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COPAA is premised on the belief that every student desMan in Wheelchair working on computererves the right to an equal and quality education that prepares them for meaningful employment, higher education and lifelong learning, and full participation in his or her community. Under IDEA Transition services are defined as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:
  • Is designed to be within a results‐oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from school to post‐school activities,including post‐secondary education,vocational education,integrated employment (including supported employment),continuing and adult education,adult services,independent living,or community participation;

  • Is based on the individual child's needs, taking into account the child's strengths, preferences, and interests; and

  • Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other postschool adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation. [1]

Despite clear legislative and judicial intent, and
significant public expenditure, there remains a huge gap in the state of the art vs. state of the practice when it comes to college and career outcomes for students with disabilities.  

Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities frequently transition out of high school lacking the proper skills required to find and maintain employment or pursue post-secondary education.  This trend is due to persistent low expectations that dominate individualized education programs (IEPs) for students and a lack of focus or knowledge in how to effectively provide hands-on work experience and training (including mentoring, internships, summer work programs, and career development) to youth with significant disabilities that is typically offered to students without disabilities during their transitional years.  

Although the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide transition services to support students with disabilities during their high school years, there has been to date very little enforcement, monitoring or evaluation of school districts to ensure that there is strong compliance with this important provision in the law. It is no surprise then that upon exiting the school system, these young citizens are woefully unprepared and unsupported in finding and maintaining employment in the community and at wages which promote optimal self-sufficiency and independence.  

It’s time for the goals of learning to actually mean something.  “Access” and an “opportunity to learn” must be the floor, not ceiling for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in this country.[2]

Post-school outcomes are much poorer for students with disabilities than for students without; and the poorest for students with IDD.  In fact, there has been no change in outcomes for students with disabilities over a fifteen year period. The numbers of students who transition into sheltered workshops demonstrates that the majority of students have not been prepared for integrated work in their communities or post-secondary education options. Additionally, low employment rates of young adults with significant cognitive disabilities are further evidence of inadequate preparation for post-school employment.

Research shows that predictors of paid, future employment for students with disabilities should be an integral part of College and Career-Ready standards and the strongest predictors of future, paid employment for students with disabilities are


·         Prior work history:  Students who have worked during their high school years in summer and/or after-school employment are more likely to be employed after exiting high school.

·         Student Demographic Factors: Males are more likely to be employed than females

·         Skill-related factors: Those students with high ratings on classroom social skills had better chances of being employed.

·         Family-related factors: Young adults whose parents expected that they would work are over three times more likely to work than those whose did not. 

·         School-related factors: The shocking conclusion in this study is that no educational factors currently designed for employment success translated into employment outcomes] 


So what do College and Career Ready skills look like for students with intellectual disabilities?  According to Rachel Quenemoen, Project Director for the National Center for Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota, it is possible, using David Conely’s “Components in a Comprehensive Definition of College Readiness”[4] for typical high school students to create a list of skills that are critical for the success of students with intellectual disabilities. These skills are:

·         Communication competence,

·         Full access to academic content for life-long learning

·         Development of appropriate social skills in a setting with their typical peers

·         Development of independent work behaviors

·         Development of support access skills.


COPAA believes that just as students with disabilities must have an opportunity equal to that of their peers without disabilities to become college or career-ready; once employed, all workers - including those with disabilities – must be paid fair wages for fair labor.  We understand that subminimum wage is permitted under 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and will continue our work through the appropriate avenues for policy change.

Policy must distinctly support and complement the work underway at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to aggressively pursue discrimination claims related to failure to provide services to individuals with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.  We are encouraged by the recent work of the DOJ, who is initiating investigations and/or litigation in more than 20 states to assert the rights under Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (2006), as interpreted by Olmstead v. L.C. by Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999), to ensure that services, programs, and activities provided by public entities, including States, be delivered in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of persons with disabilities. 

