January 2017 – The Transition Pitfall and the Role of DS Providers in Building a Bridge

The Transition Pitfall: The Role of DS Providers in Building a Bridge


Students with disabilities do not participate in higher education at the same rate as their peers without identified disabilities. This is true in Ohio, and, in the United States as a whole. While there are numerous contributing factors to account for current statistics, in Ohio, only about one-third of students with IEP’s in Ohio were enrolled in higher education in 2013 within one year of high school graduation (OLTS, 2015). Since we know that average salaries for individuals with college degrees are nearly twice as high as for those without college degrees, this makes the earning potential of students with disabilities less competitive than their peers without identified disabilities (NCES, 2016). The lower participation rates in higher education are one significant reason that people with disabilities are more than twice as likely as people without disabilities to report a household income of $15,000 or less (Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability, 2010). These are just some of the statistics representing what many have understood for some time: our current system is insufficient to meet the needs of students with disabilities and to increase rates of participation in postsecondary education.

Though the rates of post-school participation and success for students with disabilities may be fairly well known, at least for those of us working in the field, what can be done to positively create lasting change has not always been quite so clear. There are, however, evidenced based predictors that can help us to better understand what factors contribute to post-school success. These predictors are: Interagency Collaboration, Career Awareness, Community Experiences, Occupational Courses, Inclusion in General Education, Exit Exam Requirements/High School Diploma, Paid Employment/Work Experiences, Parent/Family/Guardian Involvement, Program of Study, Self-Advocacy/Self-determination, Self-Care/Independent Living Skills, Social Skills, and Student Support (OEF, 2015; Test &Cease-Cook, 2012). It would be unreasonable to believe that those of us working in accessibility in higher education could meet all these needs of high school students, however, there are distinct ways that we can engage with and encourage students in the process of transitioning to post-secondary success. Further, program standards, as published by the Association on Higher Education and Disability, suggest that we have a professional responsibility to actively engage with high school students in a manner that supports their transition to postsecondary education (AHEAD).

At Ohio University we have struggled to find our role in providing outreach that is both effective and within the resources of our institution. While there is no singular way to best assist high school students, we have developed our Gateway to Success Program as the first piece in our efforts to become active partners within our region. Although we have enjoyed recent success in terms of numbers of participants and outcomes, we experienced barriers early on in designing an experience that met the needs of our local high schools. Our success can be attributed as much to the active partnership of local high school personnel as to the expertise of our staff in Student Accessibility Services. After 2-3 years of mostly challenge, we located high school personnel who also recognized the need for partnership in preparing students and provided extremely relevant and helpful feedback about how to structure a program (both logistics and content) in a way that was easy for students to attend, did not replicate things in place within the high schools, and added enough value for high school personnel to actively coordinate their school’s participation.

Gateway to Success (GTS) in its present form was created to address key predictors of success relative to postsecondary education and fill gaps that high schools in our regional may be experiencing. In consultation with high school personnel, GTS focuses on career awareness and obtaining student support while the program itself is a multiagency collaboration and community experience for participants. The program is designed as a one-day experience for high school juniors and is particularly beneficial for students who may not be sure that they wish to pursue postsecondary education. During the program, participants complete an interest inventory and use their results to guide them in exploring the O*NET website. Graduate students from our counseling program volunteer to administer the interest inventory and explore O*NET in order to assist students in beginning to understand careers as more than just a singular job as well as thinking about how different types of postsecondary educational experiences may align with their career interests. Other key pieces to our program include a basic introduction to financial aid, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, assistive technology and how to get support in college. Our goal is to provide enough information for students to see how it may be possible for them to enroll in postsecondary education while also developing an understanding that there are steps they will need to take to prepare for such a goal.

When thinking about the challenge of promoting transition of students with disabilities to postsecondary education it can be easy to be overwhelmed. Our philosophy at OHIO has been simply to start somewhere. It is true that more work needs to be done before students are juniors and that seniors need support to continue preparation, but approaching the challenge one step at a time in collaboration with local high schools has proven successful in our region. As our GTS program becomes more effective for high school juniors, it is our goal to develop experiences that build on GTS during their senior year and also activities leading up to GTS. We certainly don’t have any answers about how to do this “right,” but hope to continue to do so in a collaborative way to truly build a bridge between the secondary and postsecondary environment.



AHEAD Professional Standards, retrieved from https://www.ahead.org/learn/resources

Center for Innovation in Transition Study (2015). Ohio Longitudinal Transition Study Annual report. Retrieved from: https://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Special-Education/Resources-for-Parents-and-Teachers-of-Students-wit/Ohio-Longitudinal-Transition-Study-OLTS/FINAL-OLTS-STATE-REPORT-2015-4-8-4.pdf.aspx

Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability (2010). The ADA 20-years Later. Retrieved from http://www.2010disabilitysurveys.org/pdfs/surveysummary.pdf

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016) Annual Earnings of Young Adults http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cba.asp

Ohio Employment First (2016). Evidence based practices for transition youth.  Retrieved from: http://www.ohioemploymentfirst.org/up_doc/Evidence_Based_Practices_for_Transition_Youth.pdf

Test, D. W., & Cease-Cook, J. (2012). Evidence-based secondary transition practices for rehabilitation counselors. Journal of Rehabilitation, 78(2), 30-38. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.ohiou.edu/docview/1010282866?accountid=12954