During a time of economic prosperity and historically low unemployment rates in the U.S., too many young people continue to be left behind. This is particularly true for “opportunity youth” with disabilities—those young people ages 16 to 24 who are not working or in school. Specific interventions are needed to close the opportunity and outcome gaps between youth with disabilities and their peers without disabilities, with the understanding that youth with disabilities are not one distinct group. Rather, they comprise the intersection of many identities—including youth with disabilities who are also people of color, Native Americans, and LGBTQ youth.
In December 2018, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/ Youth), housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), and the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC) hosted a dialogue with young leaders, employers, policymakers, educators, and administrators to generate a set of priorities and strategies to ensure opportunity youth with disabilities are well-positioned for career success. The dialogue was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. This discussion resulted in the development of an Inclusion Priority Framework that outlines four major priorities and corresponding strategies. The Inclusion Priority Framework points to the greatest challenge and corresponding solution to success for opportunity youth with disabilities—full inclusion. Full inclusion is often hampered by issues and policies related to self-disclosure, technology, transportation, limited information about and access to opportunities, and supports for youth as well as employers. Fully inclusive practices and policies require a new way of looking at disability—as an important asset in diversifying our workforce and leading to creative solutions in schools and business communities. This challenge is not only clear, it is solvable. Policymakers have a distinctive role to incentivize, mobilize, and stimulate solutions that ensure progress toward the goal of full inclusion for opportunity youth with disabilities.