Over the past decade, follow-up studies on students with special needs called attention to their high unemployment and dropout rates and low enrollment in post-secondary programs. The National Longitudinal Transition Study (1988-93), commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, reported that 43 percent of youth with disabilities remain unemployed three to five years following high school, that the national dropout rate for students with disabilities is 32 percent and that fewer than 17 percent of these youth entered formal post-secondary training upon completion of their high school programs.
These studies added to a growing awareness of the need for secondary
schools to engage in a transitional planning process that ties education
to the development of skills that enable students with disabilities to
participate fully in adult life. This awareness, as well as a gradual acknowledgment
of the abilities of individuals with disabilities in general, has led to
the development and modification of many laws at both the federal and state
level. The laws discussed in this section will include those that may have
a direct effect on students during school and in adult life.
In IDEA, transition is defined as "a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation."
IDEA requires that the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) address and include needed transition services for students with disabilities no later than age 16, and if appropriate for an individual student, beginning at age 14 or younger. Transition planning requires that the school district must:
The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (P.L. 100-407) of 1988 sets aside funds for states to plan, provide, and coordinate assistive technology information and services for citizens with disabilities. Although technology is included as a related service under IDEA, the "Tech Act" reflects a new national awareness of the importance of assistive technology in the lives of individuals with disabilities.
In order to understand what applications this law might have, one must have an understanding of assistive technology (AT). AT is defined as services and devices that individuals with disabilities can use to increase their independence. Because of the word "technology," many people believe that only "high-tech" devices fall under the category of AT. However, devices as simple as a wood block to support a book or a ruler used to write in a straight line are considered AT as are changing the order in which a set of tasks is performed or adapting the way a lesson is taught. These types of everyday modifications are typically called "low tech" or "no tech." For more information about AT, please refer to the section Accommodations and Assistive Technology.
The Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1992 (P.L. 102-569) has a number of provisions that contribute to the improvement of the transition planning process. By using the same definition of transition as IDEA, and by requiring that rehabilitation and education agencies undertake actions to facilitate transition, it promotes coordination of transition and rehabilitation. Because of this coordination, gaps in services and barriers for transitioning students are reduced.
The revised act expands and builds upon the notion of student participation. It promotes consumer involvement in developing the Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP) and selecting rehabilitation service providers. The IWRP is developed in coordination with the IEP at a time when education and rehabilitation professionals and the consumer are ready to focus on and plan for achieving a post-school employment goal, usually about two years before graduation or turning 22. The IWRP identifies a vocational goal and all the services needed to achieve that goal. The act also expands the role of vocational rehabilitation counselors, enabling them to take an active role in planning with students well before the students leave school, including assessment, planning, and collaboration.
Specifically, the provisions concerning the definition and determination
of eligibility should make it easier for youth with disabilities to receive
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. The law presumes an individual
is eligible for VR services if he/she has a physical or mental disability
that constitutes a significant obstacle to employment and can benefit from
rehabilitation services in terms of an employment outcome. The Rehabilitation
Act requires that all people with disabilities, including those with the
most severe disabilities, are presumed to be capable of gainful employment
when given the proper support. The purpose of Vocational Rehabilitation
services is to eliminate or reduce barriers to employment so that people
with disabilities can obtain and maintain employment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA, P.L. 101-336) gives civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities that are similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in five areas (the five "titles" of the law): employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government operations, and telecommunications relay services.
The guarantee of equal access is especially important when considering transition into adult life and gaining access to those services and opportunities available to all citizens (e.g., employment, post-secondary education, recreation, transportation). Because the law covers so many areas, a brief description of each title and a few examples are provided here, and further resources are listed in Appendix I under Legal Assistance.
Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. This means not only that an employer cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of his/her disability but also that the employer has to provide "reasonable accommodation" to an individual if not unduly burdened by doing so. This may involve making a modification to the job responsibilities (e.g., the individual does only the essential parts of the job, while other parts may be redistributed among other employees), modifying the way in which the job is completed, making a modification to the physical layout of the building, or providing assistive technology.
