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Moving On: Planning for the Future


Originally published: 1/1996

Suggested audiences:

The Vision

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
Alice in Wonderland

Transition from school to adult life is an exciting time that is filled with the promise of youthful hopes and dreams. It is also full of uncertainty and turmoil. All students must wrestle with issues such as where to live, whether to work or go to college, and what to do for fun. These decisions are hard for everyone but can be more difficult for students with disabilities. Some students may not have had practice in making decisions, trying new things, or independently seeking assistance. Encouraging students to take the lead in the transition process enables them to develop the decision-making and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in adult life.

Transition from school to adult life is not the only important change that people experience in their lives. If you think back to the last major decision you made (for instance, changing jobs, deciding to marry or divorce, deciding to have children or not, or moving), it affected many areas of your life. Transitions involve the work one does, where and with whom one lives, what one does during one's leisure time, and the type of learning, training, and experiences one may need or want.

Learning how to plan for transitions before leaving school is a useful skill for all students, now and in the future. Teaching students how to weigh choices and make decisions is a crucial practice that will ultimately assist them to live more interdependent and fulfilling lives.

To achieve a transition into adulthood that will fulfill students' dreams and visions requires committed action from many participants. Transition, as described in this manual, is an outcome-oriented process that calls for the collaboration of many individuals and results in the student taking control of his/her own life. The planning process belongs to the student; it is, after all, his/her life. The student charts the direction and it is up to others involved to ensure that the student has the skills or supports necessary to make decisions, learn from mistakes, and celebrate successes.

Transition means different things to different people. Outcomes may include having a place to live, friends with whom to "hang out," a lover, a job, community involvement, and a means of financially supporting oneself. From a very early age, students must be encouraged to dream, to explore various ideas, to take chances. Their decisions must be supported and nurtured by families, friends, teachers, and other professionals.

Successful transition is a cooperative process that involves student choice, parent involvement, informal supports, and use of community resources, as well as more formal procedures and interagency collaboration. Recent trends on both the state and national levels encourage this kind of integrated, cooperative approach. Initiatives related to the overall improvement of education include school reform, School-to-Work, Goals-2000, family and school partnerships, school and business partnerships, and the development of inclusive schools. Linking these initiatives together can reallocate resources, create a forum for sharing a broad range of expertise, and help bridge the gap between regular and special education. This process ultimately results in mobilizing the entire community to build the capacity of the local school to address the transition needs of all students.

"For too long, young people with disabilities have been excluded from the curricula, service delivery, and post-secondary opportunities available to nondisabled youth." [Wehman, P. (1992) Life Beyond the Classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing Co., p. 5] If optimal ways to smooth transition into adulthood are to occur, then parents and professionals must take a closer look at what is happening to all youth in the United States in terms of work opportunity and the likelihood for successful integration into the community. Increased demands for a diversified workforce will occur by the 21st century. We must ensure that students are equipped and informed to participate and contribute in business, society, and industry so that they too can better their lives and feel satisfaction from their contributions.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities