Click here for a transcript of the video

Jennifer Rowan, Educational Consultant at TennesseeWorks
(615) 875-9801
[email protected]
Erik Carter, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University
(615) 322-8150
[email protected]
Welcome to Launching Students With Disabilities Toward Adulthood, a new
webinar series developed by TennesseeWorks and the Department of Education.
I’m Jennifer Rowan, Educational Consultant with the TennesseeWorks Partnership
and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. And I’m here with Erik Carter, Associate Professor
of Special Education with Vanderbilt University, Alison Gauld, behavior and lowincidence disability coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Education, and
Joshua Stanley, coordinator of high school intervention and transition with the
department of education. We are saving the last 15 minutes of our webinar to
address your questions and reflections, so please type them in the comments box
throughout the presentation.
We are thrilled you’ve joined us! And we are so grateful for the investment you are
making for youth and young adults with disabilities living and learning in
communities across Tennessee. Our conversation today—the first in a series of
webinars this year—will focus on what high-quality transition is and why it matters
so much for your students. The instruction, supports, experience, and linkages you
provide--in partnership with families, agencies, and others in your community--can
make such a powerful difference in the outcomes of young people with disabilities.
To launch this conversation, we want to begin by transporting you back to high
school, to sophomore, junior, or senior year. Breathe deep. We know this may be
traumatic! [Maybe one of these yearbook pictures resembles yours.]
Think about the things you looked forward to most after high school…
As a young person on the brink of adulthood…perhaps you had great excitement
about the future…or maybe worries and concerns about what lay ahead after
graduation. Most likely you felt a bit of both. Regardless, I bet you had your own
dreams of living the “good life,” however you defined that. You probably wanted a
good job, a close circle of relationships, and a comfortable and safe place to live. You
probably expected to be involved in your community, to have a reliable (and maybe
cool) way to get around, and a chance to give something back. You probably held on
to some important hopes and dreams.
Students with disabilities across our state share many of those same hopes and
dreams. They too want to live a good life after high school. Listen to just a few of the
students we met last month at the Think Employment! Summit in Nashville as they
respond to a simple question we have all been asked ourselves: What do you want to
be when you grow up?
At the end of the day, students with disabilities want a good job, a chance for further
education, and a life in their community.
It turns out that helping youth with disabilities make this transition to adulthood
successfully is among the very central purposes of special education. Our primary
charge as special educators is to equip young people with disabilities with the skills,
opportunities, and relationships they need to flourish after high school. To live a
good life however THEY and their families define it.
For those of you who--like me--enjoy curling up at night in bed with the latest piece
of federal legislation, you already know this. The Individuals with Disabilities
Education Improvement Act--the federal law guiding special education services-explains one of the purposes of special education just a few pages in: ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and
appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services
designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education,
employment, and independent living....
Notice this last bolded section. Helping students with disabilities attain good
outcomes in these three specific areas is a big part of why we all do what we do for
so many years of schooling. How do the services and supports you provide point to
these outcomes? Can you draw a clear line between the instruction you provide in
your school and the skills needed to attain these outcomes?
It takes a coordinated set of planned efforts to make this happen. And here is where
we find the mandate for those of us working with students ages 14 and older in our
state. Turn a bit deeper into the IDEA law and you’ll find this definition of transition.
Transition is a “coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is
designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the
academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the
child’s movement from school to post-school activities.”
And those post-school activities include: “post-secondary education, vocational
education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing
and adult education,
adult services. independent living, or community participation”
Here is perhaps the key take-away from this mandate: The outcomes our students
attain in early adulthood tells us something important about the quality and
effectiveness of our transition services and supports. Put simply, their outcomes are
heavily influenced by what we do or don’t do while they are still with us in high
Transition is defined as a “results-oriented process,” rather than a process-focused
activity. In other words, we can’t consider ourselves to be successful based on what
we have written down on a transition plan; but on the degree to which the goals
students have for life after high school actually materialize.
This is why Indicator 14 is so very important. It is a measure of the percentage of
young people with disabilities from your district who have left secondary school and
are enrolled in in higher education, are competitively employed, or are in some
other postsecondary education or training program within one year of leaving high
school. It is a marker of whether the vision students have as they look out to their
future related to college and career ever materializes.
