by Alia Wong
Originally published: June 15, 2016
Today, more than 1 million students are trapped in an education system that wasn’t built for them. That system wasn’t designed to accommodate their disabilities—the kinds of intellectual, cognitive, communicative, and physical conditions that often conjure images of people reliant on wheelchairs and aides, of individuals consigned to dreary, isolated lives. Many of the public schools they attend rest on the assumption that those stereotypes are inevitable truths.
But these students, even those with the most severe disabilities, have potential far beyond what they are often educated for. Although the law known as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, has long required schools to help students design “transition plans” and provide job training for their lives after graduation, a majority of adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. According to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of disabled adults, that’s largely because of a lack of training and education, which respondents listed as the most common barrier to employment aside from the disabilities themselves. “The big concern that remains [is] what happens when you’re done ... and you’re finished with school? Are you sitting at home on the couch?” said Margaret (“Muncie”) Kardos, a Connecticut-based educational consultant who helps students with disabilities plan for the transition. The poor preparation, she said, leaves many special-needs people with few other options.