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Grant to Study Innovative Employment Intervention for Students with Disabilities

Grant to Study Innovative Employment Intervention for Students with Disabilities

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Bloomington, Ind. -- High school students with disabilities too often leave school without the connections they need to adult services and supports and are therefore unprepared for paid employment. Many remain unemployed and dependent on their families. Participants in a new research project, however, think that can change.

Five sites around the state are now gearing up to evaluate the Indiana School-to-Work Collaborative, an innovative team approach that calls for embedding an employment specialist and other employment resources in the schools. 

Indiana University’s Center on Community Living and Careers, a division of IU’s Institute on Disability and Community, will coordinate operations and implementation of the School-to-Work Collaborative, thanks to a five-year, $2.4 million research grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). NIDRR is a component of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

“We want to look at whether schools with embedded employment resources and a collaborative approach have better employment outcomes for young adults,” said Teresa Grossi, director of the Center on Community Living and Careers and the study’s principal investigator. The School-to-Work Collaborative will examine the number and type of jobs, average wages, and number of hours students work after they leave school as well as whether students and their families are more connected to resources and support services. “Additionally,” Grossi said, “we will look at student gains in self-determination skills.”

If successful, Indiana could replicate the model throughout the state and, hopefully, throughout the country, said Grossi, who noted, “One of the overarching goals of this research project is the sustainability of the model.”

Key to the Indiana program’s success will be the community provider employment specialist position embedded in the school and the collaboration of all the adult disability service providers. The employment specialist will act as a “single point of contact,” connecting school staff and teachers as well as students and their families to state agencies like Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services and other community employment resources and organizations. Prior to their final year in high school, students at the five sites will participate in several internships where they will be immersed in the work environment and receive on-the-job supports.

The primary target group of the study is students with a disability who are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation Services support and who may be at risk for dropping out or who are having difficulty obtaining a diploma and leave school with a certificate of completion. The targeted group of students has many skills to offer but often has difficulty meeting some of the academic requirements for a diploma.

Students will also gain self-determination skills through a structured curriculum as part of the school program. “We’ll focus on student employability skills,” said Grossi, “things like job-specific skills but also what we refer to as the ‘soft skills,’ social skills, communication, decision-making, problem-solving and other things that often present problems for individuals with disabilities when they’re trying to obtain or keep a job.”

Families of students involved in the School-to-Work Collaborative will also receive information about and trainings on employment, benefits, work incentives and more from IN*SOURCE, Indiana’s parent and training information center.

State agencies and organizations supporting and participating in the project include the Indiana Bureau of Rehabilitation Services; the Department of Education, Office of Special Education; IN*SOURCE; INAPSE, focused on employment first for individuals with disabilities; and INARF, representing the interests of Indiana disability service providers.

The five community teams, selected in February to begin creating their collaborative sites, are:

  • Carey Services, Marion, lead provider; Grant-Blackford Mental Health, Hillcroft Services, WorkOne, collaborative providers; Marion High School.

  • Easter Seals Crossroads, Indianapolis, lead provider; Sycamore Services, Noble of Indiana, collaborative providers; Ben Davis, Lawrence Central and Pike high schools.

  • Evansville Arc, Evansville, lead provider; Sycamore Services and others, collaborative providers; Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., selected schools.

  • Peak Community Services, Logansport, lead provider; Bona Vista, Cardinal Services, Four County Counseling Center, collaborative providers; Logansport High School.

  • Stone Belt Arc, Bedford, lead provider; CenterStone, LifeDesigns, collaborative providers, Bedford North Lawrence High School.

About the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community

The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana's University Center for Excellence on Disabilities, works to increase community capacity in disability through academic instruction, research, dissemination and training, and technical assistance. With a focus on employment, secondary education, and transition to adult life and services, the Indiana Institute’s Center on Community Living and Careers brings positive change to people with disabilities and their families as they work and participate in their communities. For more information on the Center or the School-to-Work Collaborative, contact Teresa Grossi at

About the Office of the Vice Provost for Research

The Indiana Institute receives support from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University Bloomington, which is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity, developing new multidisciplinary initiatives and maximizing the potential of faculty to accomplish path-breaking work.

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