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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Employment
  3. Employment Considerations For Youth With Disabilities

Employment Considerations for Youth With Disabilities

Although efforts have been taken to help improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, research continues to suggest that youth with disabilities are less likely than their nondisabled peers to graduate from high school, attend and complete four-year colleges and universities, and be employed.1

Guideposts for Transitions

Through an extensive literature search, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) identified guideposts for the successful transition to adulthood that are important for all youth, particularly those with disabilities. The guideposts are based on the following assumptions:

  • Access to high-quality standards-based education, regardless of the setting
  • Information about career options and exposure to the world of work, including structured internships
  • Opportunities to develop social, civic, and leadership skills
  • Strong connections to caring adults
  • Access to safe places to interact with their peers
  • Support services and specific accommodations to allow them to become independent adults

The guideposts focus on school-based experiences, career preparation, and work-based learning experiences, connecting activities, youth development and leadership, and family involvement and supports. Learn more about the guideposts and find additional resources on the NCWD/Youth website.


For youth with disabilities, access to a high-quality education with the necessary supports and high expectations helps ensure that they are prepared for postsecondary and career opportunities. The U.S. Department of Education’s College and Career Readiness and Success Center developed an issue brief that discusses issues and strategies related to preparation and readiness for postsecondary education and careers. The brief includes examples of current programs and policies that help students with disabilities successfully transition to college and career. Read the full brief to learn more (PDF, 33 pages).

Transition Planning

The Reauthorization of the Individual Disability Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 includes requirements for special education and related services for children and youth until the age of 21. Recognizing the importance of maintaining a continuum of services beyond high school and into adulthood, federal disability legislation requires the inclusion of transition planning in each child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). By the time a student reaches the age of 16 (if not before), the IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals and identify appropriate transition services. According to the accompanying regulations for IDEA 2004, “transition services” means

a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that: (a) 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 postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation; (b) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and (c) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.2

Teachers, service providers, clinicians, family members, and the student work together to develop a coordinated plan for service delivery and to strategize about how best to meet the student’s social, emotional, physical, and educational needs.

One of the most important parts of transition planning is ensuring that youth with disabilities learn to advocate for themselves and the supports they need. Youth need to understand their rights. As they transition into employment or postsecondary education, they will need to be able to communicate their needs and may need to help identify where they can receive those supports (e.g., assistive technology).

Learn more about transition planning by reading the Youth Brief, How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities.

Disclosing Disabilities

As youth with disabilities transition from K‒12 education, they must recognize that they are no longer entitled to the supports that they had received during school. Instead, they must make their needs known in order to receive accommodations that are covered by law. Youth with disabilities must determine whether or not to disclose their disability within employment or postsecondary education experiences. It may be necessary to support youth as they determine whether it will be beneficial to disclose their disability, when they should disclose, and what information they need to disclose. Learn more about considerations for disclosing disabilities on the Office of Disability and Employment (ODEP) website.

Accommodations on the Job

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an accommodation as “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.”3

Providing reasonable accommodations when individuals with disabilities disclose their disability and their needed accommodations is a key nondiscrimination requirement in the ADA’s employment provisions. It is important for youth and employers to recognize that the accommodations that youth with disabilities need often are not costly for employers. A survey conducted in the fall of 2005 found that the median cost for accommodations was just $600, with about 72 percent of individuals reporting that necessary accommodations were free.4Additional information about accommodations as they relate to ADA can be found on this Q&A page.


Office of Disability and Employment Policy
The Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP) works to influence national policy and promote effective workplace practices to ensure that today's—and tomorrow's—workforce is inclusive of all people, including people with disabilities. As a result, one important policy focus area is youth transitioning from school to adulthood and the world of work. ODEP’s website includes numerous helpful resources for all youth, including those with disability. View the youth-specific section and other resources related to individuals with disabilities.

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth) provides information about youth with disabilities and employment. NCWD/Youth assists state and local workforce development systems to better serve all youth, including youth with disabilities and other disconnected youth. It is funded by a grant from the Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Disability Employment 101
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services within the U.S. Department of Education has released and updated its Disability Employment 101 guide. This guide provides information about hiring employees with disabilities, including information about how to find qualified workers with disabilities, how to put disability and employment research into practice, and how to model what other businesses have done to successfully integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce.

Rehabilitation Services Administration
The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) was established by Congress as the principal federal agency authorized to carry out Titles I, III, VI, and VII, as well as specified portions of Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As amended, RSA provides national leadership for, and administration of:

  • basic state and formula grant programs,
  • independent living centers,
  • service projects,
  • rehabilitation training discretionary grant programs,
  • Randolph-Sheppard vending facilities, and
  • Helen Keller National Center programs.

These programs develop and implement comprehensive and coordinated programs of vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, and independent living for individuals with disabilities, through services, training, and economic opportunities, to maximize their employability, independence, and integration into the workplace and the community.

The U.S. Access Board
The U.S. Access Board, a federal agency, promotes equality for people with disabilities through leadership in accessible design and the development of accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostic equipment, and information technology.

Office of Disability Employment Policy
The Office of Disability Employment Policy webpage on youth topics related to disability and employment provides resources and guidance on a number of helpful topics.


1 U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2013; Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Cortiella, 2011
2 Individuals with Disability Education Act 20 U.S.C. 1401(34) and 34 CFR §300.43(a)
3 U.S. Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2001
4 Hendricks, Batiste, & Hirsh, 2005

Other Resources on this Topic


Data Sources


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).