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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

In Their Own Words: Employer Perspectives on Youth with Disabilities in the Workplace


Work experience for youth with disabilities is one of the most critical factors that sets the stage for their postsecondary employment success. Research and practice show that youth benefit from frequent and continuous exposure to real work environments throughout the secondary school years and beyond. These experiences, however, occur only when employers are available, willing, and prepared.

Indeed, employers have operational and economic stakes in the success of programs that connect them with youth with disabilities. Employers must consider both the costs and the benefits associated with having youth with disabilities in their workplaces. Thus, it is essential for educators, transition specialists, workforce development professionals, family members, and youth to understand employers’ needs, circumstances, and perspectives as they establish work experiences.

This publication features the experiences of employers in their own words. Employers write about how they became involved in providing work experiences for youth with disabilities, what made it work, and what they recommend to individuals and organizations representing youth. These perspectives can provide guidance to those with an interest in ensuring that youth with disabilities obtain access to a range of work-based experiences.

The Authors and their Assignments

The authors were recruited from a sample of employers who could speak about efforts to successfully include youth with diverse disabilities in the workplace. Employers were identified through a national search, and nominations were solicited from programs and colleagues who had such contacts.

The employer authors were selected for three reasons. First, they were all satisfied with the experience of having youth with disabilities in their workplaces. Second, they represented a diverse range of industries, geographical locations, sizes, and private- and public-sector entities. Finally, they provided a variety of work-based experiences that included job shadowing, mentoring, volunteering, internships, apprenticeships, and paid employment.

Each author was asked to develop a brief essay based on the answers to these questions:

  1. What is the nature of your company’s/organization’s business?
  2. How did you get involved in bringing youth with disabilities into your workplace?
  3. Who were your partners?
  4. What were your challenges?
  5. What made it work?
  6. What advice from your experience would you give other employers and programs that serve youth with disabilities?

Written in first-person narratives, the essays represent the voices of employers who have direct experience with these issues. The perspectives are uniquely their own.

Despite their diverse representation (See Table 1), the employers share a surprising number of commonalities that tell us much about what is important to them, what it takes to get them involved with youth who have disabilities, and what it takes to keep them involved. While many of these commonalities will be apparent to readers as they ponder the employers’ perspectives, we include a brief summary and conclusion at the end of the publication to highlight their common ideas on how to best make these work experiences successful for both employers and youth.

It is the intention of this publication to help practitioners, advocates, and policy makers in the fields of education and workforce development better understand what employers want and need. In so doing it is hoped that these perspectives will suggest how education and workforce development systems can improve their partnerships with the business community so more employers will see the value these experiences offer. Ultimately, the result will be that more youth will successfully experience learning in the workplace, which is so vital to their eventual adult employment success.

Table 1. Variables Represented by Contributing Authors




Experiences Offered

Cincinnati Children's Medical Center



Career exploration, volunteer experiences, paid work

American Institute on Cancer Research



Internships, paid work

Generac Portable Products



Apprenticeships, paid work

Kemtah Group, Inc.

Information technology


Job shadowing, internships, paid work

Kennedy Space Center, NASA

Aerospace technology


Job shadowing, career exploration, internships

MacWorld Magazine


West Coast

Paid work


Computer software and technology


Job shadowing, career exploration, volunteer experiences, internships, paid work

Medtronic Physio-Control



Paid work

Port Discovery



Volunteer experiences, internships



West Coast

Internships, paid work

Old Colony Insurance



Paid work

Table of Contents

Cover Page


Publish or Perish: Macworld Magazine by Shelly Ginenthal

Reaching Out to Youth: Microsoft Corporation by Mylene Padolina

Boosting the High Tech Workforce: Kennedy Space Center, NASA by Cassandra Black

Finding Premium Volunteers: Port Discovery by Leah Burke

Investigating Human Resource Options: American Institute for Cancer Research by John McIlveen

Manufacturing & Production Technician Youth Apprentices: Generac Portable Products Corporation by Bob Hurd

Infrastructure for Success: Kemtah Group, Inc. by Keith Harris

Quality Products, Quality Employees: Medtronic Physio-Control by LaDrene Coyne

Searching for a Reliable Workforce: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center by J. Erin Riehle

Keeping Stock of Personnel Needs: Safeway by Grace Louie

Brokering Achievement: Old Colony Insurance Service, Inc. by S. Brooks May, Jr.

Summary & Conclusion

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Citation: Luecking, R., Ed. (2004). Essential tools: In their own words: Employer perspectives on youth with disabilities in the workplace. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.