Join the Conversation to Improve Transition from School to Work for Youth with Disabilities

Today’s young people must graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century global economy.  And that certainly includes youth with disabilities.  To that end, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy are working closely together to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to graduate college and career ready.

Our economy demands a talented and diverse workforce.  President Obama has called on the Federal Government to hire an additional 100,000 workers with disabilities by 2015.  Senator Harkin joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in setting a goal to increase the size of the disability workforce from under five million to six million by 2015.  Delaware’s Governor Markell, as Chair of the National Governor’s Association, has called on state governments to identify business partners who will work with them to develop strategic plans for the employment and retention of workers with disabilities.

We believe that all youth, including youth with disabilities, must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce. While in school, students with disabilities must be held to high expectations, participate in the general curriculum, be exposed to rigorous coursework, and have meaningful and relevant transition goals and services aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Research has shown that effective transition services are directly linked to better postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Research also tells us that to flourish in the workplace youth with disabilities must also be provided with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, to engage in self-determination and career exploration, and to participate in paid work-based experiences while in high school.  With only 20.7 percent of working age people with disabilities participating in the labor force, compared to 68.8 percent of those without disabilities, we must do better!

That is why we’re currently hosting, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Social Security Administration, the first-ever national online dialogue to help shape federal agency strategies for helping young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work. We know that we cannot do this alone. To bring about lasting change, we need educators, service providers, disability advocates, policymakers, and youth with disabilities and their families to provide input. We want and need to hear from you!

Akin to a “virtual town hall,” this dialogue invites members of the public to help us learn what’s working, what’s not, and where change is needed, with particular focus on how various federal laws and regulations impact the ability of youth with disabilities to be successful in today’s global economy. This “Conversation for Change” started on May 13 and runs through May 27th. More than 2,000 people have participated, and we want you to join-in also! We encourage everyone who is interested in improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities to contribute.

We hope you will lend your voice to our efforts to ensure inclusion, equity and opportunity on behalf of America’s youth with disabilities.

Join the online dialogue!

Michael Yudin is the acting assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.  Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. 


  1. As a Rehabilitaiton Counselor who works with individuals with mental health diagnosis’ on vocational goals, I believe that the sooner a rehab. counselor begins working with a young individual and the family the better. To change the individuals outlook, the families expectations and societies expectations we need to instill hope and a sense of responsibility in individuals/ families/ society that they (the individual with the diagnosis) are still expected to be contributing members of society. Removing accountability and responsibility is not the answer but providing support, encouragement and setting realistic goals is.
    Volunteering, work tryouts, summer employment opportunities that are critical, just that same as for a young adult without a diagnosis. It is how we all learn, grow and find out for ourselves what our interests, skills and talents are.

  2. I have appealed and lost and have even hired a lawyer which was hard to do on my meager income. The next step I have to do is write a letter to the president and the technical colleges organization to see what can be done. I owe $40,000 in school loans and they are telling me to pick another program. I don’t believe what happened to me is fair or just and I feel as if that public instituation of post secondary education basically falsely adverstised to me and took my government loan money with no inention of ever passing me. I understand that having a mental health diagnoses would make it hard to be employed, but they could at least have let me get the degree that I basically paid for and passed all my classes. I also know a girl who was in my program that had a developmental disability who actually passed her clinicals and that passed her clinicals and yet they still failed her because of a powerpoint that was done incorrectly. This was quiet blatant discrimination and her and I both agree that we were given false hopes and that the school falsely adverstised.

  3. We are certainly hearing from stakeholders that the transition must begin sooner-age 16 is not early enough and 14 may not be early enough, either. We frequently encounter students transitioning from schools directly into segregated settings and one of the commonly cited reasons is that groundwork with the adult service system was not laid soon enough before school services ended, resulting in students needing a “place to go” and learn skills, rather than directing them towards integrated employment or secondary education. If we can succeed in aligning our efforts between schools and adult services for employment, etc. I think these goals are certainly attainable.

  4. Engage families early so that they understand the complexities of transition planning and the importance of their involvement.

  5. Students with disabilities are not being evaluated to determine the impact of technology enhancements in the learning environment. Educators with expertise utilizing technology in the general education population are not encouraged nor utilized in the special education colloborative process.

  6. I have an Educational Blueprint for Urban and Rural school systems that will assist special education and rehabilitative services.

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