We Are Failing Students with Disabilities in Transition from School to Work

The future of changing disability segregation is with young people.

One of the most serious concerns I have about the continued segregation of people with disabilities is based on the lack of progress we have made with young adults with severe disabilities leaving school. Far too many “transition plans” still simply recommend sheltered workshops or other day programs, for example. This often is contradicted by families or the students themselves, who rightly feel that a real job should be the outcome of school to adult life.

I still get a number of requests to act as a consultant or an expert witness in such family-school disputes over transition planning or the lack thereof. Unfortunately, I am unable to respond to most of these cases.

In a 2003 study (see National Longitudinal Transition Study), only 15% of youth (13 to 16 years old) with autism, approximately one-fourth of youth with multiple disabilities, deaf-blindness, or orthopedic impairments, and about one-third of youth with mental retardation or visual impairments are employed in a given 1-year period.

Special education needs to do a better job to provide out-of-school work experiences for their students with disabilities, especially those with more challenging disabilities. The older the student gets, the more imperative it is for real world job experience.