to Work Transition for Youth with Disabilities
Delaware TQM Project
Richard Luecking, President
George Tilson, Senior Vice President
451 Hungerford Drive, Suite 700
Rockville, MD 20850
Best and Effective Practices
Ever since the Education for all Handicapped Children's Act was passed in 1975, educators have been increasingly concerned about the long term impact of special education programs on students with disabilities as they enter adult life, especially adult employment. In fact, strong emphasis on school-to-work transition became a federal priority within a decade of the Act's enactment (Will, 1984). Consequently, more and more young people with disabilities and their families have come to fully expect that the culmination of publicly supported education will be a job - or at least the likelihood for further education or training that will eventually result in employment. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1990 mandates planning for transition, with associated objectives, in the Individual Education Plan (IEP) of all students who receive special education services beginning no later than age 16, and preferably by age 14.
Since 1984, the U.S. Department of Education has funded research and demonstration projects as well as gathered and disseminated information that confirms effective practice. In fact, there is now a wealth of information available to the field indicating those practices that are most likely to result in post school employment for youth with disabilities. The most frequently cited "effective practices" include: written transition plans with clear and relevant objectives that are the basis for the student's instruction; parent or family involvement in the transition planning process; relevant vocational assessment and career exploration; specific and work-based vocational and social skills training; interagency collaboration and cooperation, especially between schools and post-secondary services; paid work experience during high school; and integrated educational and community experiences (DeStefano, 1989; Kohler, 1993; Kohler & Rusch, 1985; Wehman, 1996). What follows is a summary of these practices.
The advantages of beginning early to plan for a viable career path for youth with disabilities led to the legal requirement, under the IDEA, to incorporate transition planning into the IEP as early as age fourteen. A planful approach to eventual adult employment is necessary if students are to enter the workforce fully prepared for a specific occupation and/or post-school vocational training. Keys to effective transition planning include the following:
- Early planning: preparation for a career is a long process that begins when a student is first exposed to various employment options. Subsequent career development activities are predicated on the targeted experiences that the student has throughout his or her K-12 education, but most especially on those in secondary grades so that by the time the student exits school he or she has a clear and distinct career path (Bates, 1990; Wehman, 1996).
- Interdisciplinary approaches: employment preparation and effective transition to the workplace is contingent on the availability and integration of interdisciplinary and ancillary services particular to individual students (Gajar, Goodman, & McAfee, 1993). Such interdisciplinary services include physical therapy, speech therapy, psychological services, social services and assessment services (see below), as well as well-coordinated delivery of such interdepartmental educational services as career and technology education, academic instruction, curriculum development and related services.
- Self-termination and Choice: Long term planning is most effective when it is actively influenced by students, as well as by their families or other significant adults (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1993; Field & Hoffman, 1994). There is evidence to suggest that school systems that treat the IEP as much more than a compliance document are more effective in providing educational experiences that lead to post school employment (Kohler & Rusch, 1995). Since the IEP is meant to be individualized, that is, geared specifically to each student, the objectives contained in the IEP must be individually determined based on the circumstances and preferences of individual students. When parents or family members attend IEP meetings, actively suggest objectives, and communicate regularly with members of the interdisciplinary team, the chances are much greater that the IEP will be outcome oriented and matched to the needs and preferences of the student.
- Direct relationship between IEP objectives and the instruction provided: once the educators, members of the interdisciplinary teams and the student and family agree on the objectives, the instruction is driven by the individually determined objectives. When this occurs, the student receives instruction that is more likely to result in acquisition of social and vocational skills necessary for adult employment (Gajar, Goodman & McAfee; 1993).
Assessment and Exploration
Effective transition planning is predicated on relevant, accurate and flexible vocational assessment and career exploration. The following characterizes aspects of assessment and exploration that contribute to meaningful transition planning services for students with disabilities.
- Emphasis on careers, not labels: A long standing practice in special education has been to lump students with similar disabilities into programs with similar educational approaches, the assumption being that "specialists" are necessary and that focussed "special" programs are necessary. And it has often been assumed that it is easier to provide such special, focussed education in one place (Menechetti & Piland, in press). Although the need for segregated, disability specific education is still debated in some circles, it has become increasingly clear that, regardless of disability label, it is the uniqueness of each student that should drive the educational process, not the disability label.
