Impact Feature Issue on Parenting Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities

Postsecondary Education for Young Adults with Disabilities:
What Families Can Do


Kelly D. Roberts is Assistant Professor, and Robert A. Stodden is Director, both with the Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu

Postsecondary education is becoming more and more important to obtaining meaningful employment for individuals with disabilities. The most recent data indicate that only 15.6% of persons with disabilities with less than a high school diploma participate in the labor force. However, participation doubles to 30.2% for those who have completed high school, triples to 45.1% for those with some postsecondary education, and climbs to 50.3% for those with at least four years of college (Yelin & Katz, 1994).

For parents of teens and young adults with disabilities it’s necessary to start planning during high school – the earlier the better – for postsecondary education. While postsecondary education may seem a long time away, that time will go quickly. In order to start planning, we recommend families address the following considerations:

  • Your child needs to start thinking about what they want to do when they graduate from high school and 10 years beyond. Is their desired career something that requires a degree? If so, do they need a degree from a vocational school, two-year college or four-year college/university?
  • Has your child taken the courses they need in high school to enter the postsecondary option(s) of their choice? If not, their schedule needs to be revised as soon as possible. If you are not sure what courses are needed, talk to a school counselor and find out.
  • Is your child’s individualized education program (IEP) written to help them prepare for postsecondary education? Is there a transition plan in place? Are IEP goals aligned with what your child wants after high school?
  • Are staff from the agencies that may be able to assist your child in postsecondary education included in the IEP? Such personnel could include staff from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services; staff working within programs funded under the Workforce Investment Act; higher education support personnel; and health, transportation, and adult community living support personnel.
  • Postsecondary institutions often have requirements for admission, including specified scores on tests such as the SAT or ACT, math and English courses, and GPAs. Make sure these pieces are in place. Information about the requirements should be used to plan students’ secondary coursework.
  • Which schools align with what your child wants to do? Do they want to move away from home or go to a local school? Do the institutions they are interested in have the disability supports they need to succeed? Set up some campus tours. Are the campuses accessible? While there, meet with the disability services staff.
  • What are the disability supports your child needs in order to succeed? Does your child know what these supports are? Can your child explain to others (e.g., a disability support person at a college) what accommodations they need in order to be successful?
  • Is transportation an issue? If so, is there accessible transportation at the school of choice and in the community? Does your child know how to use the public transportation system?
  • Is your child independent in the ways that may be necessary on campus? For example, do they know how to use an ATM machine, use a computer, manage money, use the course catalog, read a campus map, and schedule and keep appointments?
  • Is financial assistance necessary? If so, find out when you need to submit the financial aid forms or apply for scholarships. Check with a high school counselor to find out what scholarships are available and get the financial aid forms. You can also look online for scholarship options.
  • Does your child have the skills to make new friends? This is important because school can be very lonely without a network of friends.
  • Does your child need accessible housing? If the school provides housing to students without disabilities, it must provide comparable, convenient and accessible housing to students with disabilities, at the same cost.
  • Is there a back-up plan if postsecondary education doesn’t work out?

Parents should be aware that when their children are ready to exit high school and their eligibility for special education services is ending under IDEA 2004, a summary of their academic achievement and functional performance, including recommendations on how to assist them in meeting postsecondary goals, should be prepared. It’s also important to know that postsecondary education institutions are not like high school; disability service personnel make decisions based on the “reasonable accommodations” requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, section 504. Even if a request is made, it does not have to be provided unless it is deemed reasonable. So, start gathering information, exploring options, and planning for postsecondary success now!

  • Yelin, E., & Katz, P. (1994). Labor force trends of persons with and without disabilities. Monthly Labor Review, 117, 36–42.