In the past 30 years, federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have established policies and programs to protect the civil rights of youth with disabilities and increase education and employment opportunities for those individuals. Nonetheless, youth with disabilities still lag behind their peers in graduation rates, employment rates, and social connectedness, and it’s not clear how much the disparities in those outcomes are caused by the youth’s circumstances and how much are caused by shortcomings in the available support systems.
This episode of On the Evidence focuses on transition-age youth (ages 14 to 24) who have disabilities and must navigate a complex and fragmented system to access benefits and support services.
Recent research suggests that it is possible to intervene with youth with disabilities and smooth the transition to adulthood, especially by providing well-designed, customized supports to specific populations. However, participation in those types of customized programs after high school tends to be low. The episode discusses findings from past studies on transition-age youth with disabilities and explores the potential for developing services at a community level to get buy-in, enhance participation, and improve outcomes.
The guests for this episode are Kim D. Kaiser and David Wittenburg. Kaiser is an autism advocate, a certified peer support specialist, and the parent of a teenage son on the spectrum. She is also a parent advisor for the nonprofit, Families Together in New York State, a family-run organization that represents families and youth with social, emotional, behavioral, and cross-systems challenges. In addition, Kaiser is a program director for the Color of Autism, a foundation committed to serving African Americans who are affected by autism spectrum disorders. Wittenburg, who is the disability area director at Mathematica, has expertise in interventions to promote employment for people with disabilities, particularly interventions that serve youth as they transition into adulthood.
Listen to the full episode below.
A version of the full episode with closed captioning is also available on Mathematica’s YouTube channel here.
Wittenburg references research by Mathematica on evidence-based interventions for youth with disabilities who received Supplemental Security Income (SSI). He specifically cites findings from a report for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, but additional research from Mathematica about services to improve economic and educational outcomes for youth with disabilities receiving SSI is available here and here.
Wittenburg also references a 2005 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office on problems with alignment and fragmentation among federal programs serving people with disabilities, which is available here.
Read more about the conversations that Kaiser and other Black mothers have with their children who are affected by autism spectrum disorders on the topics of race, disability, and policing in this recent Forbes article.