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The Way to Work

The Way to Work

How to Facilitate Work Experiences for Youth in Transition
Author: Richard G. Luecking   Foreword Authors: JD Hoye, David R. Johnson Ph.D.   Chapter Authors: LaVerne A. Buchanan, Meredith Gramlich, Karen Leggett, Christy Stuart, George P. Tilson

ISBN: 978-1-55766-898-1
Pages: 248
Copyright: 2009
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Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  68981
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Employment is one of the biggest contributors to quality of life for people with disabilities—and that means well-planned work experiences should be an integral part of transition preparation for every secondary and postsecondary school aged youth. Make that happen with this practical guide, developed to help educators, transition specialists, and employment specialists facilitate individualized, person-centered work experiences and jobs for high school students and young adults with a wide range of disabilities.

Readers will get the specific, ready-to-use guidance they need to

  • uncover students' strengths, needs, and interests through formal and informal assessments
  • recruit and retain employer partners who gladly host youth in their workplaces
  • help students decide when and how to disclose a disability to an employer
  • guide students in advocating effectively for accommodations on the job
  • support students and employers in making the most of work experiences
  • involve families in supporting the work experience
  • collaborate with other professionals to develop and sustain work experiences
  • and much more

To help with every step of facilitating meaningful employment, readers will get examples of model programs, stories that illustrate what works and doesn't work, more than a dozen photocopiable tools and forms, and end-of-chapter "Learning Labs" with reflection questions and thought-provoking activities.

Teachers and transition specialists will rely on this strategy-filled guidebook to connect students with the early work experiences they really want—and make lifelong career satisfaction the rule, not the exception, for people with disabilities.

Includes helpful tools & forms!

  • Positive Personal Profile
  • Work Experience/Job Search Plan
  • Inventory of Employer's Needs and Tasks
  • Work Experience Proposal Template
    • Youth Performance Feedback Form
    • Satisfaction Questionnaire for Employers
  • and more!
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Review: Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities
"Appealing to a broad range of stakeholders, The Way to Work arrives just in time to counter a bleak economic reality with optimistic guidance to foster employment among youth with disabilities."
Review by: Tony Silva, Instructional Specialist for Transition, Charles County Public Schools, La Plata, MD
"An outstanding progressive resource from an industry pioneer and respected practitioner."
Review: Quality Mall
Review by: Mark Donovan, Vice Chairman, Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities
"A comprehensive road map for transition professionals, this work provides a means to turn the theory of meaningful employment into practical reality."
Review by: Paul Wehman, Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Virginia Commonwealth University
"Outstanding . . . easily the most practical how-to book available for transition specialists faced with how to help their students get and hold a job before school is over. [Will] have immediate application in schools across America."
Review by: Juliana Taymans, Professor of Special Education, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
"Engaging and insightful . . . a valuable resource for any employer or human services professional involved in school-to-work transition."
Review by: Erin Riehle, Director of Disability Services, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Ohio
"Provides practical tools to ensure that all those involved in transition from here on out develop work-based learning experiences that lead to employment."
Review by: David W. Test, Professor, Department of Special Education and Child Development, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
"Full of excellent strategies and examples . . . will be a welcome addition to front-line practitioners who are looking for an easy-to-use resource for helping students with disabilities start a career, as well as teacher trainers who are teaching secondary transition methods courses."
Review by: Teresa Grossi, Indiana University
"Truly brings research to practice . . . with readily usable strategies, ideas, and examples that can be immediately applied."

About the Author
JD Hoye
David R. Johnson


1: Work-Based Learning and Work Experiences as Indispensable Educational Tools

2: Setting the Stage for Quality Work Experiences

3: Planning for Work Experiences
Richard G. Luecking and George P. Tilson

4: Work Experience and Disability Disclosure
Richard G. Luecking, Christy Stuart, and LaVerne A. Buchanan

5: Supporting Families to Support Work Experience
Richard G. Luecking and Karen Leggett

6: Workplace Partners: Strategies for Finding and Recruiting Employers

7: Workplace Partners: Strategies for Retaining Effective Employer Participation

8: Supporting Youth in the Workplace
Richard G. Luecking and George P. Tilson

9: Workplace Mentors for Youth Workers
Richard G. Luecking and Meredith Gramlich

10: Connecting with Professional and Agency Partners to Foster and Sustain Work Success

11: The Pursuit of Quality Work-Based Learning


Excerpted from The Way to Work: How to Facilitate Work Experiences for Youth in Transition
By Richard G. Luecking, Ed.D., with invited contributors
©2009. Brookes Publishing. All rights reserved.