SLIDE 11[JENNIFER ROWAN] are we doing as a state in terms of promoting successful transitions? How
are you doing in your school or district? What is going well? What might you do
even better, more of, or entirely differently? In our later webinars, we’ll be sharing
more about the specific outcomes of Tennesseans with disabilities. For now, we
want to give you a national picture of where we have been, where we are, and where
we might go next. In the first two of those post-school outcome areas mentioned in
IDEA—postsecondary education/training and employment.
Let’s begin with postsecondary educational opportunities. Exciting things are
happening in Tennessee. Conversations about college for students with
disabilities—especially intellectual and developmental disabilities—are becoming
more and more common.
We are seeing more of our two- and four-year colleges and universities in Tennessee
offer enrollment options for young adults with intellectual disability, autism, and
other developmental disabilities. And most other colleges already offer disability
support services for students with other disability labels.
For example, the Think College project lists more than 200 formal college programs
for students with intellectual disabilities in their databases. Four of these programs
are here in Tennessee—Next Steps at Vanderbilt, Futures at UT-Knoxville, TigerLife
at the University of Memphis, and IDEAL at Lipscomb. Other colleges are also having
conversations about starting such programs. We’ve put a short “practice brief” on
your screen that describes these programs. We’ll include the link when we post this
webinar online on the TennesseeWorks website.
Yet, we still have a ways to go on this leg of the journey. According to findings from
the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2--a representative ten-year study of
more than 11,000 students, including about 1000 students in each of the disability
categories--postsecondary enrollment remains elusive for substantial numbers of
youth with disabilities . The figure I’ve put up on the screen show that less than half
of youth with autism are enrolled in any type of postsecondary school (vocational,
business, technical, 2-year, 4-year) up to two years after exciting high school,
despite more than two-thirds (66%) having this as a transition goal during high
school. And very, very few are attending four-year colleges or universities.
Think about the pathways your own students take? What steps could you take to
improve these outcomes in your district? What are the skills we should teach, the
experiences we should provide, the coursework we should offer, the linkages we
should make, and the encouragement we should offer?
What about the world of work? More and more young people with disabilities in our
state are being provided opportunities to develop and contribute their skills and
talents in the workplace. And more and more employers are discovering the
contributions to productivity and workplace culture young people with disabilities
can make--when the right fit is found. Graduating to unemployment…or even to
sheltered employment…is no longer considered an acceptable expectation.
And there are plenty examples of employment successes all across our state in
Tennessee. These are screenshots from the TennesseeWorks website. We are
highlighting stories, videos, and other illustrations of the impact young people in our
state can have if given the right preparation and linkages. It really can be done.’
Yet, we still have a ways to go on this leg of our journey. On the screen, you’ll see the
percentage of students in each of the 12 different disability categories you have
worked at any point up to 4 years after leaving high school. That is the blue bar.
This is not continuous working…just even a single day. Some students are doing
quite well. But others are struggling. It is the green bars where we have lots to do.
In Tennessee, less than 16% of all adults (ages 16-65) with cognitive impairments
are employed. That means we have an unemployment rate of about 84%, perhaps
even higher.
What can we do to change the post-school landscape for our students? Our
secondary schools really do represent a critical juncture. A period when we have the
strongest chance of changing the trajectories—the post-school pathways—of our
students. And the good news is that as a field, we have a growing number of
research-based practices we can draw upon in this work.
We have put on your screen several free guides on research-based practices in
transition. They all highlight things we can do that predict better outcomes for
students after high school. They all point to skills we can teach, experiences we can
provide, expectations we can hold, supports we can provide, and linkages we can
make. And they are surprisingly consistent in what they suggest. You can download
these and read them.
We can’t address every important practice in this webinar series. Instead, we chose
to highlight five of transition practices that are especially powerful and are
considered absolutely essential to improving in- and post-school outcomes. These
five practices are: (1) assessment, (2) early work experiences, (3) selfdetermination, (4) family engagement, and (5) strong partnerships with agencies
and other community supports.
No two students with disabilities in our state (or in your school) are quite the same.
