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Education Researchers Awarded $2M in National Collaboration Supporting Students With Disabilities

Grant to Enhance Transitions to Careers, Postsecondary Education

By Chris Samoray

Person in a wheelchair speaks with another person at a table covered in papers/notes

Photo by iStock

A grant from the U.S. Department of Education to UMD researchers aims to support disabled people and their families as they navigate the complexities of post-school support systems and accessing work opportunities.

The University of Maryland College of Education will receive $2 million to collaborate on a $15 million U.S. Department of Education grant to improve college and career readiness for students with disabilities. 

The project helps state education and vocational rehabilitation agencies by allocating resources and recommending practices to improve post-school outcomes for students with disabilities, including work experience and other hands-on training that helps students be competitive in finding employment and enrolling in postsecondary education. 

“Students with disabilities who exit secondary school lag far behind their counterparts both in terms of achieving employment and enrolling in postsecondary education programs,” said Ellen Fabian, co-director of the Center for Transition and Career Innovation (CTCI) and lead researcher on the project at UMD. “Improving interventions, practices and policies for students with disabilities will ultimately improve their lives.”

Students with disabilities and their families often have difficulty navigating the complexities of post-school support systems, and students can struggle in the traditional job interviewing process or accessing work opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 73% of youths ages 20-24 without disabilities were employed in 2019, compared to just 45% of that same age group with disabilities.

The University of Maryland is one of seven universities involved in the project, which supports the work of the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: Collaborative (NTACT:C) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The grant from the Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs and the Rehabilitation Services Administration will be allocated over five years to the university partners, which also include East Tennessee State University, George Washington University, the University of Kansas, the University of Oregon and Portland State University.

“It builds COE’s national visibility in helping states across the country improve services for students with disabilities and their lives after school,” said Fabian.

CTCI will provide training and technical assistance to state and local educational and vocational rehabilitation agencies, including developing resources such as self-paced online training modules and information briefs. CTCI receives feedback from the field and NTACT:C that helps identify areas of high need, while also handling requests from local, regional and national organizations. 

The collaboration will build on existing programs such as CTCI’s Way2Work Maryland program, an effort with the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services and local school systems to improve education and career outcomes of students with disabilities as well as offer trainings for school transition specialists.

"The workshops [Way2Work offers] really brought the tools and modules to life and encouraged small groups of transition professionals to learn from each other,” said Elaine Granado, a transition technician at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, who took part in CTCI’s Way2Work program in February. 

“You get a lot more ideas when you’re working with other people than when you’re just on your own, and that way we can all better support the youth and their families that we work with as well as the employers with whom we work,” she said.

Backed by initial funding awarded in October 2020, already, the center has already connected with the state of South Carolina to design a career pathways program for youths with disabilities. Other states seeking to benefit from the resources and expertise offered through the multi-university collaboration also have expressed interest in working with COE.

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