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Disabilities can be an important part of a young person’s identity and can contribute to their life in many ways. These identities shape how young people with disabilities foster their strengths, interests, and diverse perspectives on the world around them.

At the same time, youth with physical, mental, intellectual, and/or sensory disabilities often face environmental and attitudinal barriers to access and fully participate in home, school, work, and social activities. An attitudinal barrier can be an unconscious bias, or unintentional preference, for someone who does not have a disability – even if the person with a disability is fully qualified for a position. As a result, some youth need additional supports to successfully navigate these barriers and achieve career and life goals consistent with their desires and talents. The following sections highlight some of these challenges and resources that can help service providers, educators, parents, and anyone working with youth embrace and promote disability inclusion.

Of the 62 million children in the United States who are under age 15, almost 10 percent have a disability.1 Among children aged 6 to 14, more than 1 in 10 children have a disability, and more than 1 in 20 children in this age group have a severe disability.2 It is also important to note the prevalence of youth with disabilities in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, which are covered in the section on special populations.


Guideposts for Success
This research-based policy and practice framework, developed by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), delineates what all youth, including those with disabilities, need to transition successfully and these findings can be used to support the development of an inclusive service delivery strategy.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This website from the U.S. Department of Education provides detailed information and resources on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); including the IDEA statute and regulations, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) policy documents, letters, and memos. Resources for youth, families, educators, service providers, and other key stakeholder groups are provided with information on children ages birth to 2, and 3 to 21.

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD) 
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, assists state and local workforce development systems to better serve all youth, including youth with disabilities and disconnected youth.

Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) Information and Resources on Youth in Transition
ODEP, a federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities, has an array of information and resources for youth in transition navigating the road to employment. Resources are designed for youth, families, youth service professionals, and policymakers.

Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers
These Centers perform a variety of direct services for children and youth with disabilities, families, professionals, and other organizations that support them, including working with families of young people with disabilities, helping parents participate effectively in their children’s education and development, and partnering with professionals and policy makers to improve outcomes for all youth with disabilities.

Understand your abilities and disabilities. Play to your strengths. (PDF, 28 pages)
This resource shares responses from young people with disabilities to discussion questions around labels, assumptions, strengths, impairments, and other topics. These vignettes provide the foundation for taking self-determined actions as well as offer insight into what it is like to live with a disability in a way that parents may not be exposed to.


1 Brault, 2012
2 Brault, 2012

Other Resources on this Topic



Youth Topics

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).