Young woman with a disability working at a computer.

HDI Helping Students With Disabilities Transition From School to Career

The University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute (HDI), along with valuable partners, has received a five-year Partnership in Employment Systems Change grant from the Administration for Community Living. The grant will help students with the most significant disabilities, specifically students age 18-21, transition from school to meaningful employment or postsecondary education in their communities.

HDI; the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR); Department of Education; Division of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities; Protection and Advocacy; Office for the Blind; Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities; Office of Autism; and the Kentucky Autism Training Center will work together to directly impact post-school outcomes for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Kentucky. This state-level intervention will impact students at the most critical point – their final years of school.

HDI’s aim, over the five years of this grant, is to improve youth outcomes within each of the Commonwealth’s 174 school districts by increasing integrated employment and participation in postsecondary education.

“As my son enjoys a wonderfully inclusive setting during his high school years, we constantly think about how we can channel his talents and people skills into a meaningful career,” said Stephanie Meredith, HDI information services director and the mother of a 16-year-old with Down syndrome. “I’m so incredibly excited to work on a project like this to help other young men and women like my son avoid ‘the cliff’ after high school and, instead, move seamlessly into employment opportunities where they can fulfill their potential as valuable members of their communities.”

The Partnership in Employment Systems Change intends to accomplish this goal by establishing a state-level employment work group that consists of the above partners, with representation from self-advocates and family members, to conduct a statewide needs assessment and develop policies fostering competitive, integrated employment as the first, preferred choice of youth with the most significant disabilities. HDI will also conduct professional development; create and disseminate information resources to families and students, as well as practitioners and employers; and track data outcomes to make sure we are making an impact.

Kathy Sheppard-Jones, the project’s lead and HDI executive director, is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The commitment that our partners have shown in developing this grant has been tremendous,” she said. “In bringing together state leaders, family members and self-advocates, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make significant strides in building stronger communities for all Kentuckians, and particularly for students with the most significant disabilities. Students should end their high school journey with excitement to begin the next chapter of their lives — lives that include work, learning and meaningful participation in their communities. It’s an honor to be part of the Kentucky Employment Partnership.”

See article in UK NOW.