Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Falling through the Cracks: Rehabilitation Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Falling through the Cracks: Rehabilitation Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

* Data concerning the vocational status of adults with learning disabilities (LD) (Buchanan & Wolf, 1986; Cobb & Crump, 1984; Fafard & Haubrich, 1981; Hoffman et al., 1987; White, 1985) suggest that they might benefit from the provision of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. However, access to appropriate VR services may be a problem for many adults with learning disabilities. Until 1981, when the Rehabilitation Services Administration accepted specific learning disabilities as a medically recognizable disability, individuals with LD were not eligible for rehabilitation services solely on the basis of a primary diagnosis of learning disability; they were rejected for services unless they also had another disabling condition (Gerber, 1981; Rubin & Roessler, 1983).

Although legally available, VR may not be accessible to adults with LD for a variety of reasons. Varying LD definitions, diagnostic and eligibility procedures from state to state (Biller, 1988; Sheldon & Prout, 1985), and a possible reluctance to serve LD clients Miller, Mulkey, & Kopp, 1984) may make access to the VR system difficult for the LD population. Adults with LD and their families are no longer under the umbrella of Public Law 94-142. They may not be aware that they must seek and initiate services since VR is an eligibility rather than an entitlement program. In other words, adults with LD can only receive services if they meet VR eligibility requirements; they are not automatically entitled to receive free appropriate services based on their individual needs as they leave special education programs (Johnson, Bruininks, & Thurlow, 1987). An issue not addressed by the literature is whether adults with LD, families, and advocates have the information they need to successfully negotiate the VR system.

There are a few things we haven't known about adults with LD that relate directly to their ability to gain successful access to rehabilitation services and that have implications for the transition planning process. How much knowledge do they have of VR and their role in the rehabilitation eligibility process? What are the characteristics of adults with LD who do and don't apply for services? Of those who apply for services, what are the characteristics of individuals who do and don't gain successful access? Are clients with LD satisfied with the services they have received? If not, why not?

There is no information available on rehabilitation services as seen from the perspective of the adult with LD who is the primary stakeholder in the problem. The present study is a starting point for looking at the problem.


A pretested questionnaire was published in the January 1989 ACLD Newsbriefs, the national newsletter of the Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities, now known as the Learning Disability Association of America. Self-identifted adults with LD reported their employment status, income and education levels, and living arrangements, in addition to their knowledge, perceptions, and experiences regarding the rehabilitation application/eligibility process.

Because of the possibility that ACLD respondents would be better informed and more successful than individuals who don't belong to this advocacy organization, questionnaires were also mailed to former public-school students who had received services for LD. Despite several mailings, however, distribution and sample size of the school-identifted group (n = 44) prohibited statistical comparison with the ACLD group (N = 3 53). Therefore, afl statistical information presented here pertains to the ACLD respondents.


ACLD respondents (N = 353) ranged from 16 to 67 years in age (mean age, 30.8; SD, 10.4). There were 197 males and 156 females from 45 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia; the sample was largely urban, with 46.9% living in cities with a population of at least 50,000. …

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