Just like we heard in the video that opened this webinar…our students have their
own personal visions of what they want to do, how they want to live, and who they
want to be after high school. And so our services and supports have to be
individually tailored to align with those personal goals. Strong transition
assessment helps us do that.
The first IEP to be in effect when a student with a disability turns 14 must include
“appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate
transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where
appropriate, independent living skills.”
The law doesn’t tell us which specific assessment tools we need to use. But best
practice suggests transition assessment should be an ongoing process of collecting
information on the student’s strengths, needs, preferences, and interests as they
related to the demands of current and future living, learning, and working
There is much to unpack in that statement. And we’ll do so in the next webinar.
For now, the important point is that we ought to be very intentional about doing the
sort of data-driven assessment that helps our students (and their families) have
solid answers to the types of questions we’ve listed on your screen.
As you reflect on your own school, what types of assessment are you already using
to learn about the strengths, interests, needs, and goals of your students? How are
you determining which skills, supports, and linkages a particular student needs to
achieve their goals for life after high school?
The second practice we will address is involves connecting students to early work
and career-related experiences. It is a common experience for most teenagers to
have a part-time job, an internship, or some type of volunteer experience at some
point during high school. But not so for students with disabilities. This is a missed
Early work and career exploration experiences provide a meaningful context for
learning functional and social skills, informing future career plans, expanding social
networks and community connections, and promoting self-determination skills.
When those high school work experiences are successful, they also raise the careerrelated expectations of youth, their parents, employers, and community members.
If you want to change the post-school employment outcomes of your students, one
of the most powerful things you can do is connect them to well-supported paid work
experiences when they are still in high school. It makes a lot of sense. But our own
research finds that students with severe disabilities who have had a paid job during
high school are 2.5 times more likely to be employed after high school.
How early should those work experiences come? Maybe not this early. But students
with disabilities should have opportunities in middle and high school for career
exploration experiences, job shadowing, service-learning, internships and
apprenticeships, involvement in school-based enterprises, and job sampling. And
before they graduate: paid employment.
As you reflect on your own school, what types of work-related experiences are you
already providing to your students? What sort of resume-building experiences are
they getting? Where are they learning about what they want to do for a future job,
what they definitely don’t want to do, and what skills they will need to find and keep
such a job? These are all topics we’ll explore in greater depth in the third webinar.
The third practice we will address is all about promoting self-determination. This
has become a big buzzword in our field. It means equipping students with the skills
and opportunities to more actively direct their own lives and learning and to do so
in ways that lead to personally important outcomes. Put simply, students benefit
immensely from learning skills related to choice making, decision-making, goal
setting, problem solving, self-advocacy, leadership, and self-awareness. All of these
can foster greater self-determination as students move through middle and high
The challenge for many of us as teachers and parents during this period of
adolescence is to begin to shift our own focus. When students are younger, parents
and teachers are the primary determiners of educational goals. But as students get
older, youth really do need to be at the forefront of determining what they want for
their lives. When the youth with disabilities we work with have complex
communication or behavioral challenges, this can require the best of our creativity
and persistence. But it is important work!
Students don’t become self-determined overnight. It takes time to learn these skills.
Think about your own lives. Perhaps these are skills you are still refining. I know I
How are you and your colleagues at your school providing students with
opportunities to learn and practice these skills? In the classroom? In the
community? As part of their transition planning meetings? In the fourth webinar,
we’ll explore more fully some very practical steps you can take to promote selfdetermination throughout all aspects of transition education.
The fourth practice we will delve into involves engaging families more actively
throughout the transition years. These individuals represent the most natural of
supports for students. But we often struggle to engage them the transition planning
process, to provide them with the information they need to navigate an often
challenging adult service system, and to raise their expectations for life after high
Some parents have high expectations that their sons or daughters with disabilities
will go to college, or find a good job, or be an active part of the community. But many
parents across our state don’t necessarily hold those expectations. For example,
they wonder about whether and how working will impact their child’s benefits, they
are unsure about what programs are available (if any) to support their child after
high school, and they worry about an uncertain future because there are so many
When we are successful in involving parents in all aspects of the transition process
and connecting them with the information and resources they need about the
future, we end up raising their expectations in important ways. And those
expectations really do matter. One of the most powerful predictors of post-school
outcomes for students with disabilities is the expectations parents hold. Our own
research found that when parents of high school students with severe disabilities
expected their son or daughter to have a job after high school, their sons or
daughters were more than 3 times as likely to actually achieve that goal in the first
couple years after graduation.
