Life After High School: Tools for Transition

Helping a student with disabilities prepare for life after high school requires thoughtful organization and planning. This presentation describes three ways to support this important time of life:

  1. High School and Beyond Plan
  2. IEP Transition Plan
  3. Agency Support

Here are resources referenced in the video:

  • OSPI Model Forms: Scroll down to find and open the IEP Form with Secondary Transition
  • OSPI Graduation Requirements, including links to download the High School and Beyond Plan in various languages
  • DDA: Developmental Disabilities Administration
  • DVR: Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • TVR: Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation, for Native Americans with disabilities
  • DSB: Department of Services for the Blind, for people with blindness or low vision
  • WAC 392-172A-03090, including description of Age of Majority rights that transfer to the student at age 18
  • PAVE article about Supported Decision Making
  • OSPI: The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has a family liaison for special education
  • OEO: The Office of the Educational Ombuds provides online resources and 1:1 support
  • OCR: The Office for Civil Rights can help with questions about equity and access
  • ESD: Nine Education Service Districts; each has a behavioral health navigator, and some are licensed to provide behavioral health services
  • Developmental Disabilities Ombuds
  • PAVE School to Adulthood Toolkit

Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools

A Brief Overview

  • Vocational rehabilitation (VR) is a federal right. Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) are one way to get support. Another is through 1:1 counseling and an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • In Washington State, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-ETS and VR services. To seek support for a student still working toward a diploma, contact the DVR counselor assigned to the student’s school. DSHS maintains an interactive map: Find a School Transition Counselor.
  • Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).
  • After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). Each TVR agency operates independently. Contact information is listed on a TVR website page, within DVR’s website.
  • Graduating seniors can seek DVR, TVR, or DSB services now!

Full Article

Teenagers and young adults with disabilities have additional considerations when deciding what life looks like after high school. The transition planning process begins in middle school, when all Washington State students work with counseling staff to begin their High School and Beyond Plan.

For students with disabilities, that lengthy planning process is enhanced when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) adds a Transition Plan, required by the school year when a student turns 16.

Vocational rehabilitation agencies can be part of that process and support a warm hand-off into the world of work. PAVE provides an infographic Transition Triangle with more about the way these services can wrap around a student as they move through school and beyond.

Vocational Rehabilitation services are a civil right

The right to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services is an aspect of Title 1 of the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In 2014, the Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees equitable access to public spaces and programs, was further amended to include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) were already an aspect of the Rehabilitation Act, but WIOA further defines Pre-ETS and requires that VR agencies set aside 15 percent of their funding to provide or arrange for the provision of Pre-ETS.

Note that Section 504 is also a feature of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guarantees the right to accommodations for equitable access in public facilities and programs.

Section 504 is the basis for a student’s “504 Plan” that provides accommodations, modifications, and anti-discrimination measures for educational access. Section 504 protections aren’t limited to school: Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 protects a person in higher education, work, and elsewhere throughout the lifespan. Students with IEPs also have Section 504 protections.

In other words, the accommodations from a student’s 504 Plan or IEP travel with them into higher education, work, and more. Section 504 and the ADA protect an individual with disabilities throughout their life. Denial of accommodation is considered discrimination under these civil rights laws.

In Washington State, vocational rehabilitation services are provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which is housed within the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

After graduation, a student with a tribal affiliation may be eligible for support from Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR). TVR agencies operate with sovereignty; contact information is included within DVR’s website, on a TVR website page.

Individuals with vision impairment and blindness are served through a separate vocational rehabilitation agency in Washington State, the Department of Services for the Blind (DSB).

Pre-ETS help students look ahead to their job options after graduation

Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) include job exploration, work-based learning, counseling about further educational options, workplace readiness and self-advocacy training.

Summer programs are available in some areas. To find the forms to enroll in Pre-ETS and for information about programs and regional counselors in your area, visit DVR’s website page called High School Transition.

