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New Center Helps High School Teachers Enable Students with Significant Disabilities Gain Competitive Employment

by Tom Hanlon / May 2, 2022

Teacher instructing student with disability

The Illinois Center for Transition and Work provides resources and training for special educators and others who are preparing high school students with significant disabilities to work after graduation.

It’s not always easy to find a job after graduating high school. For those with significant disabilities, the road to work has even more potholes in it.

That’s where the Illinois Center for Transition and Work comes in.

“Our goal is to provide resources to help teachers understand effective ways of working with students with disabilities, to help them prepare for jobs,” says Stacy Dymond, a professor in Special Education at the College of Education and one of the center’s directors. “We focus on students with the most significant disabilities, those who need extra support in order to successfully obtain employment.”

Helping Students Transition to Meaningful Employment

The Illinois Center for Transition and Work (ICTW), a statewide training and technical assistance center, is funded through an Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) grant. The center began working with schools in the fall of 2021, offering a variety of resources on their website, including case studies, fact sheets, research briefs, and webinars, as well as other information useful to those who work with students with disabilities.

All of this is geared toward getting meaningful jobs for high school graduates who have disabilities and who are not pursuing further education.

Through ICTW resources and offerings, teachers will be better equipped to help those students prepare for work after graduation.

“We’re interested in employment in the community, competitive, integrated employment,” Dymond says. “So, we work with special educators and administrators and rehabilitation counselors and related services personnel, getting them the resources they need to meet their goals with their students.”

Joint Venture

ICTW is a joint venture between the College of Education and the College of Applied Health Sciences. David Strauser, a professor in Kinesiology and Community Health whose work is focused on the career development process and labor market participation of young adults, is co-director with Dymond.

“We wanted to bring the disciplines of special education and rehabilitation together, rehabilitation being the adult service agency, so that there was greater coordination between those disciplines and we could get more individuals with disabilities employed in the future,” Dymond says.

Collaboration is also taking place at the state level. “We have a transition leadership group that includes ISBE and the Department of Rehabilitative Services,” Dymond says. Discussions are taking place among the group to determine how to most effectively work together at the state level to facilitate how students with disabilities in high schools across the state can transition to work.

As for the types of jobs that they can transition into, that’s wide open, Dymond says. “A student with a disability can do anything in the community. They might need individualized supports, and they might need a job carved out for them, something unique to support their strengths, but those are the skills we give to educators to help make that happen.”

Workshops and Conference

Dymond says that ICTW recently hosted a series of regional workshops this spring as well as a symposium that focused on career development and the transition from school to work.

As noted earlier, educators and other interested parties don’t need to attend an event in person to be helped by ICTW. Besides the webinars that the center hosts, it also offers consulting through its website. “People can just email and ask a question or ask for resources,” Dymond says. “We also offer targeted technical assistance, where schools can apply for assistance with the idea that we will work with them for a one-year period to help them create some type of innovative change related to helping students with significant disabilities obtain employment.”

Three Goals

ICTW has three primary goals, Dymond says.

“First, we want to improve and increase the outcomes for students with significant disabilities to gain competitive employment in their communities. Second, we want to increase the capacity of school personnel to prepare students for work. And third, we want to coordinate at the state level between schools and rehabilitation agencies and other adult agencies to make sure that the support is there and that the policies and procedures are in place to enable students to move into employment, particularly students for whom employment hasn’t been an option in the past.”