Guidance & Exploration
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is career guidance important?
Students with disabilities face many obstacles as they transition
from school to work. The process of deciding future career options
can be challenging and involves careful considerations. Although there
are many careers to choose from, individuals with disabilities have
traditionally been limited in their career options, especially if they
are unprepared for the requirements of the workplace, underestimate
their capabilities, or are unaware of the range of workplace accommodations
that can broaden their career options. Career guidance provides access
to the skills and resources students need to overcome these obstacles
and prepares them to make choices relevant to their personal strengths
Does career guidance make a difference?
Studies evaluating the relationship between guidance programs and
student achievement report a positive impact (Whiston & Sexton,
1998). One study concluded that a major
attribute of highly successful adults with learning disabilities is
a “strong sense of control over career-related events and a conscious
decision to take charge of their life” (Hitchings et al., 2000,
p. 8). In order for students with disabilities to have a strong sense
of control over career-related events, they need current and comprehensive
career information and skills.
What information should career guidance provide?
Career guidance should provide students with an understanding of their
own strengths and interests (e.g., through valid assessment), an awareness
of the varieties of vocational opportunities that exist, and the opportunity
to explore desired vocations (e.g., through job shadowing or internships).
Students with disabilities need to know how to identify careers that
play on their strengths, the specific ways their disability impacts
their work, and the supports necessary for success in the workplace.
In addition, some career guidance curricula also help students to develop
a portfolio showcasing their skills and explore the benefits of accommodations
to the workplace.
What skills should students with disabilities develop?
Self-determination skills are important skills for students to develop
as they prepare to shoulder more responsibility for managing necessary
supports and making adult life decisions. Self-determination skills
include self-advocacy, decision-making, and self-awareness (see NCSET
Web Topics Self-determination
for Middle and High School Students and Self-determination
for Postsecondary Students). Career guidance strategies and approaches
should aim at developing these skills, along with other adult life
skills such as managing finances and social skills. As with all students,
career guidance programs should teach students job-search, goal-setting,
résumé writing, and interviewing skills. Additionally,
students with disabilities should develop a clear understanding of
helpful accommodations and the specific ways in which their disability
affects their desired work goals (i.e., both positively and negatively).
Doing actual job searches and practicing interviews in class are recommended.
What is the relationship between postsecondary education and employment?
Career guidance should provide students with information about the
postsecondary requirements of their chosen career options. Since this
type of career preparation tends to be a long process, students will
also need to break it down into steps and consider how to prepare for
each step while still in secondary school. Students should ask the
- What are the requirements to enter these
programs and schools?
- What kinds of postsecondary programs lead
to the best career outcomes?
- What secondary curriculum changes need
to be made to meet these requirements and
prepare for the program (e.g., some programs
require a specific number of years of foreign
language or a certain level of mathematical
- Which schools have the best resources for
specific career preparation?
- Which schools have the capacity to provide
for a student’s specific support needs?
- What other programs might supplement postsecondary
education in preparation for a chosen career
(e.g., internships or work-study programs)?
How can the IEP team help with career guidance?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 required that
Individual Education Programs (IEP) include consideration of students’ transition
service needs beginning at age 14 (or earlier if determined appropriate).
Assessment conducted for transition purposes can generate valuable
information for career preparation (student strengths, interests, challenges,
and support needs). Transition goals in the IEP can include workplace
experiences that allow students to learn about employment settings
and vocational opportunities. IEPs should also include specific plans
for developing or strengthening self-determination skills. Students
need to participate in the planning process as much as possible. Community
professionals, such as vocational rehabilitation counselors, postsecondary
education representatives, and others, should be actively involved
in transition planning. Interagency collaboration can make students’ transition
experiences more successful and less frustrating.
What other agencies can help to provide career guidance success?
- Vocational rehabilitation
(VR). There are
VR offices in every state as well as U.S.
territories. The purpose of VR is to empower
individuals with disabilities to maximize
employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence,
inclusion, and integration into society.
VR offers services such as assessment, counseling
and guidance, job search and placement, vocational
training, transportation, on-the-job assistance,
technical assistance, and rehabilitation
technology. VR can begin working with individuals
with disabilities as young as age 15, although
state policies vary. Wherever possible, VR
counselors should be involved in students’ transition
planning. VR centers should be listed in
the telephone directory under state departments.
centers. The Department of Labor
has a network of One-Stop centers, established
by the Workforce Investment Act, in each
state and some U.S. territories. These
centers usually house employment-related
services in one place. Services include
applying for unemployment, information
on training for employment, use of computers
for job searching, and more. Often the
centers provide aptitude tests and job
recruitment at local and national levels
as well as free publications. As with VR
centers, One-Stop centers are listed in
the telephone directory under state departments
(sometimes under the keywords Workforce
- Postsecondary education
postsecondary institutions have career-guidance
counseling as well as outreach programs for
high school students. In addition, most have
disability service offices and orientation
programs for students with disabilities.
Contact the postsecondary institutions you
are considering to find out what types of
programs they offer and what information
and services they provide to aid in career
guidance. For example, the University of
Washington has the DO-IT Program,
which provides technological training for
students with disabilities. For more information
on this program, see the NCSET
topic on Preparing for Postsecondary Education.
- Special education. All state departments
of education have special education programs,
which provides the services of career guidance
counselors to prepare students for career
How can parents participate in providing career guidance to their
Parents have daily contact with their child and are experts in the
area of what makes their child unique. Their guidance and encouragement
can make a significant difference in their child's career success.
Parents of students with disabilities should:
- Pay close attention to their child's skills
- Provide opportunities for their child to
make choices and practice self-determination
- Provide opportunities for their child to
experience work settings;
- Provide disability-specific and career-specific
- Make use of community connections and resources;
- Encourage their child to dream and to plan;
- Participate in services, trainings, and
workshops on career guidance that improve
their ability to support their child in this
- Accept assistance rendered by peers, friends,
community, agencies, and professionals in
The following sources were cited in this Frequently Asked Questions.
For additional research and resources, see our links to other pages
on this topic below.
Hitchings, W., Lusso, D., Ristow, R., Horvath,
M., Retish, P., & Tanners,
A. (2001). The career development needs of college students with learning
disabilities: in their own words. Learning Disabilities Research
and Practice, 16(1), 8–17.
Whiston, S. C., & Sexton, T. L. (1998). A review of school counseling
outcome research: Implications for practice. Journal of Counseling
and Development, 76, 412–426.
Other pages on this topic:
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