will be broadcast on Channel 11 for standard cable and Channel 850 for digital cable. Verizon FIOS customers can see the show on Channel 11.

The 30-minute program features teens from three regions of the state as they prepare to transition from high school.

"This film shows that that it's possible to find inexpensive, yet innovative solutions to employment problems in a changing economy," said Senior Extension Associate Dave Brewer of the Employment and Disability Institute.

Kids with disabilities illustrate the resilience and resourcefulness all kids need to survive and prosper on their own,” he said.

The documentary grew from the Employment and Disability Institute's Model Transition Project.

A team of researchers led by Brewer tracked the employment paths of 16,000 students with disabilities.

Data collected from 150 high schools statewide from 2008 to 2010 is being interpreted so that policymakers, teachers, vocational rehabilitation counselors and others can learn from patterns that lead to successful transitions into adulthood.

The research was funded by the New York State Education Department, Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and can be accessed at www.transitionsource.org.

Many of the 200,000 students with disabilities who exit New York high schools every year do not have the skills and experience to compete for jobs, especially in a down economy, Brewer said.

However, in pockets across the state, businesses, schools and vocational rehabilitation counselors are helping students transition into adult life with paying jobs.

"What Works?" tells the stories of three students:

  • Michael spent hundreds of hours at home playing with tape recorders. At his high school near Rochester, he learned about digital audio production and volunteered at a local radio station, where he continues to work while attending college. He reflects on his passion, on pursuing his dreams and on his disability – autism.
  • Daisy, who lives in the Ithaca area, wants to be a masseuse. During high school, she learned how to write a resume, conduct a job search and interview for a job. This experience "gave her the guts," she said, to approach a small business on her own. She landed her dream job, but that didn't last long; the economy forced the business to close. As a high school graduate holding down three jobs, Daisy struggles with where she goes from here to improve the quality of her life.
  • Carlos works as a carpenter in a barber shop in the Bronx. His high school was housed in the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, where his teacher taught him plumbing, electrical skills and carpentry. He reflects on his life, living on the streets and what his education means for him.

WCNY, Central New York's public broadcasting station, co-produced the program with AXXESS Media, which is owned by WCNY.

The documentary was sponsored by the Greater Southern Tier Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Employment and Disability Institute.

"What Works?" was made by Insights International, Inc., a film production company based in New York City and Ithaca. Its principals are Ann Michel A&S '77 and Phil Wilde CALS '73.