Preparing Students with Moderate/Severe Disabilities for Employment

Peter Dragula, M.Ed.
Chapman University


Under United States federal law, all students are entitled to a free and appropriate education.  What does this mean?   With general education students the expectation in public schools is seemingly straight forward that they are preparing for college and the last four years of high school are spent meeting the graduation requirements.  However, students who are in special education have a different scenario.  They are guaranteed the right to attend school, but their education will vary depending upon their disability and their independent goals that are developed in a contract between the school and the parents called an Individual Educational Plan or IEP.  Most moderate to severe students are destined to be on a “nonacademic” track, which means that they will not graduate with a diploma.  They have the right to receive “educational services” until they are 21 and then at 22 they receive a “Certificate of Completion” for having met their IEP goals and are “aged out”; no longer qualifying for program services.  Families move from a bureaucracy of “entitled services” to one of “eligibility”.

Students with moderate/severe disabilities are guaranteed within their IEP a section that is devoted to helping them to transition from entitlement to eligibility services.  This section is called the Individual Transition Plan or ITP.  Ideally, these students are working on life, social, and work skills that will help them to take care of themselves as independently as possible.  However, for most people who are unfamiliar with this population there are questions:

  • Why are we preparing students with moderate/severe disabilities for employment?
  • What is the curricular sequence of preparation for employment? 
  • What are the common roadblocks?
  • Are there any possible solutions?
  • What are the ideal solutions?

This paper looks to answer these questions by looking at available research articles that have dealt with these issues in the past, as well as this author’s own past experiences working with the moderate/severely disabled in a Special Education Class for the past four years.  The following is a report of those findings.

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