The employment-to-population ratio, or the proportion of the youth with disabilities who are employed, has declined in the United States since the beginning of the millennium. American Community Survey (ACS) estimates showed that the employment-to-population ratio for young people with disabilities, ages 16-22 years, fell from 39.3% in 2001 to 30.6% in 2007 (Ruggles, et al, 2019). During the recession starting in 2008, employment dropped further from 29.9% to 22.7% in 2011. The employment ratio then increased somewhat to 28.8% by 2017. Youth without disabilities have experienced a similar downward trend in employment rates (52.9% in 2001 to 46.9% in 2017), though youth with disabilities were significantly less likely to be employed than their non-disabled counterparts (Ruggles et al., 2019). A comparison of National Longitudinal Transition Studies (NLTS2 and NLTS 2012) further reinforced the finding that youth with disabilities worked less often, showing an eight point percentage decrease from 2003 to 2012 among students who received special education and related services (Liu, et al, 2018). Evidence of decreased work among youth with disabilities is of particular concern given research identifying early work experience as an important predictor of postsecondary education and employment success (Carter, et al, 2012; McDonnall & O’Mally, 2012; Simonsen & Neubert, 2013; Wagner, et al, 2014; Wehman, et al, 2015; Mamun, et al, 2018; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015; U.S. Department of Education, 2018).
Federal programs for youth with disabilities promote services and interventions that can facilitate the transition to post-school employment. Knowing the importance of early work experiences, the Employment First initiative promotes systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for youth and young adults with significant disabilities (U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2019). Employment First aims to align systems change policies and service delivery practices to promote competitive, integrated employment outcomes.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), underscored the provision of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services to students and youth with disabilities to ensure opportunities to achieve competitive integrated employment (U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, 2019). WIOA expanded the population of youth with disabilities who may receive services, and specified required pre-employment transition services (job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for enrollment in transition or postsecondary education, workplace readiness training for social skills and independent living, and instruction in self-advocacy), as well as additional authorized services. In addition, WIOA encouraged coordination of transition-related activities among agencies providing services, such as schools, vocational rehabilitation, employers, and workforce development agencies, as the agencies provide pre-employment transition services. This emphasis on inter-agency collaboration is characteristic of recent large-scale Federally supported demonstration projects in transition for youth with disabilities, such as Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE; U.S. Department of Education, 2019), and the Social Security Administration's Youth Transition Demonstration Project (Fraker, et al. 2014).
The National Council on Disability (NCD) identified postsecondary education as key to increasing employment rates and earnings as well as decreasing dependency on cash benefit programs such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program (2003). NCD’s position is supported by research. For example, students with intellectual disabilities enrolled in postsecondary education programs have demonstrated an increased likelihood of employment, increased weekly earnings, and decreased reliance on SSI payments (Sannicandro, et al, 2018; Smith, et al, 2018; Grigal, 2018). Other studies found positive relationships between postsecondary education and employment outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorder (Shattuck, et al, 2012), mental health conditions (Honeycutt, et al, 2017; Leopold, et al, in press), traumatic brain injury (Rumrill, et al, 2016) and the broader population of youth and young adults with disabilities (Horn & Berktold, 1999). Research in this area has included the development of interventions to improve postsecondary outcomes for youth with disabilities, including a variety of models of supported education (sometimes in combination with supported employment; e.g., Ellison et al, 2015; Ringeisen et al, 2017) and technological supports (Minton et al, 2017).
Many factors matter when considering policies and practices to improve employment outcomes for youth with disabilities. Factors supported by current research include early work experience; postsecondary education; appropriate family support and expectations; coordination of education, vocational rehabilitation and workforce development services; self-determination skills, and more (Wehman et al., 2015; Luecking & Luecking, 2015; Test et al., 2015). NIDILRR’s research portfolio focusing on the employment of youth and young adults reflects a continuum of stages including exploration and discovery, intervention development, intervention efficacy, and scale-up evaluation. Evidence for the factors identified here varies along this continuum. Future research should address ongoing needs for knowledge that can be used to promote positive competitive integrated employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
Carter, E. W., Austin, D., & Trainor, A. A. (2012). Predictors of postschool employment outcomes for young adults with severe disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23(1), 50–63.
Ellison, M. L., Klodnick, V. V., Bond, G. R., Krzos, I. M., Kaiser, S. M., Fagan, M. A., & Davis, M. (2015). Adapting supported employment for emerging adults with serious mental health conditions. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 42(2) 206-222.
Fraker, T., Mamun, A., Honeycutt,T., Thompkins, A., & Valentine, EJ. (2014). Final Report on the Youth Transition Demonstration Evaluation. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.
