Disability Employment: Preparing for Work


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All youth rely on the opportunity to identify their skills, explore potential careers and begin planning their future in the workforce. This is especially true for youth with disabilities who are preparing to enter the labor market. As such, individuals with disabilities benefit from similar opportunities to thoughtfully engage with potential employers through career readiness programs and work-based learning opportunities. States can serve a pivotal function in ensuring these programs are open and accessible to individuals with disabilities.

State Policy Options

A bipartisan task force of legislative and executive officials convened in 2016 to create a policy framework for increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The task force identified the following policy options to help youth with disabilities prepare for work.

Map showing states that have enacted "Preparing for Work" legislation - AK, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, UT, WA, WI


Education and Career Readiness

States can promote education and career readiness policies and strategies that expect and prepare all youth, including those with disabilities, to enter the workforce.

  • Promote comprehensive education and career development plans that capitalize on youths’ skills, abilities, and career and academic goals.
  • Include youth with disabilities in a sustained, meaningful manner in the career readiness and development process, beginning at an early age.
  • Strengthen the capacity of education and career development professionals to design and implement evidence-based, inclusive programs and strategies.

Map showing states that have enacted "Education and Career Readiness Legislation" legislation - AK, AZ, CO, CT, DE, IL, KY, ME, MI, MN, OK, OR, RI, SC, UT, WI


Skill Development and Job Exploration

States can facilitate skill development and job exploration opportunities, such as work-based learning, for youth and young adults, including those with disabilities, that align with education and career development planning and meet businesses’ predicted workforce needs.

  • Expand the availability of inclusive work-based learning experiences where eligibility is not contingent on enrollment or participation in an educational program or institution.
  • Facilitate collaboration between state and local educational, workforce development and vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide a wide range of integrated work-based learning experiences for youth with disabilities including paid internships, and leverage funding to pay for training/learning experiences or to reimburse businesses for associated costs.

Map showing states that have enacted "Skill Development & Job Exploration" Legislation - CA, IL, KY, MA, NH, NY, SC, WI


Family Engagement

States can promote meaningful family engagement throughout the education and career development process for youth and young adults, including those with disabilities.

  • Encourage the development and adoption of comprehensive training for parents and families that provides them with the appropriate knowledge to support youth with disabilities in navigating the education and career development process.
  • Afford families, including families with children with disabilities, opportunities to serve as advisers in the design of career and workforce development programs and strategies.
  • Engage families in education and career development planning to increase their capacity to better assist youth in navigating the career development process and maximize learning opportunities.

Map showing states that have enacted "Family Engagement" legislation - AK, CA, IL, KY, NV, PA, SC, UT

Recent State Actions

At least states 26 states have enacted legislation related to the Preparing for Work policy options in the Work Matters Policy Framework. NCSL's disability employment legislative database features a comprehensive list of introductions and enactments. Included below are some of the legislative highlights:

Education and Career Readiness

Oklahoma HB 2155 requires the development of Individual Career and Academic Plans (ICAP). These plans are developed jointly with students, their parents or guardians and school personnel. The plans will include career and college interest surveys, postsecondary and workforce goals, course sequences and academic progress toward goals and in-service learning. The legislation specifies that students with disabilities as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) shall develop ICAPs in cooperation with their individualized education program (IEP).

Connecticut HB 7168 updates provisions for annual statements of transition services for students with disabilities. It requires students who are at least 14 years old and diagnosed with autism to have annual updates to their IEPs. The IEPs must include appropriate postsecondary goals and related transition services.

Delaware HB 326  opens eligibility for higher education tuition grants to students with intellectual disabilities. The aim is to ensure students with disabilities have the same opportunities as those without disabilities to pursue higher education and postsecondary employment.

Minnesota SF 2415 is a comprehensive funding bill for higher education in Minnesota. It allocates $200,000 each fiscal year 2020 and 2021 for grants for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Skills Development and Job Exploration

Pennslvania HB 400 created the Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act. The Act calls on the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide preemployment transition services to students with disabilities. The office works with local education agencies and public and private employers to help transition high school students to integrated competitive employment using IEPs, work-based learning experiences and job coaching.

California AB 2915 is a broader workforce development statute that includes several provisions for workers with disabilities. Specifically, it aims to create career pathways that support linkages between kindergarten through high school. It also requires that technology is accessible to people is disabilities for the purposes of competitive integrated employment.

Family Engagement

Illinois SB 2087 created the Customized Employment Pilot Program which includes a discovery phase wherein the individual along with their family, friends, colleagues and advocates can explore their skills, needs and interests. Following the discovery phase is a person-centered planning process focusing on the job search. The final step is an employer negotiation process that aligns job duties and employer expectations with the skills and interests of the individual.

Colorado SB 231 creates a task force that will review current statutory categories of disability services and supports in education and recommend alignments between the, Additionally, the task force is directed to improve parents’ and guardians’ understanding of the role of community providers in serving children with disabilities in the future.

What the Research Shows

Transition Outcomes of Young Adults with Disabilities: A Social Cognitive Career Theory Perspective: This 2016 doctoral dissertation found that a student's enrollment in postsecondary education was significantly more likely when the student had participated in vocational education, a work study program or had completed goals in a transition program.

Predictors of Competitive Employment for Students with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities: This literature review of 13 studies identifies seven unique transition-related predictors of postsecondary competitive employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Bridging the Gap: A Comparative Assessment of Vocational Rehabilitation Agency Practices with Transition-Age Youth: Fifteen different practices in state vocational rehabilitation agencies are identified in this study. Among them are outreach plans targeting parents supporting employment programs.

Predictors of Successful Transition from School to Employment for Youth with Disabilities: This 2014 study found that the two strongest predictors of post-high school competitive integrated employment are high school employment experience and parental expectation of post-high school employment.

Additional Resources

Loryn Cesario is a policy associate in the Employment, Labor and Retirement Program at NCSL.