Involving families throughout the transition process and raising parent expectations
is challenging work. But it is at the core of what we are called to do as transition
educators. What does family involvement look like in your school and district? What
steps do you take to invite families into the transition planning process, to raise
their expectations for adulthood, and to provide them with resources and
connections that enable them to so support their son or daughter well? We will
share ideas in each of these areas on one of the later webinars.
The final practice we want to emphasize is really about partnerships. If we truly are
going to change the post-school landscape for students with disabilities, we need
partners beyond our classrooms and schools. No single teacher or school can go it
alone. The picture on your screen is from a “community conversation about
employment” held in Lawrence County, Tennessee. Almost 100 members of that
community—employers, civic leaders, faith community members, families,
disability organizations, adult services, young people with disabilities, and
teachers—all came together to figure out how they could work together to expand
employment opportunities for youth with disabilities in Lawrenceburg. When
everyone sees this as a way to strengthen their community, you might be surprised
at just how many willing potential partners and natural supports there are in your
community that you never thought of.
But the process of trying to understand all of the community programs and adult
agencies available to support your students can seem bewildering. How do you
partner with formal supports like vocational rehabilitation, employment providers,
and residential programs? How do you engage more natural partners like chambers
of commerce, civic organizations, and local employers? It certainly can be done. But
too rarely do we have the sort of integration between adult service and school
services that is truly needed to make the transition to adulthood go smoothly? Often
there is a gap for students. As shown on your screen. What we would challenge you
to consider show you can better integrate services and supports so that the first day
after graduation doesn’t look any different from the last day of school.
Who are your formal and informal partners in your community? What sort of
connections do you feel you still need to help prepare you students for work,
college, and community living? In our final webinar, we will provide an overview of
all of the key partners, the supports they can provide, and most of all, how you can
involve them more fully in the transition process for your students.
Before we turn to some new developments around transition in our state, we want
to emphasize three key principles that should undergird all of our work in this area.
These are (a) inclusion, (b) individualization, and (c) outcomes.
In all we do, our goal should be to equip students with the skills, supports, and
opportunities they need to be included well within the life of their school, their
community, and their workplace. Early on in our field, separate schools, sheltered
workshops, and segregated communities were prevailing practice. But no longer can
they be. Both national policy and best practices emphasize the necessity of
supporting inclusive learning experiences, typical jobs in everyday businesses, and
integrated community settings that involve people with and without disabilities. To
what extent do the transition practices in your school reflect a commitment to
A second principle is individualization. This is one of the very hallmarks of what
makes special education “special.” We have to know our students and their families
well enough to tailor their transition experiences in ways that meet the unique
strengths, interests, needs, and goals of our students. No two students have exactly
the same needs or precisely the same aspirations. That should challenge us to design
our transition programs to meet the individual needs of students, rather that e to fit
students into our programs. To what extent do the transition practices in your
school reflect a commitment to individualization? What can you point to that
suggests student's goals are driving services and supports?
And finally, we should be driven by a pursuit of positive outcomes. If all of the
efforts we are investing over 4-8 years of transition services are not actually leading
to the attainment of the goals our students and their families hold for adulthood, it
should challenge us to revisit what we are doing, to rethink our practices. It should
push us to ask what we could do better, more of, or entirely differently. To what
extent do the transition practices in your school reflect a focus on outcomes?
The efforts you are making on behalf of young people with disabilities in our state is
so incredibly important. We admire and applaud the investment you are making in
the transition of youth with disabilities. You matter in the lives of these students.
And you are making a critical difference.
We hope this first webinar has reinforced for you the importance of your work.
Perhaps it has also introduced you to some new ideas on ways to further strengthen
and focus your work with students. And maybe it has pointed you to resources and
possibilities you were not aware of. We will be posting this webinar online at the
TennesseeWorks website. Encourage your colleagues to watch it. And we hope you
will join us for our next webinar in January.
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