What essential life skills do teens with disabilities need to know?

(Source: Shutterstock)

When we grow up, we’re expected to enter the world knowing certain life skills that are important as adults. However, some may feel like they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to being as prepared as other people, either because of the environment they were raised in or due to learning disabilities.

When we grow up, we’re expected to enter the world knowing certain life skills that are important as adults. However, some may feel like they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to being as prepared as other people, either because of the environment they were raised in or due to learning disabilities.

For people living with a disability, it may be harder or take longer to understand some of the things that others take for granted. For them, everyday activities such as using money, travelling on public transport or going to the shops are difficult, scary or simply confusing.

This article will cover money management, how to learn to use public transport and how to do the shopping with a brief summary of what it takes to succeed in these three categories, along with resources to help you or a loved one achieve everything that they can as they become an adult.

Learning how to manage money

Whether you’re a student, working full-time or part-time, or receive financial aid, learning how to manage the money that you have coming in is important.

The simplest principle to help you budget your money is the 50–30–20 rule. Sounds complex at first, but it’s really quite easy to learn and apply to your next incoming payment. 

It simply means dividing the money you earn into different buckets to allow you to pay for the essentials while also having money to spend and save.

For example, if you have an income of $1,000 each week, a portion of this amount often goes towards paying for your accommodation, often known as ‘rent’ or ‘board’ and household bills such as electricity and water bills. In this example that amount should be no more than $500 each week.

Of the $500 that you have left each week, $200 dollars (20 per cent of original income) should be split between your savings account with the banks, which will earn you interest (more money over time) and paying off any debts that you might have, such as payment plans or loans, like if you were to buy a car.

Now that you’re down to your last $300 dollars (30 per cent), you can finally treat yourself right. That means having enough money to buy food, clothing, things that you want or entertainment.

It can be tempting to spend money rather than save that $200 dollars or to live in a nicer house, but no matter how you divide that $1,000 dollars, one of the other parts of your life will be poorer for doing so.

It is important to note that depending on how much money you make and whether you have tax (money that you give to the Government) deducted, you may have to ask someone you know whether the money you receive is all yours or whether you owe money to the Government that you need to set aside.

Thankfully, if you follow the 50-30-20 rule and keep saving money, you should be prepared if you need to spend money for unexpected expenses or tax.

Learning how to use public transportation

If you are living with a disability which enables you to drive and you are considering learning how to drive, Disability Support Guide  resources are available to help you achieve that goal.

If you’re unable or unwilling to drive, public transport options are available to help you get goods and services from around your community, along with community provided transport options.

Public transport refers to buses, trains, trams or ferry services that take people to and from different locations in your city after they purchase a ticket.

If you own a smartphone, you may already have an inbuilt map system, but knowing the names of your public transport network will help you to find the right website. 

Many public transport networks offer inbuilt travel planners or lists of routes that will help you to find out where and when a service is available. Some often even have personalised or dedicated apps in order to help you along your entire journey.

If you’re unsure, Google Maps offers a public transport option, which will enable you to put in the address of where you are and where you want to go, which will show you how to get there quickly, along with your options.

The following are public transport services in Australian cities:

  • Translink — Brisbane, Queensland
  • TransPerth — Perth, Western Australia
  • Adelaide Metro — Adelaide, South Australia
  • Public Transport Victoria — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Transport for New South Wales — Sydney, New South Wales
  • Metro Tasmania (buses) and Navigators Tasmania (ferries) — Hobart, Tasmania
  • Transport Canberra — Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
  • DarwinBus NXTBus — Darwin, Northern Territory

Knowing what the name of the public transport network is in a city can help, as you can pre-plan your journey ahead and find out any accessibility issues which you may face, along with finding out if you can get assistance from the service staff.

From there, you can book a ticket or obtain a card, with most services now offering cards that operate similarly to a credit or debit card. Service stations can be found through the website in order to obtain your card in person or refill your card balance online.

You will need to validate your ticket or card upon boarding, as people that don’t pay for public transport may be fined and you can be forced to pay more money than the price of the ticket.

For people living with a disability, you may be able to save some money through special cards or licences which allow you to board for a discounted rate. Make sure to check online to see if you are eligible and when using the card in person, make sure that you have some form of identity to prove that you do have a disability, as not all disabilities are visual.

Learning how to do the shopping

Much like the 50-30-20 rule that we discussed earlier, it’s important to take responsibility for your well-being by spending money wisely and on the right things.

When you shop for the week ahead, going in with a list can be a lifesaver and will help you budget carefully, as you can typically find the price on the supermarket or store website. This means that you can avoid spending more by picking up things that you don’t need.

If you believe that public transport might be an issue for the length of time that it takes to get to your home, avoid buying perishable food or items that might be impacted by the travel such as meat, milk, some medicines or fish. If you do intend to buy those items, it might help to arrange transport through a friend, family member or carer in order to make sure that the items are kept in good condition.

Noting the expiry dates on goods is also something that you should learn to check for regularly, as buying expired goods or food that is about to expire can have consequences for a person’s health.

Getting a proper healthy and balanced diet is important as well, so knowing how to balance vegetables and fruit along with protein and iron is an adult skill and (unfortunate) part of life that involves avoiding too many sweets.

Shopping online is a new trend which teens with disabilities can take full advantage of and with ease of access, the digital world has made it that much easier for people to shop, but websites can still go down.

If you are a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Participant you may be able to get funding added to your plan and access supports to help with learning life skills. Talk to your support coordinator or local council about your goals.

With these three essential life skills, teenagers living with disabilities can be much more equipped to enter the adult world and navigate the often tricky landscape of self-reliance.

Related content:

Planes, trains and automobiles – your transport options

Tips for setting up family routines

Tips for homeschooling a child with autism