This is the third blog in a series of blog posts on secondary transition from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

Successful Transitions for All Blog Series - Post 3 - Self-Determination

Expect, Engage, and Empower: Successful Transitions for All!
Blog Post #3

“No one rises to low expectations.”
Les Brown

December is a busy month. Preparing for and enjoying the holidays. Planning, shopping, baking and decorating. Traveling and spending time with family and friends in the community and places of worship.

December is also an important month for secondary transition for youth in their last year of high school.

Some know college or other postsecondary education is their next step. For them, it is the month of finishing up and submitting applications to programs starting in Fall 2024. For some, they may be receiving early decision letters from colleges and universities. For others, December may be the month when they begin to make decisions about their futures, including finding or expanding their work opportunities and independent living.

For most youth, they will be making decisions about themselves for themselves. Young adults at the age of majority are personally and legally responsible for their decisions, but successful, seamless secondary transition does not wait until age of majority to teach decision-making.

Future success for individuals with disabilities depends on a foundation of high expectations.  When youth view themselves as able, and are optimistic for their futures, they are motivated to strive for the adult lives they imagine.

Building and fortifying this inner strength should begin as early as possible for students with disabilities, as it should for all students. Those closest to students—their families, friends, mentors and teachers—all add bricks to the foundation.

Self-Determination and High Expectations

Growing up, Dr. Vinchelle Hardison spent much of her childhood in pediatric hospitals due to multiple disabilities and developed a desire to care for children in similar situations.

She began her practice as a medical doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, June 24, 2021, after receiving services from Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation (MVR). MVR helped fund her education, educational supplies, certification testing, and provided guidance and counseling over 12 years.

Hardison attributed her drive to succeed and self-determination to her mother, who raised her to believe she had the ability and strength to achieve her dreams.

Indeed, research demonstrates that students with disabilities improve their performance and outcomes when they are held to high expectations and have access to the general education curriculum. By offering and supporting challenging objectives, educators and vocational rehabilitation counselors can have major roles in helping students with disabilities create their foundations of self-determination.

“There is no greater disability in society,
than the inability to see a person as more.”

Robert M. Hensel

Educators help students with disabilities develop self-determination skills by:

  • Using person-centered planning to support students in establishing their own transition goals, including postsecondary education, career and independent living;
  • Creating and maintaining a system that supports family involvement and empowers families to support the self-determination;
  • Ensuring that students are actively involved in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings that include teachers, families, vocational rehabilitation (VR) program counselors and other agency representatives as appropriate; and
  • Engaging students to jointly plan their comprehensive, rigorous education programs, with appropriate conditions/accommodations for learning, and their VR transition and pre-employment transition services programs that ensure they have a successful pathway to independence and competitive integrated employment beyond high school.

Developing Self-Determination Skills

Self-determination activities are those that result in students with disabilities having the ability, opportunity, authority and support to:

  • Communicate and makes personal decisions;
  • Communicate choices and exercise control over the type and intensity of services, supports and other assistance they receive;
  • Control resources to obtain needed services, supports and other assistance;
  • Participate in, and contribute to, their communities; and
  • Advocate for themselves and others, develop leadership skills through training in self-advocacy and play a key role in their own futures.

Eric Choi is an example of what can be achieved through self-determination. Choi led an active life until one day he flew over his bike’s handlebars and broke his neck. While he was in the hospital, Choi had an interpreter come in to help his wife understand his injuries. Being bilingual, Choi realized his potential to become an interpreter as a new vocation.

With counseling, guidance and assistive technology from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Choi launched his career as a contract Korean interpreter, allowing him to work independently and set his own schedule. “It gives me pride and self-confidence that my disability is not limiting myself and my family financially, and there’s a lot more potential down the road,” said Choi.

Even though Choi acquired a disability as an adult, he exemplifies why it is important for students with disabilities to work on self-determination skills and what can come from their self-determination.

All students can benefit from self-determination activities and exercising informed choice. Schools can help foster self-determination and VR agencies can enhance career decision-making to assist students with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities, to achieve their desired secondary school and post school goals.

“High achievement always takes the place in the
framework of high expectation.”

Charles Kettering

We hope you take time this month to renew the focus on supporting self-determination of all children, youth and young adults with disabilities. Happy Holidays!

Thank you!

Valerie C. Williams
Office of Special Education Program
Carol L. Dobak
Deputy Commissioner
Delegated the authority to perform the
functions and duties of the Commissioner
Rehabilitation Services Administration

Vocational Rehabilitation Success Stories provided by state VR programs through their annual reports.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

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