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Disabled students' transition from school to work made harder by Covid-19

Many of the country's disabled students graduating school this year have had no opportunity to work out what they're going to do.

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Among them is Cameron Davies, who’s living with the effects of a severe brain injury. Source: 1 NEWS

It's often a tough transition, but Covid-19's made it harder.

Hundreds of families turned out at a transition expo in Auckland today, put on by Disability Connect, aimed at helping young people form plans.

Among them was Cameron Davies, who told 1 NEWS, "Today is my official last day of school".

His mother, Yvette said, "We're looking at what Cameron can do next year and for the rest of his life".

Cameron's living with the effects of a severe brain injury.

"It has been two years and two days since I was hit by a car on my push bike," he said.

His mother said, "Cameron before his accident, was planning on going to university and all these different things and although his path has changed, it has the same value".

But for many disabled young people, finding new purpose outside of school is a huge challenge.

Disability Connect chief executive, Mike Potter, said, “one of the greatest challenges parents of children with disabilities face is finding out about what is actually suitable and possible for their families”.

One mother, looking around the expo today for her son said, "It is a lot of anxiety for them, cause it's a huge change".

Disability Connect board chair Colleen Brown told 1 NEWS, "For many parents it's the great unknown ... because often the young person has been in a secondary school for quite a long time".

Students assessed as high needs don't always quality for what's referred to as Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding, which provides access to transition support.

And according to the Ministry of Education, of the 1616 who applied in 2019, 490 applicants were denied.

In a statement, Katrina Casey, deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, said, "The Ongoing Resourcing Scheme is for a small percentage of the school population with the highest levels of need. Students who meet one or more of the nine ORS criteria are accepted for ORS funding, which lasts until they leave school."

Paula Tesoriero, Disability Rights Commissioner, said "ORS funding really is only provided to really only a very small number of disabled students".

Brown said, "they are then left scouting around ... who is going to help me transition to the next step ... and for those parents it's even more important that they know and understand what their options and what the young peoples' options are".

She says there should be more flexibility with the funding.

The transition for young disabled people has faced further challenges this year, due to the risk of Covid-19.

One school leaver told 1 NEWS, "it's probably one of the toughest things I've ever done in my life, especially with Covid at the moment"

Disability Connect says many disabled students are immunocompromised, so were kept home longer than their peers.

That's restricted opportunities, such as the expo, to form post school plans.

Brown said, "It is very difficult to take those steps back into the school environment, let alone the bigger world after that".

Just 22 per cent of disabled people are employed, and a new report from Stats NZ today found their median income is less than half of that of non-disabled people.

The report also found disabled people are more likely to be lonely.

Tesoriero said, "We know with the unemployment rate for disabled people currently what it is, that there's the risk it will get worse in these [tough economic] times."

"Transition programmes are such an important way for young disabled people to move into their career", she said.

Cameron said it was a huge help to him, "There're some pretty great options for me".

He was particularly excited about a gym stall, with hopes he can "get his muscle back".

The Ministry of Health said, "We’re working with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to pilot a new service ... for 1,000 disabled school leavers, including those with a health condition, in five regions across the country."

"The service will work with individual students, their families and whānau, schools, kura and employers. It will focus on employment or employment-related training for students post-school.

The programme called Employment Service in Schools will begin in 2021.