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The 1992 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 101-476) included transition services and assistive technology services as special education services. The 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments (P.L. 105-17) mandated transition services for children beginning at age 14 (instead of age 16).

There has been consistent and repeated attention to transition services over the decades since the President's Committee on Mental Retardation in the early 1960s.

A man smiling
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden

In 2003, in a paper for the Office of Disability Employment Policy, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth summarized the lack of progress throughout the 1990s, in spite of the attention given to the issue, in successful transition services for youth:

There continues to be a stubborn dilemma facing youth with disabilities. That is, in spite of supportive legislation and identified effective practices, these youth continue to experience high unemployment as well as insufficient opportunities to obtain competitive employment with the potential of career growth…

Certainly, some youth with disabilities have attained successful careers. Of these, some have benefited from well delivered special education transition services, while others have received timely and appropriately delivered youth employment services; many of these successes reflect both circumstances. Yet, these successes are not the norm.

Two women and a dog
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden

Consider the following:

  • Special education students are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school as their peers in general education (Harris & Associates, 1998);
  • Youth with disabilities are half as likely to participate in post secondary education as compared to their same aged peers without disabilities (National Council on Disability, 2000);
  • Current special education students can expect to face much higher adult unemployment rates than their same aged peers without disabilities (Wagner, Cameto & Newman, 2003);
  • The adjudication rate of youth with disabilities is four times higher than youth without disabilities (Quinn, Rutherford & Leone, 2001);
  • The pregnancy rate for youth with disabilities is much higher than the norm – among females with learning disabilities, for example, 50% will be pregnant within three years of school exit (Shapland, 1999);
  • Young adults with disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty as adults than their peers without disabilities (Harris & Associates, 1998); and
  • For those youth with significant disabilities the picture is even more grim: less than one out of 10 will attain integrated employment, five out of 10 will experience indefinitely long waits for post-school employment services, and most of these individuals will earn less than $2.40/hour in sheltered workshop settings (LaPlante, et al., 1996; General Accounting Office, 2001).
Individual in the community
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden
Individual in the community
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden