Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

School-to-Work Barriers as Identified by Special Educators, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, and Community Rehabilitation Professionals

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

School-to-Work Barriers as Identified by Special Educators, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors, and Community Rehabilitation Professionals

Article excerpt

Transition from school-to-work is a dynamic process in which students with disabilities engage in various activities that help solidify a career pathway. During this process, the individual explores different occupations, develops skills to adapt and adjust to the social and environmental demands of a job, and learns the essential functions of the job (Szymanski, Enright, Hershenson, & Ettinger, 2010). Schools traditionally assumed a primary role in exposing students to career options by embedding career awareness and exploration into the curriculum. This is especially true during the secondary school years when students participate in a number of school and community-based activities that help them develop a vocational identity and create a career pathway. The types and frequencies of these activities are often positively correlated to the post school outcomes of students with disabilities (Flexer et al., 2011). Throughout the secondary school years, students may engage in career and technical education, work-study, and job-training programs. They also make connections with key stakeholders such as career counselors, colleges and universities, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and community rehabilitation providers. These connections, in turn, become an important launching point that enables students to reach their career goals.

Unfortunately, the extent to which students with disabilities participate in meaningful career awareness and career development activities and the extent to which these students obtain meaningful post-school employment has been a major concern for decades. This disparity was first highlighted when Will (1984) established a national transition priority to improve employment outcomes for students with disabilities. Eventually, this priority was integrated into policy with the transition mandate outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990. Subsequent reauthorizations placed increased emphasis on facilitating students' movement from school to post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, and continuing and adult education. In addition, other key pieces of legislation including the Vocational Rehabilitation Act as amended (1973), the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990), and the Workforce Investment Act (1998) reinforced the notion that employment of people with disabilities was an important priority.

Early research on post-school employment of students with disabilities consistently demonstrated that securing paid, competitive employment increased when students engaged in community-based job training and employment during secondary school (Hasazi, Johnson, Hasazi, Gordan, & Hull, 1989; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985). Researchers also documented a number of practices that were predictive of positive post-school outcomes in the areas of employment. These empirically-validated practices included participating in paid employment during secondary school (Rabren, Dunn, & Chambers, 2002; Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000; Benz, Yovanoff, & Doren, 1997; Doren & Benz, 1998), participating in vocational education and work-study experiences during school (Baer, et al. 2003; Harvey, 2002; Luecking & Fabian, 2000), participating in the general education classroom (Heal & Rusch, 1995; White & Weiner, 2004), and interagency collaboration with agencies such as vocational rehabilitation (Certo et al, 2008; Noonan, Momingstar, & Erikson, 2008; Bulbs, Davis, Bull, & Johnson 1995), among others.

Despite over 30 years of legislation and research designed to enhance post-school employment for transitioning students with disabilities, chronic underemployment and unemployment remains a consistent education and vocational rehabilitation problem (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000; Johnson, McGrew, Bloomberg, Bruininks, & Lin, 1997; National Council on Disability, 2000). In fact, youth and young adults with disabilities typically experience lower rates of employment compared to their peers without disabilities (Newman et al. …

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