Transitioning Students with Disabilities into College and Careers

Scott Rich is a prime example of how a student with disabilities can be successful. Rich was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, and behavioral problems affected him throughout elementary school. He had difficulty engaging to the point that he was expelled on several occasions, and during middle and high school, he suffered anxiety and time management issues.

Graduation CapsToday, life for Rich is an entirely different story. At age 29, Rich has earned his M.A. in Special Education, a B.A. in Geography, and a Minor in Special Education. Rich now works as an outreach advocate and is mentoring students with special needs and autism.

“If it wasn’t for parental involvement, the IEP [Individualized Education Program], and IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], it would have been very difficult to complete my education,” said Rich.

During a roundtable discussion as part of ED’s back-to-school bus tour, Sue Swenson, deputy assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative services, and Melody Musgrove, director of Special Education programs, joined Scott Rich and other advocates and parents of children with disabilities to collaborate on some of the challenges, success stories, and experiences of transitioning students with disabilities, from high school to post-secondary education. “Parents have to advocate for students until students can advocate for themselves,” said one parent.

Passionate parents at the summit voiced their opinions on the challenges students with disabilities face as they transition to college and careers, including:

  • The need for an IEP as soon as a child enters elementary school.
  • A lack of knowledge, information and resources about disabilities.
  • The need for better training for schools, districts and staff.
  • Better access to vocational skills and training for students.

Parents and advocates also shared things that are working, including:

  • The availability of resources and information for legal assistance and rights for students with disabilities, as well as workshops for training and employment assistance.
  • Well-documented IEPs.

The event also highlighted the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) which runs a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) that advocates for both parents and youth.  PTI’s serve families with disabilities from birth through age 21.  Through their training sessions, workshops and one-on-one assistance, they have been able to assist millions of parents and families. The program is funded in part by the Department of Education and more information on the PTI’s can be found at

Linda Pauley works in ED’s Office of Communication and Outreach in the Seattle regional office.