At NCWD/Youth, we've organized our materials around what you, as a young person with a disability, need to be successful in finding and keeping a job. In this section you'll find information and resources to help you make the transition from school to work, or as we call it “to navigate the road to work.”

Finding a job is not easy, and there is no set path to finding work. At NCWD/Youth we have identified the distinct activities that go into finding a job. We also want to help you pursue postsecondary education and further vocational training if that is the goal you have set for yourself. Listed below are some important areas to consider in order to be successful in the world of work and/or to continue your education after high school.

To get you started, this website lists categories of skills and activities that will be valuable to your employment goals.

The Guideposts for Success

Further Education and Training

Finding a Job: Making Connections & Networking

Life at Work


Know the Law: Policy, Legislation, and Regulations relating to Employment and Youth with Disabilities

Information for Youth

Information for Parents & Families

Useful Links for Youth and Family








Also See These Publications for Youth:

Youth Tip Sheets

Workbooks, Guides & Toolkits





Research has shown that all young people need to be exposed to specific types of activities to prepare themselves for work. These activities are just as important for students with disabilities as for students without disabilities. Check them out.

What does a lecture from the CEO of a local company and a course in database development have in common? Both are examples of what we, at NCWD/Youth, call School-Based Preparatory Experiences. NCWD/Youth has defined those things that are necessary to ensure a high quality educational system, which include:

  • Academic programs based on clear state standards;
  • Career and technical education programs based on professional and industry standards;
  • Access to and supports from highly qualified staff (including both teachers and transition counselors);
  • Access to an assessment system that incorporates multiple measures of student learning; and
  • Graduation standards that include options. 

In today’s society, all learners, including students with disabilities, need an education that provides access, participation, and progress in the general education curriculum. To ensure such access, curriculum, and program options must be based on universal design for learning and include work and community-based learning experiences.

For youth with disabilities, it's especially important to have your own individual transition plan as a part of your individualized education program (IEP) to ensure that your academic experience is preparing you to achieve your goals and plans for life after high school. The transition plan should also include strategies for how you will continue the transition process once you complete high school.

To learn more about having a voice in developing your individualized education program and individual transition plan, see the following resources:

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School-Based Preparatory Experiences are core activities that help you prepare for a successful future in careers or postsecondary educational institutions. Preparatory experiences, like career preparation and work-based learning, help you get to know yourself. They'll help you gain a clearer sense of your skills and your interests. With this self knowledge, you'll gain a better sense of careers that will suit you.

a young man working with his boss

Gaining a sense of what you enjoy and learning where your skills lie are important steps pieces in choosing a career path. An important steps on the "road to work" include learning:

  • What are your interests?
  • How can you develop them?
  • How can you align your skills and interests with potential work?

Activities that help you think about this are called Career Preparation & Work-Based Learning Experiences.

Career Preparation & Work-Based Learning Experiences are supervised programs sponsored by education or training organizations that take what you learn at school and at home, work and apply it to the world of work. These experiences include:

  • Gathering information on who you are and what you like through assessments (formal and informal);
  • Developing the soft skills (e.g., being on time and dressing properly) necessary for success in any job;
  • Exposure to postsecondary education options;
  • Visiting different job sites to see what a normal day at work looks like;
  • Shadowing an employee during his/her typical day of work;
  • Participating in internships (paid and unpaid); and
  • Exploring self-employment. 
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Understanding and developing yourself as a person is as important in the job hunting process as developing your professional self. The processes that help you develop yourself and prepare to meet challenges of adolescence and adulthood are all part of what we call Youth Development and Leadership (YD/YL).

A lot of times, people combine “youth development” and “youth leadership,” or use the two terms to mean the same thing. Youth development includes youth leadership as part of it, but it also includes a lot of other skills related to personal development beyond just leading.

When we refer to YD/YL, we mean a coordinated series of activities and experiences that focus on the development of personal leadership skills such as self-advocacy and self-determination and that help young people become socially, morally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively competent.

Youth leadership is: running for an office within your school’s student body. But it is also knowing how to make informed choices to control your destiny.

Examples of youth development activities include such things as:

  • being mentored by someone who is part of the school administration
  • interacting with your peers to build social relationships
  • making healthy decisions for yourself and for others

Programs such as the National Youth Leadership Network, Boy Scouts or 4-H are good examples of YD/YL programs. Check out the National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth for additional information.

You can learn more YD/YL specifics under Youth Development and Leadership of this website.

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"It's all about who you know." No statement is more accurate when it comes to finding a job. Getting connected to services, programs, and activities that can help you gain access to post-school options is an important part of making the transition to adulthood. These supports are called Connecting Activities.

