After High School Options

For any young adult, the transition (change) from high school to the adult world of work, school, and living on your own can be full of uncertainty. For young adults with disabilities, there are often even more questions and challenges. On this page we offer information about some of the questions you may be facing, such as:
  • What is the difference between entitlement and eligibility for services?
  • How will college work for me?
  • What else can I do if I don't go to college?

Entitlement vs. Eligibility

It is important for parents and young adults to understand the difference between "eligibility" and "entitlement" programs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students who have been identified as needing special education services must be provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), as defined in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Students receiving special education services are entitled to receive these services until the year they leave high school or post high school. Once students are no longer receiving FAPE, they are no longer entitled to these services. See more on the Special Education pages.
When young people with disabilities leave public school, their entitlement to special education and related services ends, and access to adult services depends on eligibility. When a person with a disability applies for services or funding from an adult service agency, they will need to prove they meet the eligibility requirements by providing documentation of their disability. Adult services might include:
  • continued education
  • employment training
  • employment
  • independent living services
  • transportation
  • home health aides
  • recreation
These programs operate under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law requires that applicants meet requirements in order to be eligible for adult services. If the person meets the requirements for an adult program or service, they are then eligible or qualified for the services, but not entitled to them. Unfortunately, being eligible doesn’t always mean that services will be available. A person may be eligible for the program, but not receive the service because of staffing, capacity, or limited funding.

Post High School Options

There are many options for young adults with disabilities to look at after leaving high school, including college and other education programs, employment training programs, vocational rehabilitation, and employment.

College/Education

Education choices after high school are varied and may include:
  • public or private universities
  • colleges
  • community colleges
  • centers for continuing education
College offers an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to continue their education and earn a certificate or degree. If you’re applying to colleges, you may find it helpful to call the center for disability services at the schools you like. To read more about it and find helpful resources, see the To College page.

Employment Training Programs

If employment is a possibility for the young adult, there are programs that help with employment readiness. Young adults may learn at a job site where they work as interns with some on-the-job opportunities. These programs are very effective and help with one of the major barriers to community inclusion—a job.
It is very helpful for young adults to learn about job readiness programs and work options, including SSI work incentives, the Ticket To Work program, and changes in Medicaid/Medicare designed to support persons with disabilities who wish to work.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a nationwide federal-state program that helps eligible people with disabilities to:
  • look at employment that fits their interests and needs
  • set employment goals
  • find employment
VR programs offer career counseling, and can help you look at your abilities, skills, and employment interests. They can also help you find appropriate internships or training programs. The best choice for you will depend on the nature and severity of your disability, and on your particular vocational interests.
Training examples include:
  • on the job training
  • internships and apprenticeships
  • adult education/vocational courses
  • trade and technical schools
To learn more about VR see the List of State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (CSAVR) and the resources listed below.

Employment

There are great opportunities for employment for adults with disabilities. Here are some options to consider:
  • Competitive Employment: a worker with a disability performs her job in an inclusive work environment and is paid at a rate equal to workers without a disability.
  • Supported Employment: assistance and/or accommodations are provided in the workplace so that a worker with a disability can perform his job in an inclusive environment. Among other things, support might include job coaching or training, individual supervision, transportation, or adaptive technology.
  • Sheltered Employment: workers with disabilities do not work alongside non-disabled co-workers, but perform their tasks in a separate work space.
  • Self-employment
  • Temporary work
  • Part-time work
  • Job-sharing: two workers split one position and their pay is divided accordingly

Day Services and Meaningful Daytime Activities

Not all people are ready or able to join the workforce after high school. Some need more job skill training while others need training on self-help skills and activities of daily living (ADL). Day services are individualized, structured supports for people with significant disabilities. These services often grow an individual's interests and talents through community-based activities, center-based activities, and supported employment.
States have different services for people with disabilities. The agency names, types of services, funding sources, and eligibility vary by state. Please search our Services Directory for related services.

Resources

Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

ThinkCollege.net
This parent-friendly site provides information, a discussion board, a listserv, resources, student stories, and links to colleges and programs that support youth with intellectual disabilities. Good site for young people with disabilities who are looking into college—search for what’s happening in your state and how to apply.

Job Accomodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free consulting services for all employees, regardless of the condition. Services include one-on-one consultation about all aspects of job accommodations, including the accommodation process, accommodation ideas, product vendors, referral to other resources, and ADA compliance assistance

Employment (PDF Document 120 KB)
From the Institute for Community Inclusion at Children's Hospital, Boston, this handout provides helpful tips for youth and young adults to prepare for a job as they transition to adulthood.

Social Security Work Site
Promotes the employment of Social Security beneficiaries.

List of State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (CSAVR)
The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) website provides links to quickly find vocational rehabilitation contacts in each state.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources; this link provides information on applying for SSI.

PACER's National Family Advocacy and Support Training Project (FAST)
This page has a piece on "The Journey to Adulthood – What Every Parent Needs to Know" in regards to youth and maturity. Also includes information on Transition to Adulthood and more for young adults and families, in English and Spanish.

Keeping It Real: How to Get the Supports You Need for the Life You Want
This curriculum supports students as the transition from high school to adulthood and provides information and tools relating to transition; self-assessment; supports; employment and careers; education and training; living arrangements, recreation and leisure; and resources; from the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, New Jersey.

Youth Leadership Toolkit
Guidebook to go with videos by and for youth and young adults to help them learn about employment and related topics in an easy access online format. Developed by the Center for Persons with Disabilities and the Becoming Leaders for Tomorrow Project in collaboration with the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU). Videos available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLp3WC9HvngxfKsG-YdS0LwzNTHcnnlW5Q.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: December 2005; last update/revision: September 2020
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Contributing Authors: Gina Pola-Money
Teresa Such-Neibar, DO
Lynn Foxx Pease
Helen Post
Roz Welch
Reviewer: Tina Persels
Authoring history
2020: update: Tina PerselsA
2019: update: Tina PerselsR
2013: update: Tina PerselsA; Gina Pola-MoneyR
2008: first version: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhDR
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer