The High School/High Tech, Vocational Rehabilitation Programs and Assistive Technology Resources

Preparing for transition from high school to adulthood presents challenges for every young person. For students with learning disabilities, the challenges can seem confusing and overwhelming, from passing high school equivalency exams to fulfilling post-secondary admissions requirements.

Career planning, the crux of this transition, may actually take a back seat to completing these basic transition requirements. And, students with learning disabilities who did not benefit from exposure to essential assistive technology tools and strategies in high school, will be doubly challenged by significant academic expectations and the lack of effective AT tools and strategies.

One way to prepare students to be ready for post-secondary education is through the High School/High Tech Program (HS/HT), which offers opportunities for students with all types of disabilities to explore exciting careers in science, mathematics, and technology. HS/HT programs were launched under competitive grants offered to states by the Office of Disability and Employment Policy (ODEP) of the U.S. Department of Labor in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Today, ODEP provides technical assistance to states offering or wishing to establish HS/HT programs.

Meet Kayla Wilson, a graduate of Georgia’s HS/HT Program and a manager of the accounting department of a major real estate firm in Augusta, Georgia. Kayla participated as a student, then college counselor/leader in Georgia’s High School/High Tech Program.  During a summer leadership camp, she met a HS/HT graduate who, like her, had significant dyslexia.  Kayla realized that if this counselor went to college and pursued her dreams, she could, too.

Kayla graduated from Georgia Southern University, and now works full time and finds time to be an advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities. She is a frequent speaker at High School/High Tech events, and serves as a member of Georgia’s State Vocational Rehabilitation Council.

In the past year, ODEP has worked to ensure that the HS/HT Program reflects the latest in evidence-based research on what youth with disabilities need to transition to employment successfully. ODEP strives to encourage HS/HT sites that incorporate four design features into their programs: preparatory experiences, connecting activities, work-based experiences, and youth development and leadership activities.

Georgia and Florida are two states that offer outstanding High School/High Tech Programs. In addition to the activities listed, these programs are tailored to build advocacy and leadership skills, and offer academic preparation, and post-secondary educational and career exploration opportunities. The Georgia program serves nearly 800 students a year and also gives participants opportunities to participate in competitions for laptops and iPads along with assistive technology software.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), high schools today are required to provide transition services to eligible students. Transition services by law are defined as coordinated activities for a student that include such things as community participation, continuing and adult education, and vocational training that allows for the development of employment objectives.  If needed by the student, a functional vocational evaluation can be included in the transition plan for students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For a student who does not have an IEP, parents will need to reach out to identify ways to engage their teenager in activities that will build leadership skills and expose them to career exploration activities as well as post-secondary opportunities.

Although all communities vary in career exploration and other resources that are available, all communities have access to Job Centers that are a part of the American Job Center network.  In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education published a Dear Colleagues letter to inform the public about the many resources this network of centers offers to youth. The letter describes the “joint commitment of the U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor to provide education, workforce development, social services, and private-sector leaders with information about ways that high schools and human services agencies can work with the American Job Center network.”  To learn how to establish a High School/High Tech Program in your community, check out ODEP’s program development guide at High School/High Tech. 

Two other important resources to consider in paving the way for successful transitions may include your state vocational rehabilitation (VR) program and your state Assistive Technology Act Program. In applying for VR services, it is important for high school students with learning disabilities to discuss how their disabilities affect their capacity to compete academically or in a career.  Does the student have trouble understanding or reading directions, completing a resume, or job application form?  Does the student shy away from relationships because of disability-related challenges such as keeping up with conversations? For more information, check out your state’s vocational rehabilitation program.

The Assistive Technology Act Program in every state can offer opportunities to explore assistive technology strategies.  State programs can help students to explore the specific issues of their learning disabilities and find possible technology solutions. Trying out solutions may provide a way for students to learn differently. Check out resources available through your state AT program.

AMAC Accessibility Solutions & Research Center
University System of Georgia |Georgia Institute of Technology | @ leecm363 | @AMAC_Tweet  
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