Some of the questions connecting activities can help you answer include:

  • Where can I find a new doctor? Do I need a specialist?
  • What kinds of assistive technology will help me in school?
  • What are my transportation options?
  • If I’m on Social Security, can I work and keep my benefits?
  • How can I connect with adult services once I get out of high school and am off to college?
  • How can I access needed accommodations when I get to college?

Connecting also means establishing a strong network of friends and colleagues who can assist you in your search for a job. Connecting to a community of people with whom you can share experiences (joys and frustrations, etc.) is important as you transition from the more structured world of school to the "working world of work".

Places like the Independent Living Institute and the National Council on Independent Living are good places to find information about living independently. Also, organizations like 4-H, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts are great places to start. Check out the other useful resources in this section of the NCWD/Youth web site and the following links for additional resources:

Transportation: Free Resources Offered from Easter Seals Project ACTION

Assistive Technology:  The Family Center on Technology and Disability

All of this may seem overwhelming, but remember, you’re not in it alone. Your family, friends, and the other caring adults and peers in your life are there to help you make this transition. However, as helpful as these people may be, you may also need assistance and supports to support you in making positive choices. This is what we refer to as Family Involvement and Supports.

Publications Library. Graphic: Outline of book in orange on blue background.

Further Education and Training

Upon finishing high school, you may want to pursue more education and/or training. The rules that apply to the world outside of high school are different than those that apply while you are in school. You need to learn about services and supports that are available to you. The George Washington University HEATH Resource Center and its National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities provide helpful information on transitioning from high school to college, including information on educational support services, policies, procedures, adaptations, and opportunities at American campuses, vocational-technical schools, and other postsecondary training environments. Of particular interest, HEATH sponsors a “Student Voices” section on their web site.

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Finding a Job: Making Connections & Networking

Learning about services and support networks that are available in your community is critically important - they're out there! Below you will find a list of some of the places where you will find people that can help you start planning for a job and a career.

  • Public and technical schools
  • Community and technical colleges
  • Four-year colleges and universities
  • Apprenticeship programs
  • One-Stop Centers
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies
  • Vocational and community rehabilitation programs
  • Community-based organizations
  • Welfare to Work training programs
  • Literacy programs
  • Job Corp centers
  • Unions and labor/management programs

These programs and places can offer you access to information that will help you prepare for a career of interest to you. They can also help you obtain the skills you need to enter and stay in the workforce by connecting you to the supports you need in order to work. These supports could include transportation, housing, childcare, health, or social services.

For more tips on finding a job, see Applying for a Job: The Young Adult’s Guide, developed by the Northeast Massachusetts Community of Practice and published by the Transitions Research & Training Center at the University of Massachusetts.

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Life at Work

So you have a job, or are entering college, now what? Let’s face it, sometimes having a disability doesn’t make life easy. When you are on your own, having to ask for accommodations and services can be challenging. When you are faced with having to fill out complicated forms and disclose your disability to people that you don’t know, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. Below are some tools that may be useful as you think about this. Remember, college is different from high school and the world of work is very different from school. Personal and professional successes in postsecondary education and at the office depend in large part on you being informed, prepared and open minded.

The articles (links) below are intended to help you navigate what may be less-familiar territory with ease and professionalism.

Deciding whether to and when to disclose your disability is a highly personal decision that can be challenging.  Much depends on individual preference, the disability involved and the need for accommodations and/or support services. A great source of information on disability disclosure is the 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities, produced by NCWD/Youth.  This workbook can help you make informed decisions about whether or not to disclose your disability and help you understand how that decision may impact your education, employment, and social life.  Check out the “411”.

Attitudinal Barriers Faced by People with Disabilities

Unlike physical and systematic barriers, attitudinal barriers cannot be overcome simply through the passage of laws. The best remedy is familiarity.

Communicating With and About People with Disabilities

Positive language empowers. You should be prepared to help people understand how to relate to you. This article describes how to relate to and communicate with and about people with disabilities. While it seems like everyone should just know this, you will be surprised how many don't.

Disability Etiquette

Guidelines for interacting respectfully with a person who has a disability.

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Knowing your rights and being able to get the services and supports you need are important to your success in school and in the world of work. You need to become your own advocate. Here are some sites that will help you understand and develop the skills you need to become an effective advocate for yourself.

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) describes their mission as the following:

“To ensure that people with disabilities are treated as equals and that they are given the same decisions, choices, rights, responsibilities, and chances to speak up to empower themselves; and opportunities to make new friends and to learn from their mistakes.”

