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Barriers to Employment for Students With Disabilities

Teaching students with disabilities means not only shepherding them through daily life and coursework at school but also preparing them for the future as they transition out of public school and into adulthood.

Teachers in this important field can gain the necessary skills for these roles as part of their pursuit of a master’s degree in special education. Coursework in Lamar University’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Special Education program covers topics such as psychoeducational evaluation, which forms the basis for choosing appropriate career pathways for the student after high school. This becomes part of the overall transition plan for students with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Education, Employment and Students With Disabilities

Securing employment for the student once they leave high school makes up a major portion of the transition plan. In fact, this is one way in which teaching students with disabilities differs vastly from teaching general population students. Although career choices are part of the curriculum for general population students, teachers in special education must consider a much wider range of contributing factors in employment eligibility. This is especially true when independent living skills are questionable — many students in special education programs need help in this regard, too.

As you might imagine, there are barriers challenging students with disabilities in the job marketplace, including the following:

  • They may have grown up in an environment of low expectations in school.
  • They may struggle with transportation.
  • They may lack knowledge about workplace accommodations that can aid them at work, including assistive technologies.
  • They may have fewer opportunities to choose from.
  • They may lack clear avenues to career advancement.
  • Their “soft skills” may be less developed, as discussed below.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one in four adults in the U.S. have “some type of disability.” The rate of employment for this group falls far below the general population. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment rate for people with disabilities between the ages of 16 to 64 was 34.8% in 2022, compared to 74.4% for people without disabilities in the same age group. Among the main reasons for this disparity are:

  • Challenges with searching for and securing a job
  • The need for special accommodations in the workplace
  • Transportation to and from work

Teaching Soft Skills in Special Education Classrooms

Challenges in the job search stem mostly from problems with so-called “soft skills,” which represent difficulties for many kids with disabilities. For instance, students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have trouble developing the social-emotional skills needed for many professional roles. “Soft skills” include:

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Decision-making abilities
  • Broader lifelong learning skills such as self-reflection and self-evaluation

Effectively teaching students with disabilities includes helping them develop the soft skills needed to navigate life after transitioning from the public school system to adulthood. This guidance is just one of the ways a teacher can make all the difference in the world.

Learn more about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Special Education program.

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