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Domain Six

Career Development

Career development is the process of developing and refining career goals over time (Lindstrom, 2008).  For individuals with disabilities, career development is often complex, nonlinear, and chaotic (Lindstrom, L., Boren, B., & Miesch, J., 2011).   The Career Development Continuum is a visual representation of the three areas of career development:

  • Career Awareness - Learn about a wide variety of jobs and career

  • Career Exploration - Explore, research, and plan for the future

  • Career Preparation - Gain work experience, education and training

It is also a guide to what can be done in the classroom to teach all students about career development.  Dr. George Tilson says “exposure precedes interest.” That means that as educators, best practice is to expose students, and let them have different opportunities to experience things, so they can begin to decide what career pathway would be possible in their future.  This continuum shows different activities that would be appropriate in each area to prepare students with disabilities to have greater success in college, careers, and life.


Career development is a lifelong process that evolves and changes over the course of one's lifetime.  Students with disabilities who receive career development support through career awareness, exploration, and preparation are more likely to find employment in a career they enjoy and which they are successful. Career development focuses on enabling students with disabilities to learn about their strengths, preferences, interests, and needs and develop their skills to be able to make good decisions about their future and maximize their contribution to the communities they live and work in. Several authors support the notion that career development should be “purpose-centered” and strength-based (Tilson, 2016).  Dr. George Tilson states in his article "Enhancing Cross-agency Collaboration Through the Use of a Universal Discovery Instrument: Introducing the Life and Career Assessment Matrix"; “In the grand scheme of things, those of us in the fields of education, human service, and workforce development are "opportunity brokers." We connect people with disabilities – at all ages and life circumstances – to opportunities for meaningful and valued lives, within the arenas of work, lifelong learning, independent living, and community membership and contribution" (Tison, 2016). When we seek to discover a person’s strengths, preferences, interests, and needs through transition assessments, interviews and family collaboration we can be that “opportunity broker.”  

There are many different types of employment, and many different types of supports available for individuals with disabilities to enable them to achieve meaningful employment.  I believe that every person, no matter their disability, should have the option of working.


Some of the employment supports available are:


Job Training: Prepares an employee to perform a task by providing them with the information about the task and how to complete it.  It may be in a vocational setting, educational setting, on-the-job, or a training facility.


Job Placement Services: Job placement services will help a person find the right job for them.  Often times there are resume writing workshops, cover letter workshops, skills assessments, interviewing skills that will determine the best jobs for the persons skill set.


Supported Employment: Supported employment can be a temporary or ongoing service. Some people need help learning the requirements of a new job and then can complete those requirements independently or with less support. Some people need ongoing support on a job. These services might include a job coach that is there temporarily and then “checks in” as you need them or may be there to support you on an ongoing basis.


Customized Employment: Customized employment is a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions, and interests of a job candidate and the identified business needs of an employer. Customized Employment utilizes an individualized approach to employment planning and job development — one person at a time . . . one employer at a time.


Sheltered Employment:  For adults over the age of 24 who are having difficulty participating in community based services and need more time to acquire job skills, a few states offer the option of sheltered employment. Sheltered employment allows people to do real work (usually contracted by outside companies) in a segregated site. Sheltered employment should be viewed as a step in the training process but not a final destination.


The Logic Model for Transition in Delaware was developed by Dr. George Tilson (Tilson, 2016).  This is a person-centered instrument that provides transition activities for students with disabilities and career development ideas for all students beginning in elementary school through high school. Two additional tools are The Life and Career Assessment Matrix and the Positive Personal Profile that can be used by educators as they help students with disabilities navigate their paths to their future.  In SPED 862, I developed a Positive Personal Profile for a student, which helped her have a clearer picture of what her strengths, preferences, interests, and needs were.  From there, she was able to explore different career pathways that would best suit her.