Grigal, M., Papay, C., Smith, F., Hart, D., & Verbeck, R. (2018). Experiences that predict employment for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in federally funded higher education programs. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2165143418813358.
Honeycutt, T.C., Anand, P., Rubinstein, M. & Stern, S. N. (2017). Public provision of postsecondary education for transition-age youth with mental health conditions. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 40 (2) 183–196.
Horn, L. J., & J. Berktold (1999). Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Education Institutions:1995–96,with an Essay on: Undergraduates Who Work. Statistical Analysis Report, NCES 98-084. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics.
Leopold, A., Rumrill, P., Hendricks, Nardone, A., Sampson, E., Minton, D., Jacobs, K., Elias, E., & Scherer, E. (in press). A mixed-methodological examination of participant experiences, activities, and outcomes in a technology and employment project for postsecondary students with traumatic brain injuries. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Luecking, D. M., & Luecking, R. G. (2015). Translating research into a seamless transition model. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38(1), 4-13.
Liu, A., Lacoe, J., Lipscomb, S., Halmson, J., Johnson, D. J. & Thurlow, M. (2018). Preparing for Life after High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. Volume 3: Comparisons over Time. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20184007/pdf/20184007.pdf.
Mamun, A. A., Carter, E. W., Fraker, T. W. & Timmins, L. L. (2018). Impact of early work experiences on subsequent paid employment for young adults with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 41(4) 212–222.
McDonnall, M. C., & O’Mally, J. (2012). Characteristics of early work experiences and their association with future employment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(3), 133.
Minton, D., Elias, E., Rumrill, P., Hendricks, D. J., Jacobs, K., Leopold, A., ... & Taylor, A. (2017). Project Career: An individualized postsecondary approach to promoting independence, functioning, and employment success among students with traumatic brain injuries. Work, 58(1), 35-43.
National Council on Disability (2003). People with Disabilities and Postsecondary Education: Position Paper. Retrieved from: https://ncd.gov/publications/2003/people-disabilities-and-postsecondary….
Ringeisen, H., Langer Ellison, M., Ryder-Burge, A., Biebel, K., Alikhan, S., & Jones, E. (2017). Supported education for individuals with psychiatric disabilities: State of the practice and policy implications. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal, 40(2),197.
Ruggles, S. Flood, S., Goeken, R., Grover, J., Meyer, E., Pacas, J., & Sobek, M. (2019). IPUMS USA: Version 9.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS. Retrieved from: https://usa.ipums.org/usa/.
Rumrill, P., Wehman, P., Cimera, R., Kaya, C., Dillard, C., & Chan, F. (2016). Vocational Rehabilitation services and outcomes for transition-age youth with traumatic brain injuries. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 31(4), 288-95.
Sanford, C., Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., Knokey, A.-M., & Shaver, D. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 6 Years After High School. Key Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3004). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
Sannicandro, T., Parish, S. L., Fournier, S., Mitra, M., & Paiewonsky, M. (2018). Employment, income, and SSI effects of postsecondary education for people with intellectual disability. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 123 (5) 412–425.
Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129 (6), 1042-1049. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/6/1042.
Simonsen, M. L., & Neubert, D. A. (2013). Transitioning youth with intellectual and other developmental disabilities predicting community employment outcomes. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36(3), 188–198.
Smith, F., Grigal, M., & Shepard, J. (2018). Impact of postsecondary education on employment outcomes of youth with intellectual disability served by Vocational Rehabilitation. Think College Fast Facts, Issue No. 18. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.
Test, D. W., Bartholomew, A., & Bethune, L. (2015). What high school administrators need to know about secondary transition evidence-based practices and predictors for students with disabilities. NASSP Bulletin, 99(3), 254-273.
U.S. Department of Education (2018). Fortieth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2018/parts-b-c/40th-arc-f….
U.S. Department of Education (2019). PROMISE. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/promise/index.html.
U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (2019). Regulations Implementing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/rsa/wioa/transition-of-stu….
U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (2019). Employment First. Retrieved from: https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/employmentfirst.htm.
Wagner, M. M., Newman, L. A., & Javitz, H. S. (2014). The influence of family socioeconomic status on the post–high school outcomes of youth with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals 37(1), 5–17.
Wehman, P., Sima, A. P., Ketchum, J., West, M. D., Chan, F., & Luecking, R. (2015). Predictors of successful transition from school to employment for youth with disabilities. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 25, 323–334.
