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'Postschool' Outcomes of Youths With Disabilities Tracked

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Young adults with disabilities make "significant movement'' toward economic and social independence within five years after leaving high school, a new study concludes, but for the most part they remain clustered in low-skill, low-wage jobs, and few have incomes much above the poverty level.

Graduation from high school is the primary predictor of later social and vocational advancement for youths with disabilities, according to the study, "What Happens Next?: Trends in Postschool Outcomes of Youth with Disabilities.''

The report is the most recent to emerge from the National Longitudinal Transition Study, a five-year, $5 million effort examining the lives of 8,000 disabled students who were enrolled in secondary schools in 1985-86. The first comprehensive report on the survey's findings was issued last year. (See Education Week, March 18, 1992).

Conducted by SRI International, a California firm, for the U.S. Education Department, the new study examines a subset of some 1,800 disabled individuals who in 1990 had been out of secondary school for three to five years.

The researchers conducted telephone interviews with the youths and their parents, surveyed teachers and school administrators, and examined the students' school records.

Among the report's findings:

  • About 57 percent of the study subjects were employed, an increase of 11 percentage points over the 1987 level.
  • During the same period, the percentage of individuals earning more than $6 an hour more than quadrupled, increasing from 9 percent to 39 percent. However, the study notes, the subjects generally "continued to hold relatively low-status jobs.''
  • The percentage of individuals living independently more than tripled, with 37 percent of those out of school for five years living independently, compared with only 11 percent three years earlier.
  • Twenty-seven percent of the youths had received some type of postsecondary education, nearly double the figure in 1987, but still significantly lower than the 53 percent enrollment rate among the general population in that age group.
  • Among disabled youths who had left secondary school between 1985 and 1987, 37 percent had dropped out; 21 percent of all youths who left school in that period were dropouts. The study found this group was less likely in the ensuing years to have returned to school or to earn a General Educational Development certificate than had dropouts in general.

The study's authors speculated that because the disabled youths were participating in postsecondary education at much lower rates than the general population, gaps in employment and earnings may widen in future years.

Gains Not Equally Shared

Over all, the researchers concluded that disabled youths who had graduated from high school were more likely than dropouts to be employed or to be continuing their education, and were more likely to be registered to vote. While equally likely to be married, they were less likely than those who did not finish high school to be parents at an early age, and less likely to have been arrested.

The report emphasizes that many of the improvements tracked were experienced by youths in specific disability categories, in particular those with learning disabilities and speech impediments, who experienced the largest increases in employment.

In contrast, the researchers found that employment rates among subjects with multiple impairments had changed little, and that this group was more than four times as likely as other groups studied to be isolated socially.

Subjects classified as emotionally disturbed also made fewer gains in employment, and their work experiences were "characterized by greater instability'' than the other subgroups of the disabled, the report states.

In general, the study concludes that females, minority-group members, and high school dropouts in the study group did not experience the same gains that the males, whites, and high school graduates did.

For example, among the young women, 40 percent were parents in 1990, compared with 16 percent of the males. Among the general population of women that year who had been out of secondary school for three to five years, 28 percent were parents.

The incidence of single motherhood was also high. Twenty percent of the disabled females in the study were single mothers; the rate for that age group in the general population is 12 percent.

Young disabled women were also less likely to be working full time or to be earning more than $6 an hour, and less likely to see friends frequently or be involved in groups.

"The demands of homemaking and motherhood on young women with disabilities,'' the authors conclude, "may help explain their lower level of involvement, relative to young men, in many activities outside the home.''

Copies of the report are available for $32 each from SRI International, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Room B2178, Menlo Park, Calif. 94025.

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