Students with Disabilities - School & Work

Next Topic: Four Types of Transition Plans

Why Plan?

Photo of a young girl with a developmental disability being held by her teacher. Anything works better if it is planned. Besides, it’s the law. There are many ideas, services and technologies for people with disabilities and planning can put them within reach. For example, creative planning can open the door to assistive technology, additional services or expert advice that may give a student more freedom and personal power in adult life.

Students in special education are required by federal law (IDEA) to have an Individualized Education Program (in Florida this is called an Individualized Education Plan or IEP). As adulthood approaches, the law also requires transition IEPs (TIEPs).

The IEP defines the type of education and goals a student needs, along with the support services and accommodations required to achieve it. Later plans – both transition and vocational — deal with the student’s goals and needs for adulthood.

Students with disabilities who are not covered by IDEA — that is, students who need accommodations in education but do not need specially designed instruction — have a plan similar to the IEP. Covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is usually called a "504 Plan."

Begin Planning Early!

The planning for a child’s education should begin when he or she enters school or is discovered to have a disability. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that school-based transition planning begin by age 16.

Youth with disabilities need everyone to plan ahead. The list includes parents, caregivers, caseworkers, teachers and other supportive adults who understand how they learn, how much they can learn (often more than teachers think), how they can prove what they’ve learned and how they can use that information as adults. They also need adults to understand what skills they will need to live in the community and plan for how those skills will be acquired.

The earlier the transition team understands a student’s needs, the more likely they are to be fulfilled.

If you need to begin at age 14 or before, insist on early transition planning. Although the law requires that students covered by IDEA begin their transition services no later than the year that the IEP will be in effect when the child is 16, planning can begin at age 14 (younger if deemed necessary).

How Long in School?

High School

Students who are covered by IDEA may receive different kinds of diplomas. If they do not receive a standard diploma, they are entitled to remain in school until their 22nd birthday. However, many schools continue services until the end of the semester or school year in which the student turns 22.

Courts sometimes order compensatory education for a student who did not receive appropriate education services at the appropriate time. When that happens, educational services may be delivered after the student turns 22 or receives a standard diploma.

Unless compensatory education is ordered, public schools are not responsible for determining and meeting a student’s educational needs if he or she has a standard diploma or is older than 22.

Post-Secondary Education (After High School)

After high school, a student may seek a post-secondary education in a college, university or trade school program. The program would be responsible for any accommodations necessary for the student to have equal access. Such programs are required by law to support a student with disabilities with reasonable accommodations such as a reduced course load, recording devices, sign-language interpreters, readers, extended time for testing, or adaptive software and hardware for computers. Post-secondary programs are not required to lower academic standards or fundamentally alter the nature of programs.

To receive accommodations, the student must notify the school's Office of Students with Disabilities (OSD) that he or she has a disability and requires certain accommodations, services or technology. Usually there would not be team meetings or written plans, but the student would receive instructions and assistance from the OSD. The student must be prepared to provide a recent evaluation that supports the need for the requested accommodations. Post-secondary institutions will require an evaluation that is no more than 3 years old. If the student is interested in on campus housing, that process should also start early. The student should contact campus housing and start discussing and requesting needed accommodations. The institution may require documentation regarding any requested accommodations in campus housing.

How Soon to Work?

Some students with disabilities may choose to go directly to work when they finish high school. Others may first seek to attend community college, university, vocational training, or some other adult education. If the transition planning has gone well, youths who finish school will move into the next stage as planned — with employment, vocational rehabilitation and/or a combination of services that will make it possible to perform to their greatest potential.

Educators and vocational experts should work together to ensure that the transition from school to work is smooth and seamless.

Two state agencies in Florida may help young people prepare for and find employment. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) serves people with “physical, mental, or emotional disabilities.” The Division of Blind Services (DBS) serves individuals with bilateral visual disabilities.

DVR and DBS offer a broad range of services based on the student’s vocational goals and barriers to employment. To make the most of these services, the student needs a DVR or DBS representative on his or her IEP team long before leaving school.

People with disabilities who are eligible for services have the right to choose among many public and private providers. Services should be customized to each person’s needs and include the full range of available services.

Vocational rehabilitation is a process that provides the services needed to reach an employment goal, including transportation assistance, education and vocational training, tuition, books and fees, physical and mental restoration services, assistive technology, vehicle and home modifications, equipment, tools, uniforms, durable medical equipment, family care services, help to establish a small business, job placement services, job coaching/supported employment and more. People who are eligible for vocational rehabilitation services may choose to receive these services from either a state agency or a private provider.

The Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Florida Division of Blind Services are state agencies mandated to provide such services to eligible clients. Remember, you have the right to choose. You can ask for a vendor list, which may include doctors, medical professionals and many other types of vendors who are approved to accept DVR and DBS fees.

You can also choose among many private providers, including Employment Networks (EN), which are providers certified under the Ticket to Work Program to provide rehabilitation and employment services to Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities. The Social Security Administration pays ENs participating in the Ticket to Work Program. However, ENs only receive payment when their clients achieve certain employment related milestones and outcomes. If you are not willing or able to reach these benchmarks, ENs may not be willing to serve you. ENs have the right to choose not to work with you, just as you have the right to choose not to work with them.

Other resources include the One-Stop centers, which provide job referrals and placement assistance, employment counseling, testing, job development, labor market information, employment skills workshops, support services, and business services. Often the two state agencies will contract with one or more of these organizations to provide services. In some cases, a client may be involved with one or more service providers without being involved with the state agencies.