Back to the Table of Contents

Appendix III

Overview of the Laws

An Overview of State and Federal Legislation Related to Transition

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.

Federal Laws

While the following laws address the needs and interests of young people with disabilities in different ways, they all contain key provisions that impact on the transition of young adults with disabilities from school to work and adult life.  

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA)

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 of 1988

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

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.

A Comparison of ADA, IDEA, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1992 



  • civil rights protection 
  • designed to remove barriers preventing individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same access and opportunities available to the general population 
  • seeks to dispel stereotypes and assumptions, and ensure equal opportunities for full participation in society 
Eligibility and Services 
  • all ages 
  • individuals must request accommodations 
  • accommodation must be tailored to match needs of the individual with the needs of essential functions of the job 
Public Places: 
  • goods, programs, and services may not be denied to individuals; accommodations may include changing policies and practices, providing auxiliary aids and improving physical accessibility (unless making the accommodation provides an undue burden to the business/service) 
  • new commercial buildings must be accessible; old buildings must remove barriers where readily achievable 
    public and private transportation must be accessible 
Written Plans 
  • Not Applicable 
Appeal Procedures 
  • if you believe someone is violating the ADA, you can file a complaint with the Department of Justice or your local EEOC office (Massachusetts Office on Disability) 
  • if you would like assistance in taking action, you can call the Disability Law Center in Boston, which can often remedy the situation without filing a complaint or a lawsuit (e.g., by sending an inquiry on their letterhead) 



  • each student to have transition services in IEP no later than age 16 
  • a systematic plan of action to assist student's move to vocational and other community activities 
  • a coordinated set of activities based on the student's needs, preferences, and interests 
Eligibility and Services 
  • ages birth through 21 years 
  • special education and related services must be written into IEP to guarantee receipt 
  • transportation related to school and IEP goals must be accessible 
  • must provide transition services 
  • must provide assistive technology after evaluating its need to meet the IEP goals 
Written Plans 
  • meeting to develop an IEP must occur within 30 days of a determination that special education is needed 
  • in effect at beginning of school year or implemented as soon as possible following the IEP meeting 
  • developed with representative of public agency, student's teacher and parent(s), student and evaluation personnel 
  • should include annual goals, objectives, related services, dates for initiation, anticipated duration, and statement of needed transition services 
  • must be reviewed at least twice per year (4X for private schools) 
Appeal Procedures 
  • parents have the right to an independent educational evaluation at the LEA's expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the LEA 
  • written notice must be given to the parents, and consent received, for initiating or changing identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the student 
  • a parent or a public educational agency may initiate a hearing if they do not agree 
  • during proceedings, the student must remain in his/her present educational setting, or if prior to admission to school, the student must be placed in the public school program until the hearings are completed 
Rehabilitation Act 1992 


  • empowers individuals with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion into society 
  • ensures that the federal government promotes the employment of individuals with disabilities and assists states and providers in fulfilling aspirations for meaningful and gainful employment and independent living 
  • identifies standards 
Eligibility and Services 
  • adults with disabilities interested in working toward employment and independent living 
  • vocational rehabilitation services include assessment, placement, vocational and other training, support, physical and mental restoration, rehabilitation technology, supported employment, and information and referral 
  • independent living (IL) services available through community-based, consumer-controlled centers, which include the core services of information and referral, IL skills training, peer counseling (including cross-disability peer counseling), individual and systems advocacy, and other services and supports needed to achieve IL goals 
 Written Plans 
  • eligibility must be determined within 60 days after application is submitted unless the individual agrees to a delay 
  • plan must be developed jointly with the agency and the individual and reviewed annually 
  • should include employment objective including placement in integrated settings, long- and short-term goals, specific services, timeliness, tech services, and identification of who provides services 
Appeal Procedures 
  • you can attempt to resolve your disagreement with your counselor or with your counselor's supervisor or office manager 
  • you may request assistance from the agency ombudsperson or from the Client Assistance Program 
  • make a written request to the consumer appeals coordinator within 30 days of your being notified of a change in or denial of services 
  • opportunity will be given to submit additional evidence and information to an impartial hearing officer 
  • services cannot be suspended, reduced, or terminated pending a final determination

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

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.

Public Accommodations

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 Job Training Partnership Act Amendments of 1992

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 of 1992

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

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.

The National Educational Reform Agenda

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:

  1. All children will be ready to learn,
  2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent,
  3. Students in grades 4, 8, and 12 will have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and, geography,
  4. The teaching force will have access to programs for the continued improvement of their professional skills,
  5. U.S. students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement,
  6. Every adult will be literate and will have the knowledge and skills to compete in a global economy,
  7. Every school will be free of drugs and violence and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning,
  8. Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation.
Several of these goals directly impact secondary-age students with disabilities. By calling for a "unified" system of standards for all students, rather than separate sets of standards for different groups of students, it challenges the schools, businesses, and community to acknowledge and respect not only cultural but also intellectual diversity. The support and modifications provisions of ADA, JTPA, Perkins, and IDEA should be accessed to ensure that students with disabilities can participate in graduation, and outcome assessment and outcome-based accountability systems of goals 2 and 3.

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 of 1994

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 of 1993

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 portfolio assessment.

State Laws

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.

Chapter 766

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.

Chapter 688

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.


Back to the Table of Contents