Charting the Course: Supporting the Career Development of Youth with Learning Disabilities

Publication Cover: Charting the Course: Supporting the Career Development of Youth with Learning DisabilitiesPreface

Why this Guide was Developed

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is not an easy one. Making decisions and dealing with challenges in academic, vocational, and social settings are difficult but essential parts of life. Young people need to nurture interpersonal relationships, to find their place in groups, and to establish their identity as adults. Support from caring adults can ease this transition, and this is particularly true for young people with learning disabilities. This Guide was developed to help youth service professionals better understand issues related to learning disabilities so that they can help youth with learning disabilities develop individual strategies that will enable them to succeed in the workplace.

This Guide was developed by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), an organization charged with assisting education and workforce development organizations to improve the successful transition of youth with disabilities into the workplace. NCWD/Youth prepared this Guide, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), in response to the overrepresentation of youth and young adults with learning disabilities in a wide array of government-supported programs—adult education, vocational rehabilitation, welfare, corrections, and others. Many of these young people may not even be aware that they have a learning disability, although they may know that they have not done as well as many of their peers in traditional classrooms and in work and social settings.

In researching this Guide, the authors found few resource materials that blend successful strategies from various service delivery systems (in-school, out-of-school, and workforce development) into one easy-to-use document. The available research on effective practices for this population, albeit limited, suggests that success for youth with learning disabilities, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, will require such an approach. This Guide brings together effective techniques from both educational and workforce systems in an effort to foster a different way of thinking to support young people.

This Guide also focuses on addressing the needs of youth with learning disabilities from a “disability rights” perspective—a model that concentrates less on remediation and more on skill acquisition through accommodated approaches. This includes ensuring appropriate and timely access to assistive technology; learning how to disclose one’s disability effectively; and understanding how to access civil rights protections in educational, vocational, and social settings. This perspective stems from provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which build upon the social model of disability, one which views disability as a normal part of life experience.

This Guide is intended to help practitioners, administrators, and policymakers in secondary and postsecondary education programs, transition programs, One-Stop Career Centers, youth employment programs, and community rehabilitation programs to improve services and outcomes for youth, ages 14 to 25, with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities. This range of ages reflects the various settings and systems that serve transition-age youth with disabilities.

How to Use this Guide

This Guide includes numerous quick reference charts, tables, and tools for counselors, career advisors, and other professionals who work directly with youth. Quick reference tools are of limited use without an understanding of learning disabilities, so in-depth information is provided on a variety of topics including the types and impact of learning disabilities, needed supports, and research-based interventions. This Guide is intended to increase awareness of the fact that the workforce development system serves many youth who have learning disabilities that may never have been identified and many others who may know they have a learning disability but choose not to disclose. Although focusing primarily on youth with learning disabilities, many of the strategies and approaches advocated in this Guide, which are premised on universal design, may be of practical use for other youth.

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