When I was in my early teens, I began looking over the classified ads in the local newspaper, always hoping that perfect part-time job would be there staring up at me. As I browsed these job openings, most of which I was not qualified for, I became aware that most of them were followed with the letters EOE. One day I finally got curious enough to ask my dad, "What does EOE mean at the end of a job advertisement?" This was my first experience with Equal Opportunity Employers. It seemed logical to me that the same opportunities should be open to everyone as long as they were capable of doing the job. Does agricultural education create equal opportunity employees? Are we giving everyone the skills they need to be a capable employee?
As inclusion becomes more popular, educators have been challenged with teaching students with learning disabilities in regular classrooms. These students are noticeably different in terms of their academic ability in relation to their peers. They require more planning and more transition services in order to have a productive life after high school. It is our learning disabled students who could possibly benefit most from the things agricultural education has to offer. Career and technical education has the potential to give students concrete skills that they can use in the job market and hopefully have an equal opportunity at employment. Unfortunately, not all career and technical education is created equal when it comes to preparing disabled students for jobs after high school.
There are four important federal laws that require us to provide an appropriate education for our students with disabilities (Wonacott 2001). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that any program that receives federal funding cannot discriminate against anyone based solely on their handicap or disability (Public Law 93-112). The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures that disabled persons have access to all public accommodations, employment, transportation, and other government services (Public Law 101-336).
One of the most well known laws in education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law was originally signed in 1975 as the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. We are currently operating under the law as it was amended in 1997. IDEA guarantees a free and appropriate education for everyone with physical or mental disabilities. It helps fund the extra costs of educating disabled people and requires that each child being educated using IDEA funds have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that outlines the goals of his or her education (IDEA'97). The Carl D. Perkins Act of 1998 provided more funds for including special populations in all aspects of Career and Technical Education (Public Law 105-332).
Despite efforts to make finding a job easier, people with disabilities have a hard time finding and obtaining employment. If they do, it is often only part-time and low paying. Only three out of ten adults with disabilities ages 18 to 64 are employed full or part time compared to eight out of ten adults without disabilities (NOD 2000). Sixty-seven percent of people with disabilities who are not employed say they would rather be employed, and one study even found that less than half of their sample of disabled people who currently had a job was employed full time (Harvey 2001). Reviews of studies on the efficacy of career and technical education in helping disabled students successfully find employment repeatedly showed that general career and technical education was not enough to improve job marketability (Wonacott 200 1, Harvey 2001, Shapiro and Lentz 1991).
What can agricultural education do to improve the employability of our students with learning disabilities? Equal opportunity employers hire people who are capable of doing the job. Our disabled students are able and willing to do many things. We have to teach them and allow them to practice the skills that will make them a capable employee. …