The section of the law on public accommodations may have the most noticeable effect on accessibility. Under the ADA, it is illegal for public entities such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, or day-care centers to refuse access or services to individuals with disabilities. Only private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from this law. Reasonable changes in policies, practices, and procedures must be made to avoid discrimination, and reasonable accommodations must be made. These changes and accommodations might include modifying rules and regulations, providing auxiliary aids and services (e.g., interpreters, large print, tape recordings), and removing physical barriers. These changes must be made to existing public entities when readily achievable (easily accomplished without costing too much) and be incorporated into all new structures.
The ADA requires that all new vehicles bought by public transit authorities and new buses ordered by private transit providers (e.g., Greyhound) be accessible to people with disabilities. Paratransit service (door-to-door) for individuals who cannot use the main transit system is required unless the provision of the service would result in an undue financial burden. All new rail vehicles on public rail systems also must be accessible, with one accessible car per train by July 26, 1995. Finally, all new bus and rail stations must be accessible. If changes are made to existing stations, an accessible path of travel to the altered area (including bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area) must be provided.
State and Local Government Operations
State or local governments may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Since this includes public schools, public school personnel with disabilities are protected against discrimination, and schools must be made accessible for students with disabilities. Additionally, all government facilities, service, and communications must be accessible, consistent with the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Telecommunications Relay Services
Companies offering telephone service to the general public must offer
telephone relay services to individuals who use telecommunications devices
for the deaf (TDDs) or similar devices 24 hours a day, seven days a week,
at the same rates as regular telephone service.
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act of 1990
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act (P.L. 101-392, the Perkins Act) provides federal assistance for vocational education programs in both secondary and post-secondary settings.
The provisions of the Perkins Act state that schools will assist "special populations" (which includes students with disabilities) to enter vocational education programs and will assist students with disabilities in fulfilling the transitional services requirement of IDEA.
The Perkins Act anticipates that a number of components may be necessary to facilitate the completion of vocational programs for students with disabilities, including: curriculum modifications, cooperative learning experiences, equipment modification, classroom modification, support personnel, and provision of instructional aids and devices.
The concept of consumer rights is also addressed in the Perkins Act,
which asks schools to 1) inform potential special population students and
their parents of vocational and educational options on a systematic basis,
and 2) provide career guidance services to students, including career and
educational planning, labor market information, and employability skills.
The purpose of the Job Training Partnership Act is to establish programs to prepare youth and adults facing serious barriers to employment for preparation in the labor force by providing job training and other services that result in increased employment and earnings, increased education and occupational skills, and decreased welfare dependency. The Job Training Partnership Act Amendments (P.L. 102-367, JTPA) can assist individuals with disabilities in finding employment. Expansion of its criteria for determining economic eligibility means that youth with disabilities are considered a "family of one," and that SSI income is not computed as income when judging eligibility. Added flexibility on performance standards for special populations can facilitate enrollment of individuals with disabilities in JTPA programs.
The JTPA provisions also emphasize that its regional employment boards
must develop linkages with other training and educational programs and
that the private industry councils should include representatives from
educational agencies and vocational rehabilitation and community-based
organizations. These interagency linkages can/may provide students with
disabilities exciting opportunities for a variety of work-based learning
experiences during the summer and the school year.
The Higher Education Act (P.L. 102-325, HEA) provides grants for partnerships
between Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) and secondary schools serving
low-income and disadvantaged students. Grants are available to keep students
from special populations in college, and to prepare guidance counselors,
teachers, and principals. The HEA also has provisions for cancellation
of student loans, which can assist in attracting students from low-income
households, and for educator recruitment, retention, and development.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal legislation establishing
minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping requirements, and restriction
of child labor. The requirements of the FLSA come into effect only in an
employment relationship. Prior to 1992 it was not entirely clear if students
participating in work settings for the purposes of vocational training
were considered employees under the FLSA. The U.S. Department of Labor
(DOL) and Education entered into an agreement in September 1992 and published
new guidelines concerning the participation of students with disabilities
in employment settings for vocational exploration, assessment, and training.
