Report: Utah agencies need to fine-tune training programs for students with disabilities

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Utah agencies working with people with disabilities need to fine-tune their programs to help more students transition from high school to meaningful jobs or higher education, according to a new report by a Utah-based advocacy group.

The 2014 "Utah Transition Today" report, released last week by the nonprofit Disability Law Center, noted that about one-fifth of special education students were neither working nor taking classes a year after leaving high school. It recommended that agencies personalize their job training and placement efforts, and aim higher than programs that place participants in unpaid, sheltered work settings.

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Program organizers should be "really looking at the individual students," center attorney LauraLee Gillespie told The Salt Lake Tribune. "What are the services they need in school? Rather than, 'This is the way we've always done it.'"

The report, based on the organization's site visits, interviews and a 2012 survey by the Utah State Office of Education, noted that 19 percent of special education students who left school in 2011 did not have a job and were not enrolled in an educational program a year afterward.

About 40 percent had competitive jobs, while 25 percent were pursuing higher education, 10 percent were in other employment and 6 percent were in other education programs.

The report said programs should aim to move students out of sheltered environments where there is little or no pay, and into competitive jobs that pay better and integrate participants into the mainstream work world.

Agencies "need to promote integrated and competitive employment for all students as the first option," the report's authors wrote. "Agencies need to rethink the presumption that integrative and competitive employment will not work for students with significant disabilities."

Officials with the Disability Law Center recommended that programs helping students through their post-school transition work harder to place students in jobs that align with their interests and strengths, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Authors noted successful programs provided a mentor or coach who worked to help students find a good job fit.

The report also highlighted the importance of keeping parents in the loop about their child's progress to ease their fears about letting their child enter the workforce.

"A lack of parental interest, or fear of having their child in the community is a common obstacle for many of the schools," the report said.

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Online:

Disability Law Center Report: http://bit.ly/1s5mXB9