Students with Abilities: Secondary and Postsecondary Options

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Students with different abilities may need to take medication, wear special shoes, or use certain practices to assist them in their everyday life. These students may face challenges within their internal world that they cannot control; and we could, most certainly, assist in making their external world easier. In part one of our series, we discussed the problems students and parents face with Individualized Learning Plans. But the obstacles don’t stop there. Statistics show that students with disabilities face a host of difficulties when trying to begin their life by either attending a postsecondary institution or beginning their career. 

Before discussing disabled students in a postsecondary setting, it is important to discuss students’ journey to the graduation stage. Graduating from high school presents its own set of challenges for disabled students. According to the Hechinger Report, only 65% of disabled students graduate high school despite experts’ postulation that “up to 90 percent of students with disabilities are capable of graduating high school.” Not only do these students have what it takes to graduate, but they also possess the skills to go on to college or a career. However, much like every student, they cannot do it alone. What’s most important for these students is access to “proper support” from their schools and parents. How students receive this support varies by school and parent involvement. It is increasingly difficult for students to gain access to the support, especially because, “general education teachers rarely have much training in special education. Few teacher education programs require more than one class on students with disabilities.” This leaves many bright students unable to make a successful transition out of high school. 

When a small number of students enter college, statistics prove they have trouble finishing their schooling. Despite 19% of undergraduate students reporting having a disability, the American Institute for Research determined that many fail to graduate. Among the students who attend a four-year university, a mere 34% graduate. Even when these students graduate, they are taking more time to gain their degree. Of the 34% that graduate, it occurs within eight years instead of four, which often adds up for the student.

However, not all statistics point to negative results for disabled students! Researchers at Bell State University in Indiana performed a longitudinal study to compare the graduation and retention rates of students with and without disabilities. Retention and Graduation of Students with Disabilities: Facilitating Student Success after examining over 11,000 in the span of eight years, they determined similar graduation and retention rates for both students with and without disabilities. They cited institutional interventions, such as the Office of Disability Support Services as a helpful tool that helped disabled students stay on track. They cited other studies that posited, “Belonging, involvement, purpose, and self-determination were identified as important factors affecting retention for college students with apparent and non-apparent disabilities.” The study only underscores the importance of additional attention for disabled students and the catalyzing effects it has on their ability to succeed. 

Students who choose to skip college altogether, a common pathway for students with disabilities, may face serious wage and employment concerns. One of the most common challenges for disabled individuals is simply finding a job. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 19% of disabled people were employed. Of those who were able to attain employment, they were far more likely to be working part-time than their counterparts. The unemployment numbers for people with disabilities in the United States have remained nearly the same for two years. 

Even when these students locate positions, they have a hard time making ends meet. In September 2011, the United States Department of Education published a national longitudinal transition study to better understand the outcomes for students with disabilities. The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 6 Years After High School was a ten-year-long study that interviewed nearly 12,000 differently-abled individuals to record and understand their long-term accomplishments. The study found that people with disabilities “earned less than their same-age peers in the general population.” More specifically, they made $3.80 less an hour than people without disabilities. Certainly not enough to live off of or gain independence, studies have shown can be beneficial to people with disabilities. 

The Atlantic’s article, “Escaping the Disability Trap” cites another survey performed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found that disabled students believe their lack of training and education is the main reason they have trouble finding a job. Other critics agree. The National Center for Learning Disabilities states that most students graduate high school without the self-awareness, confidence, and self-advocacy skills necessary to seek support when needed. Another article by the Hechinger Report observed that many schools are failing to teach students the soft skills that may help them succeed. The article notes that most schools assume students are learning skills unique to a student’s needs at home. In reality, it is difficult for a school to create an environment similar to a work setting. A student may grow accustomed to a teacher or faculty member to ask for what they need but may not feel comfortable requesting accommodations from an employer. 

Luckily, the American Counseling Association may have a proper solution. Preparing Students With Disabilities for Their Future Careers examines some best practices for helping differently-abled students adjust to the workforce. The paper cites other research that determined the most effective tools for students. One study “recommended utilizing community learning experiences and providing information regarding the variety of training programs available to students.” They suggested providing “learning experiences,” which would help students get a taste of the real working world. Learning experiences “might include internships, service-learning opportunities, or job shadowing.” 

 While research is scarce, the consensus remains the same: disabled students need our help! They need our support in the high school classroom and beyond. So let’s continue to work on making their external world better so they can work towards a better, more successful future!

Students with Abilities: Secondary and Postsecondary Options

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