A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities

This guide addresses topics related to facilitating a seamless transition from school to post-school activities to ensure young adults with disabilities are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to be engaged in the 21st Century Workforce.

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
U.S. Department of Education
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) developed this guide to advance efforts aimed at assisting youth and young adults with disabilities acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be engaged in the 21st Century workforce. Both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act), as amended by Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) make clear that these efforts require a coordinated set of activities involving active student and family involvement as well as collaboration and coordination among Federal, state and local agencies. This guide addresses four topics related to facilitating a seamless transition for young adults with disabilities from school to post-school activities. The LINCS Adult Literacy Thesaurus identifies “youth and young adults” as being approximately 16-25 years of age.

1. Transition Planning: Opportunities and Programs to Prepare Students with Disabilities for Success – During the planning process, local education agencies (LEAs) and state vocational rehabilitation agencies (VRs) collaboratively identify the transition needs of students with disabilities, such as assistive or rehabilitation technology, orientation and mobility services or travel training, and career exploration through vocational assessments or work experience opportunities. The resulting transition plan provides the basic structure for preparing an adult to live, work and play in the community, as fully and independently as possible. This section highlights educational opportunities, credentials, and employment strategies designed to assist students with disabilities prepare for a meaningful postsecondary education and thriving career.

2. Transition Services and Requirements: IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act – IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act include key requirement aimed at facilitating the transition from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education and competitive integrated employment. These requirements are in place for students and youth with disabilities to seamlessly access services and supports to achieve their career goals. Examples of how States implement transition requirements, descriptions of services for youth with disabilities who are no longer in school, and a sample flow chart of key points in the transition process are also presented.

3. Options after Leaving Secondary School: Education and Employment Goals – Postsecondary education is one of the most important post-school goals; and research has demonstrated that it is the primary goal for most students with disabilities. As students with disabilities transition from secondary school to postsecondary education, training, and employment, it is critical that they are prepared academically and financially. There is a range of options available for students to use in achieving their educational and career aspirations. These options include include two- and four-year colleges and universities, trade and vocational schools, adult education programs, and employment outcomes in competitive integrated employment or supported employment. Students, family members, educators, VR counselors, and other support professionals are encouraged to know about available postsecondary opportunities and services to properly plan and prepare a youth with a disability for adult life.

4. Supporting Student-Made Decisions: Preparation for Adult Life – Successful post-school transition is most likely to happen when students are actively engaged in their own transition planning. To engage students, families, IEP Teams, VR professionals, and other support professionals should:

  • Set high expectations;
  • Use a person-centered planning approach;
  • Support the student’s social and emotional learning;
  • Provide the student or youth with support to make their decisions; and
  • Counsel the student and their representative to make informed choices.

The report concludes with a Glossary of Terms, and Endnotes.

A March 10, 2017, OSERS technical assistance webinar provided an overview of A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities. The webinar recording, transcript, and PowerPoint presentation are available from the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials.

Benefits and Uses

A Transition Guide provides guidance to state and local administrators about how to meet WIOA and IDEA requirements for the transition of young adults with disabilities to postsecondary education and employment. The guide combines the legal provisions of the two laws into a single narrative and describes the services and supports that are required at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Links to online resources are provided that adult educators can use to expand their knowledgebase or share with students and families. Section 4 identifies key elements of supported decision-making and describes what schools can do to support young adults with disabilities successfully transition into post-secondary living. The Glossary of Terms highlights important provisions of the laws.

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