Self-advocacy plays an important role in the transition of all youth. However, it is particularly relevant within the disability community. After years of institutionalization and oppression, many individuals with disabilities now have the right to decide what’s best for themselves by themselves. This has become an important part of the independent living philosophy.

Additional Resources

The following link will take you to a web site with links to a variety of other web sites which contain valuable information on a variety of resources to help promote independence and self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Work Environment

The working world is very different from school. Personal and professional success at the office depends in large part on you being informed, prepared and open minded.


Getting to and from work is often a major issue, especially if you have a physical disability that results in limited mobility. There are plenty of organizations focused on this subject. You can learn more at these helpful sites:

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Know The Law: Policy, Legislation, and Regulations relating to Employment and Youth with Disabilities

As a young person with a disability, it is important for you and your family to know your "rights and responsibilities" under different laws. These laws were enacted for various reasons and speak to different areas of your life.

Why do I need to know about these laws?

  • Some laws offer protection against discrimination in hiring and require buildings to be accessible;
  • Other laws outline how youth with disabilities will be educated and what services they will receive in school;
  • In order to speak up for yourself and advocate for the services that are appropriate for you; and,
  • To understand how the services you get while in school may change or require new information from you after you graduate.

CAUTION: Many times during your youth your parents have been responsible for advocating for you and making sure that you receive the services you need to get through school. Once you reach adulthood, however, it becomes YOUR responsibility. In most cases, educators and other service personnel are not required or even allowed without your permission to talk to your parents; they need to talk directly to you. This can be very intimidating, which is why it’s important to get informed as early as possible about your rights and responsibilities.

To help prepare for the transition to adulthood, work with your family, mentor, counselor, or other caring adults to learn about the laws that affect you and to answer the following questions.

  • What are your rights and responsibilities as a person with a disability?
  • How do your rights and responsibilities change as you get older?
  • How are your rights different depending on the setting? (In school, on the job, in public places, etc.)?
  • What can you do to get the services that you are entitled to while you are in school?
  • What steps do you need to take to learn what your rights are after you leave high school and how can you effectively advocate for them?

These laws tend to be lengthy and complicated. As you start to learn about them, you may want to consult with an adult who can help you better understand them. Learning about laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will help you prepare for the future. The more you understand about these laws, the better prepared you will be to level the playing field in school, in the world of work, and in postsecondary education and training.

For more information on disability related legislation, please check out: Disability Legislation

Information for Youth

National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth (NCLD/Youth)
NCLD/Youth is a youth-led national resource, information, and training center for youth with disabilities.

National Youth Leadership Network
The National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN) is dedicated to advancing the next generation of disability leaders through promoting leadership development, education, employment, independent living, and health and wellness.

Here you will find tools and materials to help you promote self-advocacy in your life and work.

YouthHood is a website that helps young people plan for the future.
Here you can start thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Kids As Self Advocates
Kids As Self Advocates (KASA) is an organization created by youth with disabilities for youth to educate society about issues concerning youth with a wide spectrum of disabilities and special healthcare needs.

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Information for Parents & Families

PACER Center
The mission of PACER Center is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents.

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY)
NICHCY is the national information and referral center that provides information on disabilities and disability-related issues for families, educators, and other professionals.

Family Village: A Global Community of Disability-Related Resources
A global community that integrates information, resources, and communication opportunities on the Internet for persons with disabilities, their families, and those that provide them services and support.

Center for Self-Determination
The Center for Self-Determination is a collaborative of individuals and organizations committed to the principles of self-determination.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Parenting Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities
This Parent Brief from The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET) discusses the role of parents as mentors and advocates for their children with disabilities.

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Useful Links for Youth and Family

College Navigator
College Navigator is the Department of Education's website for information about colleges and universities.

America's Service Locator
Looking for a job or training in order to prepare for a job? Find the nearest One-Stop Career Center that can provide the services you need.

This is a comprehensive web site for all disability-related federal resources.

Office of Disability Employment Policy
The Office of Disability Employment Policy provides national leadership to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities while striving to eliminate barriers to employment.

The Workforce Recruitment Program
The Workforce Recruitment Program is an outstanding source for employers to hire qualified, dedicated students and graduates for summer internships and long-term employment.

The Forum for Youth Investment
The Forum for Youth Investment (the Forum) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping communities and the nation make sure all young people are Ready by 21™ — ready for college, work and life.

The Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development
The Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development connects thinkers and leaders of all ages to develop fresh ideas, forge new partnerships, and design strategies that engage young people and their communities.

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