Priority--RRTC on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities
The Administrator of the Administration on Community Living (ACL) establishes a priority for an RRTC on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities. The RRTC must contribute to maximizing competitive integrated employment outcomes of youth and young adults with disabilities by:
(a) Conducting research activities in one or more of the following priority areas, focusing on youth and young adults with disabilities as a group or on a specific disability or demographic subpopulation(s) of youth and young adults with disabilities:
(i) The relationship between postsecondary education and employment outcomes among youth and young adults with disabilities.
(ii) Technology to improve employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(iii) Individual factors associated with improved employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(iv) Environmental factors associated with improved employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(v) Interventions that are designed to contribute to improved employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities. Interventions include any strategy, practice, program, policy, or tool that, when implemented as intended contributes to improvements in outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(v) Effects of government practices, policies, and programs on employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(vii) Vocational Rehabilitation practices that contribute to improved employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities.
(b) Focusing its research on one or more specific stages of research. If the RRTC is to conduct research that can be categorized under more than one of the research stages, or research that progresses from one stage to another, those stages must be clearly specified and justified. These stages and their definitions are provided in this funding opportunity announcement.
(c) Serving as a national r­­esource center related to employment of youth and young adults with disabilities, their families, and other stakeholders by conducting knowledge translation activities that include, but are not limited to:
(i) Providing information and technical assistance to service providers, youth and young adults with disabilities and their representatives, and other key stakeholders.
(ii) Providing training, including graduate, pre-service, and in-service training, to disability service providers, to facilitate more effective delivery of employment services, supports and accommodations to youth and young adults with disabilities. This training may be provided through conferences, workshops, public education programs, in-service training programs, and similar activities.
(iii) Disseminating research-based information and materials related to employment of youth and young adults with disabilities.
(iv) Involving key stakeholder groups in the activities conducted under paragraph (a) in order to maximize the relevance and usability of the new knowledge generated by the RRTC. Key stakeholders may include, but are not limited to youth and young adults with disabilities, state vocational rehabilitation providers, community rehabilitation providers, educators and representatives of local education systems, workforce development systems, and employers.
General Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Requirements
The effectiveness of any RRTC depends on, among other things, how well the RRTC coordinates its research efforts with the research of other NIDILRR-funded projects, and involves people with disabilities in its activities. Accordingly, the RRTC must:
(a) Coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with relevant NIDILRR-funded projects as identified by the NIDILRR Project Officer.
(b) Involve people with disabilities, including people with disabilities from minority backgrounds, in planning and implementing its research, training, and dissemination activities, and in evaluating the RRTC.
(c) Coordinate with the appropriate NIDILRR-funded Knowledge Translation Centers and professional and consumer organizations to provide scientific results and information to policymakers, service providers, researchers, and others, including employers, vocational rehabilitation providers, and independent living centers.
Definitions - Stages of Research
Exploration and discovery means the stage of research that generates hypotheses or theories through new and refined analyses of data, producing observational findings and creating other sources of research-based information. This research stage may include identifying or describing the barriers to and facilitators of improved outcomes of individuals with disabilities, as well as identifying or describing existing practices, programs, or policies that are associated with important aspects of the lives of individuals with disabilities. Results achieved under this stage of research may inform the development of interventions or lead to evaluations of interventions or policies. The results of the exploration and discovery stage of research may also be used to inform decisions or priorities.
Intervention development means the stage of research that focuses on generating and testing interventions that have the potential to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Intervention development involves determining the active components of possible interventions, developing measures that would be required to illustrate outcomes, specifying target populations, conducting field tests, and assessing the feasibility of conducting a well-designed intervention study. Results from this stage of research may be used to inform the design of a study to test the efficacy of an intervention.
Intervention efficacy means the stage of research during which a project evaluates and tests whether an intervention is feasible, practical, and has the potential to yield positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Efficacy research may assess the strength of the relationships between an intervention and outcomes and may identify factors or individual characteristics that affect the relationship between the intervention and outcomes. Efficacy research can inform decisions about whether there is sufficient evidence to support “scaling-up” an intervention to other sites and contexts. This stage of research may include assessing the training needed for wide-scale implementation of the intervention and approaches to evaluation of the intervention in real-world applications.
Scale-up evaluation means the stage of research during which a project analyzes whether an intervention is effective in producing improved outcomes for individuals with disabilities when implemented in a real-world setting. During this stage of research, a project tests the outcomes of an evidence-based intervention in different settings. The project examines the challenges to successful replication of the intervention and the circumstances and activities that contribute to successful adoption of the intervention in real-world settings. This stage of research may also include well-designed studies of an intervention that has been widely adopted in practice, but lacks a sufficient evidence base to demonstrate its effectiveness.