Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Evaluation of a Multi-Site Transition to Adulthood Program for Youth with Disabilities

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Evaluation of a Multi-Site Transition to Adulthood Program for Youth with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Young people, transitioning to adulthood, are challenged to adapt and embrace increasing societal expectations of greater community engagement via employment, higher education, and community participation. This process is especially complex for youth with disabilities, often resulting in lower rates of employment and higher rates of dependency as adults (Osgood, Foster, Flanagan, & Ruth, 2005). This is of prime concern; work provides in-roads to fuller societal integration, political power, and relationship development skills--building human/social capital for greater community functioning (Schur, 2002). Many young people, including those with disabilities, wish to live away from their parents following their exit from high school, which in large part depends on their ability to obtain and retain a stable source of income through employment. The benefits associated with employment contribute substantially to an overall quality of life, leading to increased independence, self-determination, and political strength. (Benz, Lindstrom & Yavanoff, 2000). Thus, increasing employment outcomes for youth with disabilities is key to their successful transition to adulthood, building upon their social capital for effective community functioning.

In the recent National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS-2), 57% of youth with disabilities were employed for pay, compared to 66% percent of similarly aged youth in the general population, one to four years after graduation. A little less than one quarter of youth with disabilities was enrolled in post-secondary education compared to 41% of the general population (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009). Although trends in overall community engagement (i.e., engagement in work, education, preparation for work) for youth with disabilities remained comparable across the two versions of the decade-long NLTS studies, there were some notable improvements: (a) an increase in the percentage of young people engaged in both employment and postsecondary education [6% in NLTS and 22% in NLTS-2], and (b) an increase in the percentage of young people with paid employment as their only mode of engagement [34% in NLTS and 44% in NLTS-2]. Though these numbers indicate progress made in the areas of improving work engagement for young people with disabilities, disparities continue to exist when these rates are compared to their peers with no disability classification.

With schools playing a central role in preparing youth with disabilities as they transition to adult lives, several strategies/models have emerged over the past decades. Most of these were centered on building a coalition between schools and community-based service providers to complement services provided within the confines of the special education system. The state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency has been consistently identified as a key partner in improving employment and related community engagement for students with disabilities (Benz, Lindstrom & Latta, 1999; Will, 1984). The VR agency provides vocational and rehabilitation-related supports for individuals with disabilities to enhance their employability.

To support school-VR collaborative programs toward better employment outcomes, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act Amendments (Rehab Act) of 1992 established a common definition for secondary transition services for youth with disabilities. The Rehab Act especially addresses the collaboration between VR and schools by requiring the VR agency to:

(a) coordinate service provision with the state education agency through establishment of formal interagency agreements [section 101 (a)(11)(d)];

(b) utilize the information submitted by education agency personnel to determine eligibility of students with disabilities for rehabilitation services and develop an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) [section 102(a)(4)];

(c) determine eligibility of referred students before they exit their high school program and coordinate with the state education agency to provide transition-related services for youth with disabilities [34 CFR 361. …

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