Pre-ETS include five required services. Each service in this list is linked to a resource for further investigation. DVR counselors can provide additional resources to suit an individual’s unique circumstances:

  1. Job exploration counseling: career speakers, interest and ability inventories, investigation of labor market statistics and trends, and more
  2. Work-based learning experiences: in-school or after school opportunities, including internships, provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. According to the Brookings Institution, work-based learning is predictive of future job quality.
  3. Counseling on opportunities for further education: How to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and how to locate disability resource centers at colleges and universities are part of college readiness.
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring, training in disability disclosure, and more

Order of Selection impacts access to 1:1 DVR support

The Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) is a DVR program that is separate from Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). The IPE is supported 1:1, whereas pre-employment services are generally provided to groups of students.

DVR operates with Order of Selection when clients apply for individualized vocational rehabilitation (VR) counseling. Through Order of Selection, individuals with the highest needs for support are prioritized.

When developing an IPE, the client and counselor establish a goal for employment; the counselor provides coaching, logistical and sometimes financial support to help make that happen. The case remains open until the employment goal is met if the client remains meaningfully engaged in the process. IPE services might include educational support if further education is needed to achieve a job goal.

Can a student get Pre-ETS and 1:1 help?

A student might receive services through both programs—Pre-ETS and the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). However, families should be aware that there are some specific rules related to Order of Selection.

  • If a student is already participating in Pre-ETS, the student can apply for an IPE and Order of Selection will not impact the student’s ongoing engagement in Pre-ETS.
  • If the student applies for an IPE first and is put on a waiting list, then the student also will have to wait to begin Pre-ETS.
  • A student will have more access to DVR services by engaging with the Pre-ETS first and then considering whether to also apply for individualized support.

Resources for more information

Research shows that access to an array of collaborative services during high school improves post-secondary outcomes, especially when school staff and service providers get to know one another and there are “warm hand-offs” between individuals who develop trusted relationships with the young person, according to data shared by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). Another place for data and detail about WIOA is the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC).

Engagement with vocational rehabilitation services is supported by initiatives endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). These federal agencies promote the concept of Employment First, a framework for systems change centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life. 

The PACER Center, a Minnesota-based agency founded in 1977 to promote a “parents helping parents” philosophy, supports the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, which offers a collection of materials with more information about vocational rehabilitation and how to benefit from pre-employment and employment services. Included in the PACER Center’s materials is a booklet for parents to help young people prepare for college and careers.

Washington’s DVR program provides a video about the school-to-work transition with young people talking about their experiences with the agency and how it helped.

School to Adulthood: Transition Planning Toolkit for High School, Life, and Work

You can print this toolkit as a PDF! Click to download

Looking to the future can feel exciting, hopeful, confusing, overwhelming—or all emotions at once. For families supporting a young person with a disability, it’s never too soon to begin planning to ensure a smooth process from the teen years toward whatever happens next. This toolkit supports families as they organize this multiyear project.

For a visual map of the ages and stages of high school transition process, check out PAVE’s infographic: What’s Next? High School Transition Planning Timeline.

Learn the Words

A good place to begin is a Glossary of Key Terms for Life After High School Planning, which provides vocabulary building and an overview of topics relevant to this important phase of life. 

Pandemic Impacts

A student receiving special education services has a right to education through age 21, if needed, to meet requirements and achieve readiness. Some IEP teams may determine that because of COVID-19 a student who has not yet received a diploma needs to stay in school beyond 21 to access Recovery Services, a term developed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to help students recover learning losses related to the pandemic. Decisions about Recovery Services are made by IEP teams, which include parents and students.

OSPI provides a Family Information Session on Transition Recovery, available on YouTube from June 2, 2021. The presentation slides are also available online, and families may call OSPI at 360-725-6075 with questions about Transition Recovery Services.

Earning a Diploma

To earn a high-school diploma in Washington State, students must:

OSPI provides a two-page summary of graduation requirements to support families and students. Included is this statement: “Students who receive special education services under an Individualized Education Program (IEP), also have an IEP Transition Plan, which begins by the school year when a student turns 16 or sooner. The HSBP is required to align with their IEP Transition Plan to ensure a robust planning process toward post-high school goals.”

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans.

The state’s 2019 legislature changed graduation requirements (HB 1599). Students may earn a Certificate of Academic Achievement (CAA) or a Certificate of Individual Achievement (CIA) to graduate. How a student earns a CIA is determined by their IEP team.

Students with disabilities seeking a diploma through General Educational Development (GED) testing may be eligible for testing accommodations. A website called passged.com lists a variety of disability conditions that might make a person eligible for testing supports.

Commencement Access

Regardless of when a diploma is earned, a student can participate in Commencement at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Families may want to plan well in advance with school staff to consider how senior year events are accessible to youth with disabilities.

The Big Picture

The right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) includes the right to school-based services that prepare a young person with a disability for adult life.

Here are links to a training video, infographic, and article:

Various state agencies collaborated to provide a downloadable guidebook: Guidelines for Aligning High School & Beyond Plans (HSBP) and IEP Transition Plans. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about Graduation Pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.

Student Self-Advocacy

As they move toward adulthood, many students benefit from opportunities to practice skills of self-advocacy and self-determination. One way to foster those skills is to encourage youth to get more involved in their own Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). To support that, PAVE provides this article: Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future. Included is a handout that students might use to contribute to meeting agendas.

The RAISE Center (National Resources for Advocacy, Independence, Self-determination and Employment) provides a blog with transition related news, information, ideas and opinions. Topics in 2020-21 include how to “Be the Best You,” how issues of race and disability intersect with equity, and how “The Disability Agenda Could Bring Unity to A Fragmented Society,” by RAISE Center co-director Josie Badger, who is a person living with disability.

Student Rights after High School

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) ends when a student leaves secondary education. The protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are ongoing throughout the lifespan.

These laws provide for appropriate accommodations in public programs and facilities. To support these disability protections, The IEP accommodations page or a Section 504 Plan can travel with a student into higher education, a vocational program, or work. Often a special services office at an institution for higher learning includes a staff member responsible for ensuring that disability rights are upheld. PAVE provides an article with general information about Section 504 rights that apply to all ages: Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations.

Universal Design supports everyone

Asking for rights to be upheld is not asking for special favors. A person living with disability, Kyann Flint, wrote an article for PAVE to describe how Universal Design supports inclusion. Her article can provide inspiration for young people looking for examples of what is possible, now as ever: COVID-19 and Disability: Access to Work has Changed.

Agencies that can help

Washington State’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides services for high-school students engaged in transition planning as well as adults seeking employment. PAVE provides an article that describes Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) and more: Ready for Work: Vocational Rehabilitation Provides Guidance and Tools.

DVR’s website includes a section with information about Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR), which is available for people with tribal affiliations in some areas of the state. Each TVR program operates independently. Note that some TVR programs list service areas by county but that sovereign lands are not bound by county lines. Contact each agency for complete information about program access, service area, and eligibility.

Services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are provided by Washington’s Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth (CDHY), which was formerly called the Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss (CDHL). This statewide resource supports all deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, regardless of where they live or attend school.

Services for individuals who are blind or living with low vision are provided by Washington’s Department of Services for the Blind (DSB). Youth services, Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), Vocational Rehabilitation, Business Enterprise Program, and mobility and other independent-living skills are served by DSB.

The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) also has a variety of school-to-work and waiver programs that support youth. PAVE provides a video to support families through the DDA eligibility process. An article provides further detail: How to Prepare for a DDA Assessment.

Not all youth with disabilities are able to access employment-related services through DVR, TVR, DSB, or DDA. A limited additional option is Goodwill, which provides access to a virtual learning library. Students can take classes at their own pace for skills development. Employment skills, workplace readiness, interviewing skills and more are part of the training materials. To request further information, call 253-573-6507, or send an email to: library@goodwillwa.org.

Graduation’s over: Why is school calling?

Schools are responsible to track the outcomes of their special education services. Here’s an article to help families get ready to talk about how things are going: The School Might Call to Ask About a Young Adult’s Experience After High School: Here’s Help to Prepare

Benefits Planning

A consideration for many families of youth with disabilities is whether lifelong benefits are needed. Applying for social security just past the young person’s 18th birthday creates a pathway toward a cash benefit and enables the young person to access Medicaid (public health insurance) and various programs that depend on Medicaid eligibility.

The Washington Initiative for Supported Employment (gowise.org) provides benefit planning information and resources through a program called BenefitU.

When a person 18 or older has a disability, family members may want to stay involved in helping them make decisions. Supported Decision Making (SDM) is the formal name for one legal option. Washington law (Chapter 11.130 in the Revised Code of Washington) includes Supported Decision Making as an option under the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act. The law changed in 2020 when the state passed Senate Bill 6287. The changes took effect Jan. 1, 2022. PAVE’s article about Supported Decision Making has more information about this and other options for families to support an adult with a disability.

Transition Triangle

The transition triangle talks about the relationship between the High School and Beyond Plan , the IEP transition plan and Agency supports from DDA, DVR and DSB. within that triangle of support is the student asking themselves: Who they are, what is their future and their goals.

The planning process to support a student with disabilities toward their adult life plans requires coordination and organization. This graphic provides a visual overview of the work and who is responsible to help.

The center upside down triangle describes key questions for a student as they move through school and toward adulthood:

  1. Who am I? Answers include what the student is interested in, what they are good at, what they struggle with, and how they see themselves.
  2. What’s my future? Students can begin to imagine where they might work, whether higher education will be part of their future, and how they might live.
  3. How do I reach my goals? The answers are a long-term project. A good planning process ensures that work done today is moving the student toward their vision for adult life.

The three colored triangles on the corners of the graphic represent three tools that help students ask and answer these questions.

The purple triangle on the bottom left represents the High School and Beyond Plan. Washington State requires schools to begin supporting all students with a High School and Beyond Plan before they leave middle school. The plan includes questions to help the student think about where they might work someday and how much education they will need to get that job. The plan is designed to make sure time spent in school is moving the student toward adult goals. The High School and Beyond Plan addresses the same questions that are listed in the center of our triangle and is often managed by staff in a school’s counseling center.

The blue triangle on the bottom right represents the transition plan, which is required in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) by the school year when they turn 16. Goals in the IEP Transition Plan include further education/training, employment, and independent living as parts of a student’s program. A student with disabilities has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until they earn a diploma or turn 21. The IEP includes a target graduation date, determined by the IEP team. The state requires the IEP Transition Plan to align with the High School and Beyond Plan. School staff and the family collaborate to make sure these two tools match up to best support a student’s progress.

The teal triangle on top of the pyramid represents agencies that might provide Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) has a variety of school-to-work programs for eligible students: A DDA case manager can provide information about options. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) provides Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for students still in school as well as vocational rehabilitation services for adults with disabilities. As they transition out of school, members of some Native American tribes may access Tribal Vocational Rehabilitation (TVR) services. The Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) is a separate agency providing Pre-ETS for youth and vocational rehabilitation services for individuals who are blind or low vision. Staff from these agencies may work with an IEP team and counselors at school to make sure everyone is working together to support the student in the center.

Ideally a student with disabilities has people supporting all of the features on this transition triangle. Best practice is for all agencies and supporters to collaborate as they help a student move toward a successful adult life.

For direct assistance from PAVE, click Get Help. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides information about graduation requirements for a student in Washington State

Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School

Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School

A Brief Overview

  • Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) need to have a Transition Plan written into the IEP by the school year when they turn 16, but it’s never too soon to start talking, planning and envisioning the future.
  • Students can stay in school until they are 21—an option for youth who need more time to learn and prepare for adulthood. The IEP team determines a projected graduation date and writes this date into the IEP document.
  • Transition Services in the IEP can support a High School and Beyond Plan, Washington State’s toolkit that is a state requirement for all students to get ready for next steps. Various state agencies serving transition-age youth provide a comprehensive guidebook that describes how to align the HSBP with IEP Transition Planning. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about graduation pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.
  • In Washington, a student takes charge of educational programming at 18 unless other arrangements are designed. Read on for more details.
  • See our companion articles about Student-Led IEP meetings and a new option for pre-employment support through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Full Article

Senior year is loaded with projects, planning and a big push to finish requirements and figure out what happens next. For students with special needs, there can be a few extra steps, and it’s never too soon to start thinking and planning for this important transition.

Here are some practical tips and a range of resources to help youth and families make well-informed decisions.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) must include a Transition Plan with individualized Transition Services by the school year in which a student turns 16. Best practice is to start planning for this in seventh or eighth grade, as outlined in the state-required High School and Beyond Plan. If you are starting later than that, don’t worry! Get started now, and your efforts will certainly reap benefits into the future.

When a Transition Plan is added to an IEP, consider that this life-after-high-school planning now focuses the IEP on post-secondary goals and outcomes. Helping the student engage with the IEP team in conversation around these three questions can help direct planning and school supports that will help the student reach the written Transition Plan Goals:  

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, capacities—the Present Levels of Performance in the IEP)
  2. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations—Transition Plan Goals in the IEP)
  3. How do I get there? (transition services, courses, activities, supports, service linkages, community connections, help to overcome barriers—Annual Goals, Accommodations and other provisions included in the IEP)

The graduation standards for a student eligible for special education are the same as for all other students. In our state, a district’s flexibility in determining how a student fulfills those requirements comes from the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 180-51-115). Each school district will have its own policy for implementing these state rules, and you can request a copy of your district’s policy. If there is any confusion, you can encourage the school to consult the district special education office for guidance.

In short, the student’s IEP team determines how the student will meet graduation requirements and how long she/he will stay in school.

A student doesn’t have to graduate at the end of a traditional senior year. A student remains eligible for special education until graduation requirements are met and the student has earned a high school diploma (WAC Section 392-172A-02000). However, a school does not have to hold back credits for a student to remain eligible. The student’s IEP team determines the student’s graduation plan, including the planned graduation date. The student could potentially meet all graduation requirements, but if the IEP team has determined that the student needs further schooling to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), then the student has a right to stay in school to age 21.

In the meantime, a student can participate in commencement ceremonies at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Students and families should communicate with a special education teacher, case manager or school counselor to ensure that all information about graduation and senior year events is clearly understood and shared. Plan early for needed accommodations at senior year events.

When assessing the Transition Plan in the IEP you can ask these questions:

  • Is the plan age appropriate?
  • Is information provided by more than one source?
  • Do the post-secondary goals consider all areas of life after high school, including employment, further education, independent living and community engagement?
  • Are the goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely?
  • Is a target graduation date included in the IEP?

In Washington State, the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) has provided a guidance document for all students called the High School and Beyond Plan. You can access that plan and the state’s graduation requirements on OSPI’s Website.

For Special Education students, the plan is not replaced but can be further supported by the plan that includes Transition Services in the IEP. Each school district determines the precise guidelines for students to meet the requirements of the High School and Beyond Plan, and some schools use tools with different names. Becoming familiar with the state-recommended format and then comparing this tool to your school’s requirements and the student’s specific IEP programming is a good way to participate in making sure your student has a robust plan.

A student takes charge of educational planning and programming at the Age of Majority, which is 18 in Washington. According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 392-172A-03090), “Beginning not later than one year before the student reaches the age of 18, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed of the student’s rights under the act, if any, that will transfer to the student on reaching the age of majority.”

Parents have a few options if they wish to continue to have rights to participate in their child’s education:

  1. Guardianship (org)
  2. Power of Attorney (Washington State Legislature)
  3. The student can choose to include “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the student” on the IEP team (WAC Section 392-172A-03095).
  4. Another option is supported decision-making. Informing Families has a helpful tool for designing this voluntary, informal plan.

Families will want to clarify what specific roles and powers parents will retain under the arrangement designed by your family and the school. The special services office at your school may be able to help with this; without legal guardianship or Power of Attorney your student will need to sign consent for you to attend meetings and participate in decision-making.

Regardless of the arrangement, families will want to have some conversations to help a student envision a future and start to see how to get there. A variety of tools are available, including these:

For youth who struggle with behavioral health challenges, transitions can trigger some additional challenges. These resources may provide some helpful tips:

Another resource that might help with planning is the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Each school is assigned a DVR counselor to assist with pre-employment training. You can look up the name and phone number for your school’s DVR counselor online through a link provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. A new option for youth and families to receive pre-employment counseling is from a program called Foundational Community Supports. Check out PAVE’s companion article about this program.

Good luck with your planning! If you need more specific support unique to your situation, get help from one of our Parent Training and Information (PTI) resource coordinators by filling out a Help Request Form or by calling 1-800-572-7368.

Open Doors for Multicultural Families provides a Transition Resource Guide available in 10 languages