Raising Expectations for U.S. Youth with Disabilities: Federal Disability Policy Advances Integrated Employment

  • Jeanne Novak
Keywords: equal opportunity, integrated employment, presumption of employability, secondary transition, social model of disability


While conversations around the inclusion of individuals with disabilities often focus on the educational rights and needs of children with disabilities during their school years, there is a growing recognition that the period of transition from secondary school to adult roles is a critical time in the lives of individuals with disabilities. For young people, gaining meaningful
employment in a typical community job is an important step towards realising full community membership. The present article examines how contemporary U.S. federal disability policy has heightened expectations that youth with disabilities – including those with significant disabilities – can and should be prepared to work in integrated workplaces. The article begins with a consideration of how evolving assumptions about the nature of disability and the employment potential of individuals with significant disabilities have influenced the development of federal disability policy in the U.S. This is followed by an overview of key legislative and policy developments in the areas of civil rights and workforce development that have
the potential to dramatically impact the employment outlook for young people with disabilities. The article concludes with a discussion of challenges in translating the legislative intent of federal disability policy into noticeable improvements in employment outcomes, along with recommendations for aligning legislation, funding priorities and service delivery systems to achieve policy goals.


Download data is not yet available.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2009).

Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Regulations, Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services, 28 C.F.R. § 35.101 et seq. (2010).

Bellini, J. (1998). Equity and the order of selection mandate: Critical issues in implementation and evaluation. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 9(1), 107–125.

Bellamy, G. T., Rhodes, L. E., Mank, D. M., & Albin, J. M. (1988). Supported employment: A community implementation guide. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Black, B. J. (1992). A kind word for sheltered work. Psychosocial Rehabilitation Journal, 15(4), 87–89.

Bond, G. R. (2004). Supported employment: Evidence for an evidence-based practice. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 27(4), 345–359.

Brault, M. W. (2012). Americans with Disabilities: 2010. Household Economic Studies. Current Population Reports. Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau website: http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

Brown, L., Shiraga, B., & Kessler, K. (2006). The quest for ordinary lives: The integrated post-school vocational functioning of 50 workers with significant disabilities. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 31(2), 93–121.

Butterworth, J. Smith, F. A., Hall, A. C., Migliore, A., Winsor, J., & Domin, D. (2014). StateData: The national report on employment services and outcomes, 2013 edition. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts, Institute for Community Inclusion. Retrieved from http://book.statedata.info/13/

Cimera, R. E., Wehman, P., West, M., & Burgess, S. (2012). Do sheltered workshops enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder? Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 16(1), 87–94.

Curcic, S. (2009). Inclusion in PK-12: An international perspective. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(5), 517–538.

Dunn, E. C., Wewiorski, N. J., & Rogers, E. S. (2008). The meaning and importance of employment to people in recovery from serious mental illness: Results of a qualitative study. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 32(1), 59–62.

Ebersold, S. (2012). Transitions to tertiary education and work for youth with disabilities. Retrieved from Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264177895-en

Ford, L. H. (1995). Providing employment support for people with long-term mental illness: Choices, resources, and practical strategies. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Hoff, D. (2014). WIA is now WIOA: What the new bill means for people with disabilities. The Institute Brief, 31, 1–4. Retrieved from http://www.communityinclusion.org/pdf/IB31_F.pdf

Hoffman, L. C. (2013). An employment opportunity or a discrimination dilemma? Sheltered workshops and the employment of the disabled. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and
Social Change, 16, 151–179. Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1150&context=jlasc

Kiernan, W. E., Hoff, D., Freeze, S., & Mank, D. M. (2011). Employment First: A beginning not an end. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 49(4), 300–304. doi:10.1352/1934-9556-49.4.300

Kober, R., & Eggleton, I. R. C. (2005). The effects of different types of employment on quality of life. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49, 756–760.

Lemay, R. (2006). Social role valorization insights into the social integration conundrum. Mental Retardation, 44, 1–12.

Mank, D. (1994). The underachievement of supported employment: A call for reinvestment. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 5(2), 1–24.

Marshall, T., Goldberg, R. W. Braude, L., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., & Delphin- Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Supported employment: Assessing the evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(1), 16–23.

Martinez, K. (2013). Integrated employment, Employment First, and U.S. federal policy. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 38, 165–168.

