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Employment for adults with Down Syndrome (DS) has been and continues to be an uphill battle, especially for those of us who live in countries that are slow to progress in relation to all things affecting persons with special needs. I live in what is categorized as a third world country and I can tell you, like molasses making its way out of a bottle, so are our steps as a country towards the employment of persons with special needs. The good news though is that other countries are actually breaking down barriers and thus providing a good template for the rest of us to follow. So, what hope do we have for our loved ones with DS in terms of employment?

University/College – The Traditional Path to Employment

employment for adults with down syndromeThe good news…there are actual university/college programs that persons with Down Syndrome can enroll in. Yes, my fellow third world countrymen, I know this mostly applies to the first world countries but hear me out. In the United States of America, for example, there is the website, “thinkcollege.net”, which lists a plethora of colleges and programs that you could seriously consider for your loved one and I would encourage you to do just that. From the moment they become teenagers, you should be checking these options out, seeing what they really have to offer. Parents/Caregivers, we have to get out there, ask questions, get a tour of the campus if you need to, speak to the program directors, lecturers, whatever you need to do to feel satisfied that the goals that your loved one needs to achieve will be met by this institution.

For those of us, who do not have these programs at our local colleges, there might still be a way for your loved one to go to college. In Jamaica, for example, companies like “Versan” and “NEVA Educational Services” help locals to acquire scholarships to study abroad. They do this for students attending regular high schools but also do this for persons with special needs. Probably a company similar to the above mentioned in your country can assist you with finding a way to get your child to college. Reach out and make contact…you never know what can happen. If college is the way forward for your family, then do your research and make it happen!

College is Not for Everyoneemployment-for-adults-with-down-syndrome

If we are honest, this college thing is not working out so well for some of us “normal/abled” people. How are things for you since you got that degree? A job that just pays the bills? A dead-end spirit crushing destination that seems to only hire managers that have absolutely no idea what they are doing? Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. I have nothing against school. I went. I got my degree. I believe people should be educated. I just don’t believe that we were all meant to be academics. Similarly, some of our loved ones with DS are meant to be artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, etc. and not all these careers require college…just saying.

employment for adults with down syndrome

The truth is, for many of us, it is easier to find a non-college program offering one of the aforementioned skills that our loved ones could enroll in. Are there local painting classes in your town? Have you gone over there to speak with whomever is in charge? Never underestimate the power of going in to speak with someone, explaining your situation and seeing if you can come to an understanding where your mutual needs can be met. You will be surprised at the number of people willing to give our loved ones a chance. Pottery classes, jewelry making, tie and die? What about your local café…would they be willing to give your loved one some work experience? Do you know a dance teacher who needs an assistant? Do you know a photographer or boutique owner who needs a model? I know it’s hard for us to think like entrepreneurs and see the business opportunity in everything because the truth is, this is not what we were taught in school. One of the things I have learnt about having someone with DS in my life is that they cause you to go against the grain, to think outside the box…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Push Until Something Happens

I know it seems like us caregivers must always put ourselves out there…truth is, we have to. Why? Because the path to employment is not clear cut for persons with DS. We haven’t gotten to the state where society has considered our loved ones when implementing policies on education, housing, employment, etc. We are fighting to get there and my hope is that we will, but for now we have to keep on pushing for what is best for our loved ones and that means getting out there, doing our research, walking up to various employers and advocating for our loved ones’ rights.

Also, it means ensuring that we have taught our loved ones to be polite, respectable, responsible, sociable, and kind. We should ensure that we taught them about proper hygiene and personal grooming. We should ensure that we taught them to believe in themselves and have done what we can to boost their self-confidence. We must do our part to convey the importance of independence to our loved ones. We cannot treat them as children when they are now teenagers and adults. I know that is hard as we are constantly in “protective mode” but we should let them know that we understand why they want to be independent and even if they will not get to a state of complete independence, we are there to ensure that they get as far as is possible.

So, there is hope in terms of employment for adults with Down Syndrome. It requires us, the parents/caregivers, having an understanding of our loved one’s interests and abilities and us seeking out and finding the opportunities for them to hone those interests/skills. It is possible guys! Hard but possible.


  1. Hi, Alicia.
    I’m quite impressed with your post, you have a lot of guts and are filled with love for your sister.
    I totally agree that schools and universities help every student to get her/his calling.
    I believe anything can be accomplished if you stick with it.
    Thank you for your inspiring article.

    1. Hi Hayden,

      Thank you so much for stopping by HappyDowns. I really appreciate your encouragement. You are right, we can accomplish anything if we stick to it and so I wish you all the best with your goals in life. You can do it, just keep pushing!

  2. Hi Alicia,
    Thanks for the heartfelt article. I know this is very personal to you and I wish you all the best of luck. I only hope the rest of the world is open minded and understanding, so we can live in a better world. People should be given chances to succeed in life no matter what their difference are. It’s wonderful that there are educational programs here in the States, but its also about changing peoples views. We need to accept and embraces our differences. Therefore give people a chance! Cheers.

    P.S. would you please comment on my article, thanks a million!

    1. Hi Xdeem Li,
      Indeed, we need to give people a chance…sometimes a chance is all someone really needs. The truth is, we are all more alike than different.
      All the best to you with your site, I will definitely drop by.

      Take care!

  3. It is disheartening in this time and age that so much is done in terms of scientific discoveries, yet communities are still so short of services to facilitate independent living in semi-abled individuals. It must be difficult to let go of loved ones, but you are right, the main thing is to strike that balance right between allowing them to bloom in their independence whilst still ‘being there’ for them. In UK in the last few years more and more cuts have been made at government levels to fund voluntary services that provide those vital classes. That certainly is not helpful for DS people and for their families. That’s the frustrating thing.

    1. Hi GiuliaB,
      It is indeed frustrating. I have never understood the rationale behind cutting the funding for the services that help members of the special needs community. Yes, it is the family’s responsibility to ensure their loved one’s needs are met but I wish people could also see that as a society it is our collective responsibility to help those in need. In the meantime though, I encourage the families and their well wishers to continue pushing forward. The change will come.
      Take care!

  4. Hi Alicia,
    Good points but when searching for work for my daughter (who likes teaching), I discovered that the employers do NOT want to take on the responsibility of having a person with disabilities working for them. This is where I think the government needs to step in and put in place some laws to assist these persons.
    What do you think?

    1. Hi Pat,
      Yes, all countries should have laws that uphold the rights of persons who have disabilities. But before we can get to a place where these laws exist, it is the parents and families of people with Down Syndrome that will have to step up, speak out and make the government aware of exactly what issues are affecting us and what we need from the government. In your specific case, chances are the employers that you mentioned are more than likely unaware of what persons with DS are actually capable of in the working world. Why is this so? Well, they probably have never seen a person with DS working and they probably don’t know anyone who has DS and thus are only speculating on what it would be like. Perfect opportunity here for you to educate them. Ensure that you do all that you can to prepare your daughter to volunteer as a teacher’s assistant. Practice with her. Walk her through the steps. Make sure she’s ready and then go back to that institution and let them know what she can do (it would be great if you could get her on video doing some of the things that would be relevant to her potential job). If that particular institution won’t give your daughter a chance, move on to the next institution. Wear them down. One will eventually give you that chance and when they do, you ensure your daughter shines. When they see that you daughter is indeed capable, it will open the door for others with disabilities.

      Let me know what progress you and your daughter have made. Keep me in the loop.

      Take care!

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