Study reveals disappointing results for disabled students post high school

Around 25% of students with disabilities in Washington do not secure employment or pursue higher education within a year of graduating from high school.

The situation is particularly dire for students with autism or intellectual disabilities: 54% of those with intellectual disabilities and 41% of those with autism do not transition to work or higher education within the same timeframe.

The figures are part of a recent survey conducted by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction based on data collected in 2022 from students in special education who graduated high school in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Joshua Taylor, a Washington State University professor specializing in transitions from school to work for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, expressed concern over the reported outcomes for these individuals, calling them “problematic.”

“Efforts to enhance employment prospects for individuals with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have remained stagnant for approximately three decades,” Taylor remarked. “There hasn’t been much positive change.”

The report indicates a consistent trend: Over the past five years, the lowest percentage of students not engaged in higher education or employment was 25% for the 2017-2018 cohort, while the highest was 30% for the 2019-2020 group, likely influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Taylor noted.

Moreover, students with intellectual disabilities in Washington exhibit lower rates of competitive employment, defined as holding a job, full-time or part-time, with pay equal to that of nondisabled workers.

According to Taylor, Washington’s competitive employment rates are below the national average, standing at approximately 12% for students with intellectual disabilities and 15% for students with autism. A report cites a 20% national rate for competitive employment among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 2014.

The report also addresses alternative work arrangements, encompassing employment where disabled workers receive pay below the minimum wage. This practice, permissible in 37 states, including Washington, was highlighted in a December 2023 report by the National Partnership for Women and Families. Legislation featured in a February 2023 reintroduction aims to abolish this practice.

Taylor emphasized ongoing federal and state initiatives to boost employment and education rates for youths with disabilities transitioning to adulthood.

It has been a decade since the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, mandating that state vocational rehabilitation agencies allocate a minimum of 15% of federal funds towards ensuring students with disabilities access services aiding their post-school employment.

While states have flexibility in meeting this target, Taylor highlighted the effectiveness of providing paid work experiences before students finish school. Exposure to paid work experiences significantly influences students’ pursuit of further education or employment, as per research findings.

In Washington, efforts such as the development of the Transition Self-Assessment Tool by Taylor and Washington State University aim to guide students in identifying available services.

“The objective is to alter the trends observed in these numbers and redirect the paths of students facing challenges…across the nation,” Taylor stated.

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