- Variety: Students who are provided opportunities to explore a variety of career options, in a variety of work settings fare better than those who do not (Moon & Inge, 1993; Wehman, 1996). This enhances the student's and teachers' ability to identify and choose the type of careers that matches student profiles as well as the type of environment that best suits the student characteristics (Menechetti & Piland, in press).
- Minimizing deficit focus: Assessment that focus on skills, interests, preferences, and need for accommodation, rather than assessment that focuses on deficits has been shown to be more likely to guide students and educators toward true career opportunity (Sarkes-Wircenski & Wircenski, 1994).
- Exposure to real work settings: True career exploration requires opportunities to observe and participate in work activities, and interact with people who perform specific career tasks. This requires that exploration activities happen outside of the classroom. More and more educators are identifying the value of "real world" vocational experiences (Gajar, Goodman, & McAfee, 1993; Wehman, 1996).
Vocational and Social Skills Training
The value of specific vocational and social skills training for learners with disabilities is well documented (Gajar, Goodman, & McAfee, 1993; Wehman, 1996). The most effective training is related to real work situations through community based instruction, now more commonly referred to as work-based learning (see below). In any event, the trend is toward real, rather than simulated training. And the nearer the student gets to projected school exit, the more the training should take place in real work environments.
It has also been shown that people with disabilities are more likely to retain employment when social skills are well developed. Integrated settings, including real work environments, best offer opportunities for appropriate social skills to be modeled and adaptive social behaviors to be developed (Fabian, Edelman, & Leedy 1993).
Students with all disabilities, including those with the most severe disabilities, who receive occupational specific work preparation that includes targeted, work-based learning opportunities (see below) are more likely to exit school with strong lifelong work prospects. In other words, the best predictor of post school employment success is not disability type, but the exposure to real work environments that matches interests, capabilities and individual circumstances (Moon & Inge, 1993).
There is considerable support for, and evidence of, the value of linking academic and vocational curriculum. Indeed, the School to Work Opportunities Act, passed in 1994, was crafted to encourage activities that utilize workplaces as active learning environments to be coordinated with learning in the school. Essentially, there is a strong two directional movement to strengthen the academics in career and technology education and to enable academic learning to occur in real work environments (Krieg, Brown, & Ballard, 1995).
Connection to Community Resources and Interagency Collaboration
The non-work life needs of students can significantly influence their eventual adult employment. Family support, living arrangements, income, peer interactions and other circumstances affect students' ability to learn, and in many cases even the likelihood that they will stay in school (Wagner, et. al., 1993). Therefore, student success is often contingent on linking students to necessary ancillary community resources that address these circumstances.
Many students will require post-secondary service to obtain and retain employment as well as to obtain related services that are necessary for adult life. Connection to these services ideally occurs well in advance of the student's planned exit from the public school program. Given the specific charges of many government funded programs and services, many school systems have found it useful to develop and implement specific interagency cooperative agreements that spell out the responsibilities of all parties involved in school-to-work transition (Luecking & Hathaway, 1992). Examples of these agreements include those between school districts, vocational rehabilitation programs, local government agencies and other involved parties.
Work-based learning includes career exploration, assessment, job shadowing, vocational training, internships and paid work experiences at employer work sites. The more of these opportunities that are available, the more successful the student is likely to be in post-secondary employment. Paid work is an especially critical adjunct to educational curricula. In fact, as early as 1985, research already was showing that students with disabilities who experience paid work as a part of their high school experience were four times more likely to be employed as adults (Hasazi, Gordan & Roe, 1985). For this reason, it has become an increasingly common practice in special education programs throughout the country to provide instruction in real work settings. Recent reports (e.g., see Tilson, Luecking & Donovan, 1995) confirm that when youth, across all disabilities, spend at least two months in a job with wages paid by the employer they not only gain valuable experience that translates into marketable skills, but they more often than not exit school already employed. Access to transportation and the re-deployment of school staff is often necessary to effect more work-based learning opportunities, and those programs that are able to orchestrate such conditions have noted better post-school employment outcomes for their students. It should be noted that the effectiveness of this practice has not been lost on general education as more and more schools are amending their curricula to include work-based learning for all students, not just those in special or career and technology education (Zemsky, 1995).
It is self-evident that the practice of work-based learning is dependent on the active participation of employers. The extent that schools are able to form sustainable partnerships with employers dictates the extent to which school-to-work transition programs are able to incorporate work-based learning into their curricula. Employers are willing to invest time and resources in work-based learning activities as long as they perceive direct benefit. The motivation of employers to participate in transition programs must go far beyond corporate good citizenship. Opportunities to influence curriculum, train prospective employees in the intricacies of their industry, and receive effective consultation in work force preparation are just a few of the possible benefits. Reviews of best transition practices reveals strong employer involvement (Tilson, Luecking & West, 1996).