Recently, in June, 2013, DOJ sued the State of Rhode Island and City of Providence (including the Providence Public School Department), asserting that the use of segregated sheltered workshops violates the ADA. The Complaint, alleged that the defendants discriminated against individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“I/DD”) by unnecessarily segregating them or by placing them at risk of segregation in violation of Title II of the ADA. Specifically, they had “placed approximately 85 public school students with I/DD from the Providence Public School Department at risk of unnecessary segregation by placing them in a sheltered workshop and segregated day program. United States of America v. State of Rhode Island, et al., Compl. at p.1. On January 6, 2014, DOJ issued a letter finding that Rhode Island’s system of providing vocational, employment and day services to individuals with I/DD violated Title II. The arguments in the Complaint and the conclusions in the findings letter prove powerful tools in obtaining appropriate transition services for individuals with disabilities.


As evidenced in a 2012 GAO report on Transition, in addition to IDEA there are several federal statutes address issues relevant to transition age students. [5]

Federal Statutes address Transition 

Every federal law should work together to help every individual with a disability, regardless of perceived severity, to achieve an independent, community-centered and quality life. (6)

  • College and Career Readiness (CCR) preparation begin in Early Childhood programs and continue in Elementary and Middle School with links to High School/transition services.

  • CCR skills and knowledge needed by adults must be mapped backward from the goal to develop a skills development plan from in early and until the student no longer receives IDEA services

  • Universal Design for Learning should be emphasized from early childhood through postsecondary education.

  • High School services must be coordinated with other local community services and Department of Labor (e.g. employers, community partners)

  • High School services must be tailored to ensure integrated paid jobs before exiting school and college participation (including high quality alternative college programs)

  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) should focus on these post-school outcomes

  • Key Components of High School services designed for CCR

o   Supports for education in the least restrictive environment with peers without disabilities

o   Universal design for learning

o   On the job training (array of field-based work experience in real jobs)

o   Summer focused planning early in the second semester to ensure summer employment

o   Intentional  sequencing of content instruction toward grade level academics and the other knowledge and skills that lead to the attainment of integrated paid employment and/or participation in college

o   The same job/career support and job fairs provided to  for peers without disabilities, including access to informed guidance counselors

o    The same job/career information for families provided for peers without disabilities. 

  • For students 18 and older (age for exiting varies by State), the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) may not be the High School campus:

o   Students with disabilities should have the same opportunities as their peers for such transition opportunities as dual enrollment in college and/or integrated paid employment, with transportation.

o  Students with disabilities should have access to highly qualified job developers/ transition specialists and customized professional development.

  • Increase access to competitive, integrated employment for eligible individuals with disabilities

  • Eliminate the practice of paying people with disabilities a subminimum wage.

  • Strengthen required transition planning [services] for youth with disabilities under federal laws protecting school-age students including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

 COPAA Member Only Resources Files on Transition (Requires Log in)


[1] 20 U.S.C. § 1402 (34)

[2] CPSD Policy Paper – (2013) http://thecpsd.org/cpsds-key-policy-concerns-related-to-alternate-assessments-based-on-alternate-academic-achievement-standards-and-the-reauthorization-of-the-elementary-secondary-education-act/
[3] Carter, E. W., Austin, D., & Trainor, A. A. (in press). Predictors of postschool employment outcomes for young adults with severe disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies. doi: 10.1177/1044207311414680.

[4] Redefining College Readiness (Conley,D.T., 2011) Volume 5, Eugene Or: Educational Policy Improvement Center.  https://www.epiconline.org/publications/documents/redefining-career-readiness.pdf

 Students with Disabilities:  Federal Coordination Could Lessen Challenges in the Transition from High School—  USGAO Report #12-594 http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592329.pdf

[6] CPSD Education White Paper (2012) http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.copaa.org/resource/collection/fb227bdb-b917-408a-9993-e58a6f069478/cpsd-education-roundtable-recommendations-white-paper-final-copy.pdf?hhSearchTerms=%22cpsd+and+white%22

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