Work is good! Every effective transition professional knows this. In fact, anyone who has watched youth blossom in self-confidence and skill as they perform in an authentic workplace can attest to this phenomenon. Not surprising, a large body of research also agrees with this premise. Ever since school-to-work transition became a federal policy priority (Will, 1984) and transition planning became a legal requirement (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] of 1990, PL 101-476; Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA] of 2004, PL 108-446), we have become increasingly aware of the value of work experience and work for youth with disabilities as they prepare to exit publicly mandated education. We have known for a long time that it is critically important for youth with disabilities to experience learning in work-based environments, that is, situations in which they spend concentrated and structured time in actual work settings provided by cooperating companies and employers. Work experiences, of course, are not the only factors that contribute to postschool success, but it can be argued that they are among the most important.

There have been an abundance of studies on youth with disabilities making the transition from school to work and adult life. In spite of the fact that few of those studies represent classic research rigor and empirical validation of specific interventions, they nevertheless have produced general agreement among researchers and practitioners on key interventions that promise positive impact on transition outcomes. Consistently, the most prominent factors shown to be associated with successful postschool employment outcomes are paid and unpaid work experiences during the last years of secondary school and the completion of a high school diploma (Colley & Jamison, 1998; Johnson & Thurlow, 2003; Luecking & Fabian, 2001; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2005). Other factors suggested by the literature include training in specific vocational skills, transition planning and coordination, self-determination training, and family support (Johnson et al., 2002; Newman, 2005; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003).

Recent attempts to synthesize what works so that the features of effective interventions can be applied and refined in practice have emphasized these findings. The National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition (NASET), consisting of more than 30 national advocacy groups, professional organizations, and education associations, conducted a thorough review of extant research on what youth need to succeed as they make the transition from secondary education. Using this research synthesis, NASET (2005) produced a set of standards and quality indicators as a useful structure for identifying the critical needs for all youth, including those with disabilities. These standards consist of five general areas of intervention:

  • Schooling, that is, academic instruction and targeted curriculum
  • Career preparatory experiences, including vocational training and work experiences
  • Youth development and youth leadership, especially as it relates to self-determined transition planning
  • Family involvement
  • Connecting activities, that is, those activities that enable youth to be linked with organizations and services that complement their transition services and/or enable necessary postsecondary supports.

Drawing from the NASET framework, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Y) conducted its own extensive review of research, demonstration projects, and acknowledged effective practices. From this review, NCWD/Y (2005) developed a practical tool, called The Guideposts for Success, for practitioners and policy makers alike to conceptualize optimum service delivery for youth with disabilities. The guideposts include more or less the same areas highlighted by NASET but slightly reconstituted:

  • School-based preparatory experiences
  • Career preparation and work-based experiences
  • Youth development and leadership
  • Connecting activities
  • Family involvement and supports

Both the NASET standards and the NCWD/Y guideposts represent attempts to identify practices that are universally accepted by education, transition, and youth service professionals as useful and effective in helping youth achieve better education and employment outcomes. This book touches on all of these factors, but the obvious thrust of this book is on work. The other features of the NASET standards and the NCWD/Y guideposts are discussed intermittently as they relate to making work experiences and work successful. Many publications are available that highlight aspects of all of these factors, but few exist that exclusively address how to help youth learn how to work and how to build their employment portfolios so that they begin their adult careers before they exit school. This book is intended to begin filling that void.


Since the mid 1980s, research has shown that youth with disabilities who participate in work experiences, especially paid work, while in secondary school are significantly more likely to hold jobs after they exit school than those who do not have these experiences (see, e.g., Colley & Jamison, 1998; Hazazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Luecking & Fabian, 2001; National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, 2006;Wagner, 1991). Simply stated, youth benefit from frequent and continuous exposure to real work environments throughout the secondary school years and beyond.

This same body of research has also demonstrated that work experiences during secondary school years are valuable for any youth with a disability, regardless of his or her primary disability label, race, gender, relative need for accommodation and support, or any other descriptive characteristic. This is also the case regardless of the intensity, location, or nature of the special education services youth may receive. In other words, it could be argued that work experience and work during the secondary school years are among the most, if not the most, important predictors of adult employment success for all youth who receive special education services. Predictors of success need not, nor should not, be determined by a label or demographic descriptor. A case could be made that the nation’s educational system can only be deemed to have achieved its aims when the climax of students’ educational experience is the beginning of a productive adult life. For most people this means a job or, even better, a career.

