Career & Transition Programs for Students with Disabilities

Instructor: Pamela Brezenski

Pamela holds a M.S. in Special Education and is ABD EdD Special Education. Pamela has experience in the following settings: 6th LA/SS, 9-10th LD/ED, K-12 and K-5 LD/ED/ID

Everyone has the right to work! Teachers must help students diagnosed with disabilities find and prepare for the careers of their dreams. Opening that door can help lead to successful, independent lives for students with disabilities.

Career and Transition Programs

All students need to learn employment-related skills, which can be acquired through both pre-vocational and vocational skill support programs. Unfortunately, 40% of intellectually disabled youth across the country did not receive vocational education in a study conducted by Clare Papay (Ph.D.) and Linda Bambura (Ed.D.) and published in 2013.

As a teacher, you can use many strategies to help students with disabilities grow their vocational skills, and the benefits of direct instruction should not be overlooked. Using classroom-based, direct instruction curriculums can help these students prepare for the workplace.

The opportunity to practice vocational skills in a real-life setting is critical after students with disabilities have gained basic skills. Community-based instructional methods, including job shadowing, internships, and paid work experiences, allow for real-life opportunities and create a connection between schools and communities.

Classroom Instruction: Pre-Vocational Skills

You can provide students with disabilities with the opportunity to learn pre-vocational skills in the classroom, such as honesty, responsibility, self-discipline, and time management. Several programs exist that provide students with directly taught pre-vocational skills. These are important because students will most often lose their jobs because of violations related to social skills and workplace manners. Learning valuable skills related to communication, problem-solving, and teamwork is critical to continued employment.

Learning through direct teaching methods, modeling, and practice can help students gain necessary skills. There are several curriculums that your school can purchase to support the attainment of pre-vocational skills.

A few evidenced-based programs are as follows:

  • James Stanfield School to Work Programs: The James Stanfield programs provide teachers with direct instruction lessons to help students acquire pre-vocational skills like manners and social conventions as they relate to jobs.
  • Project Discovery: These employment and readiness skill kits provide a complete curriculum and the materials to practice.
  • I Can Work: The I Can Work program explores soft-skills that students need to learn to be successful on the job.

Community-Based Work Experiences

Offering real vocational opportunities to students with disabilities is critical to helping them generalize skills learned in the classroom. Community-based work experiences allow students to work within their cities and towns, while having the support of school staff to guide them. Through these experiences, students can authentically practice their skills in community-based, integrated employment opportunities. Sadly, Valerie Mazzotti and Anthony Plotner reported in a study published in 2014 that only 19% of transition teams implement community-based work experiences.

Research shows that real work experiences lead to successful employment transitions for students with disabilities; they're often the most important predictors of employment success. Without opportunities to practice vocational skills, learn from mistakes, and use social skills, students are not prepared to enter the workforce.

You can start a community-based, integrated employment program by pursuing opportunities for students to shadow jobs they're interested in, practice job and employability skills they hold, and gain paid employment in areas of interest.

Job Shadowing

Job shadowing can be conducted within the desired workplaces or remotely through videos or digital connections. Setting up job shadowing opportunities helps students with disabilities become familiar with working conditions and connect necessary training to work skills.

You can implement effective job shadowing opportunities for students by following these steps:

1.) Identify students' interests and related businesses that may offer them a strong industry-related perspective.

2.) Connect with businesses willing to host students for 1-2 day walk-through experiences, or connect with the businesses digitally. If a real experience is not possible, consider showing career videos, available online.

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