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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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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 and interests.

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 following questions:

  • 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 knowledge)?
  • 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.
  • One-Stop 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 Development).
  • Postsecondary education programs. Many 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 success.

How can parents participate in providing career guidance to their child?

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 and interests;
  • Provide opportunities for their child to make choices and practice self-determination skills;
  • Provide opportunities for their child to experience work settings;
  • Provide disability-specific and career-specific information;
  • 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 process; and
  • Accept assistance rendered by peers, friends, community, agencies, and professionals in career guidance.


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.

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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.