There is every reason to expect, therefore, that youth with disabilities and their families can look forward to the day when these youth enter the workforce for what ideally will be the start of a long career. The statistics, however, suggest that this expectation is still not the norm and that employment is still an elusive postschool outcome for many youth with disabilities. In fact, it is clear that we can certainly improve the way in which special education transition creates and offers to students important work experience opportunities and how work experiences are integrated into curricula requirements so that public education culminates in productive postschool employment. Here’s what we know:

  • The latest national survey of youth with disabilities making the transition from public education to adult life indicates that these youth continue to experience employment rates that do not approximate that of their peers without disabilities (Wagner et al., 2005).
  • Postschool employment support services are not sufficient to meet the demand from transitioning youth, and the quality of these services is widely variable (Mank, Cioffi, & Yovanoff, 2003; Wehman, 2006).
  • Youth with disabilities are much more likely than their same-age peers to drop out of school and to be unemployed and experience poverty as adults (National Organization on Disability, 2004).

The news is particularly disappointing for some categories of youth. Consider these findings pertaining to youth with intellectual disabilities:

  • Community employment service agencies struggle to provide quality supported employment to youth and adults with intellectual disabilities (Boeltzig, Gilmore, & Butterworth, 2006; Braddock, Rizzolo, & Hemp, 2004; Connelly, 2003).
  • One study found that 75% of adult vocational services participants, most of whom have an intellectual disability, receive services in some type of segregated, congregate setting (Braddock et al., 2004).
  • Subminimum wage and sheltered employment is the fate of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2001).
  • For other categories of youth, the news is not much better. For example, as a group, youth with serious emotional disabilities

  • Have a school completion rate of only 56% (Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman, 2000)
  • Tend to experience poor postschool employment rates, and when they do work, their standards of job performance tend to vary noticeably from those expected by employers (Carter & Wehby, 2003; Clark & Davis, 2000)
  • Experience higher rates of criminal activity and substance abuse than any other group of youth (Bullis & Fredericks, 2002)
  • Less than optimal postschool employment outcomes could be cited for all categories of youth with disabilities including mobility disabilities, sensory disabilities, learning disabilities, and multiple disabilities. We may be moving in the right direction, but we are not there yet.


    Many of the studies cited previously suggest that all of these circumstances could be addressed, at least in part, by focused work experiences throughout secondary as well as postsecondary education. Carefully organized and supervised work experiences, where opportunities are provided to receive guidance and feedback on work performance, would go a long way to mitigate the continuingly disappointing postschool outcomes. Furthermore, these experiences serve as career building blocks as adolescents exit school, especially when adolescents require supports that will help them continue to pursue the work and career opportunities to which they were exposed during secondary education. Thus, this book’s purpose is to offer strategies essential for creating opportunities for successful work experience, for integrating these experiences into curricula requirements, and for bolstering the likelihood that publicly supported education leads to productive postschool employment.

    The good news is that youth and their families do not have to be satisfied with historically disappointing postschool outcomes. It has been repeatedly shown that work-based experiences such as job shadowing, internships, cooperative work placements, service learning, and unpaid work sampling experiences are effective and important prerequisites to successful postschool employment success. Moreover, when paid work, the ”gold standard,” so to speak, of youth in the workplace, is paired with education, either as an ancillary activity or as an integral aspect of curriculum, youth are considerably more likely to obtain and retain employment as adults (Wagner et al., 2005).

    This book is thus framed by the belief that the culmination of publicly supported education for youth with disabilities can and should be real adult employment. This book shows readers how to help youth choose and pursue work experiences and also provides approaches for identifying, developing, organizing, and monitoring work-based learning opportunities in authentic workplaces.

    The experience of my work at TransCen and that of committed colleagues around the country has led to the driving philosophy of this book, the belief that every youth who wants to can achieve an adult life of productive and successful employment, regardless of disability label, need for support and accommodation, intensity of special education services, or even the economic vitality of his or her community. The approaches described in this book can be applied to help all youth achieve this goal. This book shows how work experiences can be more than mere adjunctive afterthoughts to curriculum, but rather essential features of contextual learning so that postschool employment becomes the rule rather than the exception for youth with disabilities.

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