Today’s young people must graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st-century global economy. And that certainly includes youth with disabilities. To that end, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services are working closely together to create opportunities for youth with disabilities to graduate college- and career-ready.
Our economy demands a talented and diverse workforce. President Obama has called on the federal government to hire an additional 100,000 workers with disabilities by 2015. Sen. Tom Harkin joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in setting a goal to increase the size of the disability workforce from less than 5 million to 6 million by 2015. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, as chair of the National Governors Association, has called on state governments to identify business partners who will work with them to develop strategic plans for the employment and retention of workers with disabilities.
We believe that all youth, including youth with disabilities, must graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce. While in school, students with disabilities must be held to high expectations, participate in the general curriculum, be exposed to rigorous coursework, and have meaningful and relevant transition goals and services aligned to college- and career-ready standards.Research has shown that effective transition services are directly linked to better postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Research also tells us that to flourish in the workplace, youth with disabilities must also be provided with the opportunity to develop leadership skills, to engage in self-determination and career exploration, and to participate in paid work-based experiences while in high school. With only 20.7 percent of working-age people with disabilities participating in the labor force, compared to 68.8 percent of those without disabilities, we must do better!
That is why we’re currently hosting, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Social Security Administration, the first national online dialogue to help shape federal agency strategies for helping young people with disabilities successfully transition from school to work. We know that we cannot do this alone. To bring about lasting change, we need educators, service providers, disability advocates, policymakers, and youth with disabilities and their families to provide input. We want and need to hear from you!
Akin to a “virtual town hall,” this dialogue invites members of the public to help us learn what’s working, what’s not and where change is needed, with particular focus on how various federal laws and regulations impact the ability of youth with disabilities to be successful in today’s global economy. This “Conversation for Change” started on May 13 and runs through May 27. More than 2,000 people have participated, and we want you to join in also! We encourage everyone who is interested in improving transition outcomes for youth with disabilities to contribute.
We hope you will lend your voice to our efforts to ensure inclusion, equity and opportunity on behalf of America’s youth with disabilities.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. Michael Yudin is the acting assistant secretary of education for special education and rehabilitative services.