These guidelines outline the criteria under which the DOL will not assert
an employment relationship. The criteria require that students in community-based
placements must have IEPs which include clearly defined goals and objectives
for exploration, assessment, training, or cooperative vocational education
components, and which require general supervision by public school personnel.
If the criteria are met, students with disabilities may be considered "trainees"
rather than "employees" for limited periods of time, and hence be exempt
from the regulations of the FLSA for this time period.
Goals 2000: The Educate America Act, the School-to-Work Opportunities
Act of 1994, and the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 are
the legislative mandates of the national educational reform agenda. These
acts set forth the principles and vehicles for achieving a workforce with
competitive educational and occupational skill standards and workers committed
to lifelong learning.
Goals 2000: The Educate America Act of 1994
The Goals 2000: the Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227) states that by the year 2000:
The adult literacy and lifelong learning goal calls for providing youth
with disabilities in-school and community-based learning experiences that
assist them in developing the competence to adapt to emerging new technologies,
work methods, and markets, through equal access to public and private post-secondary
education and training programs. Vehicles for implementing this goal are
provided for in all the mandates.
The School-to-Work Opportunities Act requirements (P.L. 103-239, the STWOA) have a distinct interrelationship with those of IDEA. The STWOA clearly defines that "all students" includes students with disabilities. The STWOA has three components. The first component is school-based and includes career exploration and counseling, selection of a career major by 11th grade, a study program that meets national standards, and periodic evaluations to identify learning needs. This component corresponds to the transition planning requirements of IDEA outlined earlier. The second component of the STWOA is work-based job training. As discussed earlier, JTPA, FLSA, the Perkins Act, and the VR Amendments provide support for implementing of this component. The third component of the STWOA involves linking activities between school-based and work-based programs to ensure coordination of classroom instruction and training activities, matching students, and employers, and post-program services for students such as job search and counseling.
The National and Community Service Trust Act expands opportunities to
provide young people with a set of learning experiences while developing
their critical thinking and group problem-solving abilities, their commitments
and values, and the skills they need for effective citizenship by mandating
that they perform a specified amount of community service hours during
high school years. It includes young students with disabilities by setting
aside monies to be applied either toward expenses associated with accommodations
for participants with disabilities (such as an interpreter for someone
who is deaf) or toward costs incurred in the process of providing information
about programs to individuals with disabilities. For example, as part of
a community services project, students with and without disabilities could
participate in the building of a health center using vocational shops for
all construction and could demonstrate acquisition of competencies through
Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993
Many of the processes for achieving the national education reform agenda
are addressed in the provisions regarding curriculum frameworks, accountability,
and evaluation and professional development in the Massachusetts Education
Reform Act of 1973.
The federal special education transition planning regulations are incorporated into the Chapter 766 Regulations as amended in 1992 and 1993. This law is discussed in detail in Section II: Transition PlanningThe Process.
To encourage earlier planning for adult services and management of limited funding for those services, the state enacted Chapter 688, the "Turning 22" law, in 1983. In-school Ch688 planning is available to students with severe disabilities two years prior to leaving school. This law is discussed in detail in Section II: Transition PlanningThe Process.
These laws, taken as a whole, provide an unprecedented opportunity for educators, employers, parents, and students to work cooperatively to equip today's youth for the transition from school to the adult world. Although each law has a specific area of focus, legislators have sought to ensure that similar language is used in the various laws to promote appropriate services and coordination across service areas to all populations.
The benefits to students include long-term job opportunities, placement that matches skill level, on-the-job support, follow-up and continued training as needed, career development, and active participation in decision making.
The benefits to employers include long-term employee potential, tax benefits, follow-up and continued support as needed, and a placement that matches employee skills to employer's needs.
The benefit to parents include being active partners in the planning process, being active participants in discussions and appeals of decisions, being informed about adult services, and working to secure their children's future.
The benefits to schools include working cooperatively with and gaining knowledge of adult services and the business opportunities in planning with students, implementing best practices that work for all students, reducing school violence and receiving training and technical assistance to develop model services.
For more information about any of these laws, check with the resources in Appendix I under Legal Assistance.