Outcome Oriented Framework
To summarize, schools with transition programs that contain these characteristics are best serving their students with disabilities achieve desired post-school outcomes:
- written transition plans that are the basis for instruction, with parent and family involvement in transition planning;
- integrated vocational and community experiences, including opportunities for vocational exploration and assessment in real work settings, and opportunities for vocational and social skill development in real work settings;
- interagency collaboration;
- varied work-based learning experiences, and integrated, paid employment; and
- strong and sustainable employer involvement.
Current educational initiatives and transition reform efforts in both "special" and "regular" education are increasingly focused on what it takes to ensure that public education culminates in meaningful employment. The question that begs, therefore, to be asked of all educators is "how will what we are doing result in post school employment?" If the answer is specific and certain, then the focus is rightfully on the outcome, not the process.
Bates, P. (1990). Best practices in transition planning: Quality indicators. Southern Illinois University, Illinois Transition Project, Carbondale.
DeStefano, L. (1989). Facilitating the transition from school to adult life for youth with disabilities. In W.E. Keirnan & R.L. Schalock (Eds.), Economics, industry, and disability: A look ahead. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
Fabian, E., Edelman, A., & Leedy, M. (1993). Linking workers with severe disabilities to social supports in the workplace: Strategies for addressing barriers. Journal of Rehabilitation 59(3), 29-34.
Field, S. & Hoffman, A. (1994). Development of model for self-determination. Career Development of Exceptional Individuals, 17, 159-169.
Gajar, A. Goodman, L., & McAfee, J. (1993). Secondary schools and beyond: Transition of individuals with mild disabilities. New York: Macmillan.
Hasazi, S., Gordan, L., & Roe, C. (1985). Factors associated with the employment status of handicapped youth exiting high school from 1979 to 1983. Exceptional Children, 51, 455-469.
Kohler, P. (1993). Best practices in transition: Substantiated or implied? Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 16, 107-121.
Kohler, P. & Rusch, F. (1995). School to work transition: Identification of employment-related outcome and activity indicators. Career Development of Exceptional Individuals, 15, 33-50.
Krieg, F., Brown, P., & Ballard, J. (1995). Transition: School to work models for effective transition planning.
Luecking, R. & Hathaway, S. (1992). School to work transition for youth with severe disabilities: A planning and procedures manual. (Available from TransCen, Inc., 451 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD 20850).
Menechetti, B. & Piland, V. (in press). The Personal Career Plan: A person centered approach to vocational evaluation and career planning. In F.R. Rusch & J. Chadsey-Rusch (Eds.), Transition from school to work: New opportunities for adolescents. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Moon, M.S., & Inge, K. (1993). Vocational preparation and transition. In M. Snell (Ed.), Instruction of students with severe disabilities (4th ed., pp. 556-587). New York: Macmillan.
Sarkes-Wircenski, M., & Wircenski, J. (1994). "Transition planning: Developing a career portfolio for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals. 17, pp. 203-214.
Storms, J., DeStefano, L., & O'Leary, E. (1996). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Transition requirements. A guide for states, districts, schools and families. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University, National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Tilson, G., Luecking, R., & Donovan M. (1994). Involving employers in transition: The Bridges model. Career Development of Exceptional Individuals, 17, 77-89.
Tilson, G., Luecking, R., & West, L (1996). The employer partnership in transition for youth with disabilities. Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 18, 88-92.
Turnbull, A.P. & Turnbull, H.R. (1993). Empowerment and decision-making through Group Action Planning. In Life-long transitions: Proceedings of the third annual parent/family conference (pp. 39-45). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Wagner, M., Blackorby, J., Cameto, R., Hebbler, K., & Newman, L. (1993). The transition experiences of youth with disabilities: A report from the National Longitudinal Study. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
Wehman, P. (1996). Life beyond the classroom: Transition strategies for young people with disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
West, L. & Sarkes-Wircenski, M. (1995). Current and future practices of at-risk programs. Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 18, 12-17.
Will, M. (1984). OSERS programming for the transition of youth with disabilities: Bridges from school to adult life. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Zemsky, R. (1994). What employers want: Employer perspectives on youth. University of Pennsylvania: National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce.