We Must Do Better
By Kelly Nye-Lengerman, Stephanie Patrick, and Isadora Rodriguez-Legendre
Every few months, staff from the Disability Rights Center-NH, UNH Institute on Disability, and NH Council on Developmental Disabilities gather together to plan the focus area for each issue. We consider the most pressing issues and look at where there are opportunities to help our readers understand these issues differently. The issue of transition was an easy selection, as all of our organizations regularly hear from students and families who have high expectations for work, college, and careers after high school but who are falling through the cracks during the transition years (16-21).
As we began planning for this issue and what the future of transition might look like, we looked back at where we came from. Transition was the focus of the very first RAPP Sheet back in the summer of 2004. In that issue, seventeen years ago, we were talking about the same thing we are now – the need for a robust, student-led transition plan for every student with a disability; for an individualized transition plan that develops skills while in school and broadly explores the post high school choices for students with disabilities. This begins with the student defining their goals and dreams, and creative educators supporting them on the journey to make their dream – or some version of it – a reality.
Since then, New Hampshire has seen dozens of pilot projects and initiatives trying to tackle transition in creative ways. Some have been successful, but none have resulted in widespread changes or been adopted as the new norm. There is an expansive body of evidence nationwide on how to make transition meaningful for students with disabilities and who should be involved, yet we continue to fail our students and miss critical opportunities to build broader, system-wide supports.
We must set a higher standard, and to do so requires collaboration. We must join together to hold school districts, area agencies, community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation, parents, and students accountable to develop robust, creative transition plans for all students. There is an expectation, as federal and state laws require schools to provide certain services to help students plan for post school activities such as college, vocational education, employment, adult services, and independent living.
Goals during transition planning should be student-driven and reflect the student’s preferences, strengths, dreams, and aspirations while also being realistic and achievable. To do this, students need to participate in the planning process as much as possible and they must have the support of informed and interested teams.
In this issue, we are providing practical suggestions to improve the process as well as a personal story of someone who received the supports he needed to successfully transition, even though there were delays. We hope that these tools will help our readers to understand why transition is so important and shape their commit to making it better for every student.
We cannot be satisfied with the status quo. We can come together to improve transition services in our state. The next generation of students with disabilities are eager and expect to be part of the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our communities across New Hampshire. The quality of our transition supports and the experiences students have in high school play a critical role in supporting a positive and inclusive trajectory into adulthood.
From the moment of diagnosis, parents of children with disabilities enter a new world of services and supports. In the Fall 2019 issue of the RAPP Sheet, we explored the experience of disability for young children and their families from diagnosis to age three. This issue is available at https://drcnh.org/rap-sheet/fall-2019-big-dreams/.
Schools are required by law to provide transition services. The Code of Federal Regulations (34 CFR § 300.43) defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that
“1) are designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
2) are based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes
(ii) Related services;
(iii) Community experiences;
(iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and
(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.”