Transition strategies for high school students

December 11, 2018 by DRO Advocate Melissa Day / transition

A father puts his hand on his teenage son's head as they smile and talkKnowing the best time to prepare your child or young adult for the world beyond high school is tough. However, it is my hope that by implementing the strategies outlined below, you and your child will gain the confidence you need to navigate the transition process.

Knowing your legal rights is the first strategy for success.

At Disability Rights Ohio, our tagline is “We have the legal right of way,” meaning DRO works to ensure that individuals with disabilities can exercise their legal right to be active in society and enjoy every opportunity that all Americans do. While your child is in elementary, middle, and high school, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires students with a disability receive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) tailored to their individual needs, i.e. special education. When students leave special education, they step out of the legal protections of the IDEA and into the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

To advocate successfully, it is critical to know the legal differences between the IDEA and the ADA:

1. How someone’s disability is identified.

Under the IDEA, the school district is responsible for identifying the needs of students who may require special education services. Under the ADA, the person with a disability is responsible for “self-disclosing” their disability to receive “reasonable accommodations” from employers and college/training programs. To help you learn more about self-disclosing, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability/Youth (NCWD/Y) has valuable resources on Disability Disclosure.

2. How someone’s disability is determined by law.

The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, i.e. walking, hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, working, and/ or learning. Thus, a person with a disability who wants to receive accommodations must be able to document both the presence of a disability and the specific “functional limitations” that this disability presents in relation to the job or post-secondary learning.

3. The way eligibility is determined.

To receive special education services under the IDEA, the individual’s disability must fall within the list of 13 special education categories and must affect their educational performance. Again, the responsibility for determining eligibility lies with the school district. Under the ADA, the responsibility for documentation and any expense related to obtaining the documents lies with the individual requesting reasonable accommodations. Most colleges and training programs accept a recent IEP. If the IEP is not recent then, like most employers, documentation must be in form of diagnosis by a medical professional or a qualified professional’s recent diagnosis. Often, if updated evaluations are needed, they can be funded through your states’ Vocational Rehabilitation agency.

4. The difference of parents' involvement.

The IDEA allows parents to play an integral part in IEP meetings; but when the child turns 18, they are protected by privacy laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As a result, you cannot access information about your adult child from employers, post-secondary institutions, healthcare providers, financial institutions, or government agencies without their clear, prior written permission. Therefore, it is important that as students get older, they learn to advocate for their own needs at their IEP meetings.

5. “Unique Needs” vs “Equal Access”

The IDEA requires school districts to provide special education students that meets their unique needs. These needs are determined at least once a year at their IEP meetings. Because it is a civil rights law, the ADA does not require postsecondary/college programs to provide anything beyond “reasonable accommodations” that provide “equal access” to the same opportunities as people without disabilities. If the student plans to attend a college or training program, it’s a good idea to meet with that school’s disability services office and ask about the specific types of “reasonable accommodations” that could be provided for his/her specific disability and functional limitations. Then you can take that information back to the high school and adjust the student’s current accommodations to match. This should be done at least by end of junior year. By doing so, students can gain experience using accommodations similar to those offered at the college or training program.

The second strategy is to obtain transition services & supports through your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency.

In Ohio, the agency is Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). A student can apply for transition services at age 14, but the question of when to apply for OOD services depends on the student’s stage of career development. So the application timing should be made on a case-by-case basis, considering job-related needs. A student could apply or be referred to OOD for transition services if they:

  1. are interested in career tech or college training, 
  2. are getting a job after graduation, 
  3. are an at-risk youth, 
  4. need extended education services to defer diploma, 
  5. receive and/or receive online/home school.

Educators can refer students by submitting OOD’s Request for Pre-employment Transition Services for Potential Eligible Students with Disabilities form located on its website under Transition Students. When the time is right, he or she can expect to receive job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling for enrollment in college, work readiness training, and/or instruction in self-advocacy.

The final strategy is to use your resources!

For instance, if you or someone you know is having difficulties with their school district or obtaining transition services, contact Disability Rights Ohio. Another valuable resource is; here, you will find even more helpful transition resources and supports for you and your child.

An earlier version of this blog originally appeared on

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