Improving Employment Prospects for Special-Needs Students

What does it take to prepare special-needs students to find success in the workforce? According to Erik Carter, special-education professor and researcher at Vanderbilt University, it’s early employment opportunities, involved families and supportive community employers.

“I’m most excited about programs that provide real-life, hands-on work experiences for students at some point throughout their high school that’s not simulated, that’s not ‘pre-vocational,’ that’s not [simply] preparatory but that puts them in a real place where they’re doing real work that matches their interests,” Carter said recently in The Atlantic Monthly article, “Escaping the Disability Trap.

The article explores the pros and cons of workforce academies, such as the new River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, DC. The challenge, the article points out, is that many academic and job training programs for people with disabilities tend to keep students separated, and often destined for jobs that are primarily held by people with disabilities. Instead, says Carter, whether through inclusion in mainstream programs or through sparate systems, students with disabilities should be prepared for jobs in more inclusive settings.

“If we can show that whatever experiences we’re doing actually lead students to attain the kinds of jobs they want and not the kind of jobs we think they ought to fit into then I get much less worried about what the path was,” Carter added. “The problem is that most of the things we do under the auspices of being vocational training [don’t] actually lead to integrated community jobs.”

There’s also the prospect of college, that is often overlooked for many special-needs students who could actually thrive there with the right supports.

Although researchers have shown that special-needs children in workforce prep programs tend to finish high school sooner than those who are not, the jury is still out on how those program impact longer-term economic outcomes.

Advocacy and Communication Solutions, LLC (ACS) is proud to partner with Towards Employment, which has helped more than 122,000 people prepare for a job, get a job, keep a job, and move up the career ladder through job readiness training, placement, retention and supportive services provided in a comprehensive and responsive manner. Learn more about ACS workforce clients here.

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