"Their senior year": Family and service provider perspectives on the transition from school to adult life for young adults with disabilities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching and Leadership


Daniel Sage


Special education, Vocational education, Transition, Students with disabilities

Subject Categories

Special Education and Teaching


This year roughly 50,000 students with disabilities will graduate from our nation's public high schools. Despite years of schooling and anticipation for independence as adults, follow-up studies indicate most recent graduates with disabilities are unemployed and unable to attain a quality of life similar to their non-disabled peers. As a result of these studies, the transition from school to adult life has become a major concern for policy makers, educators, adult service providers, and families, yet there is little or no specific data on how transition services are being provided and whether or not they facilitate successful outcomes for young adults with disabilities.

The purpose of this research was to discover how transition from school to adult life is experienced and understood by particular young adults with disabilities, their families, their respective service providers (i.e. teachers, transition coordinators, adult agency personnel), and their employers. Qualitative methods of in-depth interviewing, participant observation, and document analysis were utilized to gather data on the transition process for eleven young people with disabilities from three different school districts in upstate, New York.

Data analyses focused on underlying themes, which yielded certain concepts regarding transition from school to adult life. The main themes that emerged were: differing future expectations for young adults with disabilities; a lack of inclusive educational practices; hasty and poorly coordinated planning for transition; competing professional ideologies and a prevalence of restrictive views on employment and community living opportunities that should be available to young adults with disabilities; low levels of family participation; outcomes of unemployment and isolation for most young adult participants; and the benefits of supported employment and community inclusion for young adults with disabilities.

The study has implications for public policy, particularly in the following areas: (a) role of the transition coordinator; (b) family empowerment in the transition process; (c) transition planning and collaboration; (d) human service systems; and (e) the current conceptualization of transition to adult life for people with disabilities. The last chapter includes twelve main conclusions and offers recommended service practices in the area of transition.


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