National Council on Disability. (2008). Finding the gaps: A comparative analysis of disability laws in the United States to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2008/May122008

National Council on Disability. (2012). NCD Report on subminimum wage and supported employment. Retrieved from http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012/

National Council on Disability. (2014). National disability policy: A progress report. Retrieved from http://www.ncd.gov/progress_reports/10312014

National Disability Rights Network. (2011). Sheltered and exploited: The failure of the disability service delivery system to provide quality work. Retrieved from http://www.ndrn.org/images/Documents/Resources/Publications/Reports/Segregated-and-Exploited.pdf

National Disability Rights Network. (2012). Beyond segregated and exploited: Update on the employment of people with disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ndrn.org/images/Documents/Resources/Publications/Reports/Beyond_Segregated_and_Exploited.pdf

Oliver, M. (1996). Understanding disability: From theory to practice. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Olmstead v. LC. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

Perez, T. (2015, January 5). Ensuring “opportunity” extends to all. [U.S. Department of Labor Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blog.dol.gov/2015/01/05/ensuring-opportunity-extends-to-all/

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986, Pub. L. PL 99-506, codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992, Pub. L. 102-569, codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.

Reskin, B. F. (2001). Employment discrimination and its remedies. In I. Berg & A. L. Kalleberg (Eds.), Sourcebook of labor markets: Evolving structures and processes (pp. 567–599). New York, NY: Kluwer/Plenum.

Rinaldi, G. (2014). Gimme shelter: Lane v. Kitzhaber and its impact on integrated employment services for people with disabilities. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and
Law, 22(3), 749–779. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1643&context=jgspl

Rubin, S. E., & Roessler, R. T. (2007). Foundations of the vocational rehabilitation process (6th ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Schlesinger, L. (2014). The social model’s case for inclusion: “Motivating factor” and “but for” standards of proof under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the impact of the social model of disability on employees with disabilities. Cardozo Law Review, 35(5), 2115–2145. Retrieved from http://www.cardozolawreview.com/content/35-5/SCHLESINGER.35.5.pdf

Scotch, R. K. (2000). Models of disability and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 21(1), 213–222. Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/bjell/vol21/iss1/7

Shogren, K. A., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2014). Using the core concepts framework to understand three generations of inclusive practices. Inclusion, 2(3), 237–247. doi:10.1352/2326-6988-2.3.237

Silverstein, R. (2000). Emerging disability policy framework: A guidepost for analyzing public policy. Iowa Law Review, 85, 1691–1796.

Silverstein, R. (2010). Anatomy of change: The need for effective disability policy change agents. Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 91(2), 173–177.

Smyth, F., Shevlin, M., Buchner, T., Biewer, G., Flynn, P., Latimier, C., & Ferreira, M. A. (2014). Inclusive education in progress: Policy evolution in four European countries. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 29(4), 433–445. doi: 10.1080/08856257.2014.922797

Stein, M. A., & Stein, P. J. S. (2007). Beyond disability civil rights. Hastings Law Journal, 58, 1203–1240. Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/facpubs/263/

Stoddard, S. (2014). 2014 Disability Statistics Annual Report. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from http://www.disabilitycompendium.org/docs/default-source/2014-

Taylor, S. J. (1988). Caught in the continuum: A critical analysis of the principle of the least restrictive environment. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 13(1), 41–53.

United Nations. (2006). Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Geneva, Switzerland: Author. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml

United Nations Enable. (2012). Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities: Latest developments. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/disabilities/

United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2014). Fact sheet: Summary of key provisions of the Home and Community-based Services (HCBS) Settings Final Rule (CMS 2249-F/2296-F). Retrieved from http://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid-chipprogram-information/by-topics/long-term-services-and-supports/home-and-community-basedservices/downloads/hcbs-setting-fact-sheet.pdf

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2011). Statement of the Department of Justice on enforcement of the integration mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/olmstead/q&a_olmstead.htm#_ftn11

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2014). Department of Justice reaches landmark Americans with Disabilities Act settlement agreement with Rhode Island (Justice News 14-350). Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-reaches-landmark-americansdisabilities-act-settlement-agreement-rhode

United States Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. (2013). Separate and unequal: States fail to fulfill the community living promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from http://www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/OlmsteadReport.pdf

Wagner, M., Newman, L., Cameto, R., Levine, P., & Garza, N. (2006). An Overview of Findings From Wave 2 of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Retrieved from www.nlts2.org/reports/2006_08/nlts2_report_2006_08_complete.pdf.

Wehman, P., & Moon, S. (1987). Critical values in employment programs for persons with developmental disabilities: A position paper. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 18, 12–16.

Wehman, P. (2012). Life beyond the classroom: Transition strategies for young people with disabilities (5th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H Brookes.

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Webb, K. W. (Eds.). (2012). Handbook of adolescent transition education for youth with disabilities. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

West, M. (1996). Promoting self-determination for individuals with severe disabilities in employment services. In D. Sands & M. Wehmeyer (Eds.), Self-determination across the life span: Independence and choice for people with disabilities (pp. 311–328). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, Pub. L. 113-128.

World Health Organization. (2001). International classification of functioning, disability, and health (ICF). Geneva, Switzerland: Author.