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Respond to employment trends and needs in the community

Modify support and modify work and community environments to accommodate youth with disabilities

Ensure effective work placements based on student interests and strengths (i.e., student-directed job development)

Use or share instructional resources addressing work-related behaviors and skills (e.g., job skills curricula, job application skills

Provide or facilitate instruction in career awareness

Provide teachers with resources for career awareness and exploration

Communicate regularly with employers, business, and work site personnel

Provide or facilitate on-the-job support for students (e.g., modifying work environments, facilitating natural supports)

Collaborate with career/technical education programs to include students with disabilities

Develop school-based employment experiences and curricula (e.g., student-run businesses, in-school internships) when needed

Coordinate work-based programs (e.g., work-study, paid work experiences, internships)

Work Based Learning

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth defines work-based learning as a “supervised program sponsored by an education or training organization that links knowledge gained at the work site with a planned program of study. Experiences range in intensity, structure, and scope and include activities as diverse as site visits, job shadowing, paid and unpaid internships, structured on-the job training, and the more formal work status as apprentice or employee” (NCWD, 2017). Work-based learning experiences have been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of adult employment success for students and youth with disabilities (OSERS, 2015).  For youth with disabilities, one of the most important research findings show that work experience during high school (paid or unpaid) helps them get jobs at higher wages after they graduate (NCWD, 2017). Other benefits to youth with disabilities are:

·       Gain basic work skills

·       Learn teamwork and problem solving skills

·       Learn how to collaborate

·       Establish a connection between school and work

·       Learn responsibility

·       Learn proper business etiquette and workplace expectations

·       Develop occupational and technical skills

·       Increased school engagement

·       Improved school attendance

·       Increases self-confidence and builds self-esteem

·       Fosters career exploration

There are many benefits to the employer such as:

·       Motivated employee

·       Community partnership with school and business

·       Opportunity to hire a strong candidate who is knowledgeable about your business, job ready

·       Improved retention rates

·       Opportunities for current employees to mentor a student with disabilities

·       Reduced training costs upon hiring

·       Loyal, dedicated employee

In our district, we have a program called Workability I.   Workability I is funded and administered by the California Department of Education (CDE).  It provides pre-employment skills training, employment placement and follow-up for high school students in special education.  In our district, we serve about 250 high school students and 100 middle school students and provide them with career awareness through field trips and work experience once they reach the age of 16.  We have two job developers who manage the grant, get the students, provide some training on interviewing skills and job skills for the students, and work with the employers to fit the right student with the right job.  My hope for the next school year is to provide additional work-based opportunities not only through Workability I grant but also by working with employers directly.

We also have a fantastic Adult Transition Program.  Our students in this program participate in many of our Career Technical Education classes.  Several students have attained a Food Handler Certificate through our CTE class and are now running micro-businesses.  One business is coffee and donuts.  This student comes weekly and sells coffee and donuts to the staff at our Special Education office.  Another business is a cafe at one of our education sites.  Students here provide snacks, beverages, and lunches several days a week under the supervision of our ATP director and our CTE instructor.  Next school year, we are going to be offering the food handling certificate classes after school for our students with disabilities who do not have time in their daily course load to take this class.  This is a result of collaborating with the Director of Adult Education, the CTE teacher and myself.

In order for some students to be successful in a workplace, environment they need a workplace support plan.  Such plans address the individual needs of a student with disabilities and help them perform their jobs successfully.  It also addresses the employers requirements and expectations for the student.  Some of the accommodations that might be needed are: use of cell phone to record information, digital organizers, instructions in writing, increased learning time, dividing tasks into smaller tasks or a workplace mentor.  What's important to remember here, is that it's individualized, and it's between the student with disabilities and the employer.


I have included a work-based Prezi presentation that I did for SPED 862 that further explains the benefits of work-based learning for the student, school, business and community.  In addition, I've added some work-based learning resources.  

Competencies: 6.1, 6.2, 6.5, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10, 6.11

Google Classroom

One of the ways that I have provided administrators, teachers, parents with resources is by creating a Google Classroom.  In my Google classroom, you will find resources for education, employment, and independent living for both mild/moderate students and moderate/severe students broken, down by grade level.  I started this classroom as a way for teachers to get resources and to encourage them to start their own classrooms and share them with their Special Education team.  My goal is for each team to have a shared classroom with all of their students.  With a shared classroom, assessments can be assigned and turned in throughout the school year, and the results can be used to write the student's present level of performance, transition plans and IEP goals.  The benefit of a shared classroom is that often times we have students on our case loads that we do not have in our classes.  When you don't see the student, you don't know the student.  This is a way, all team members can collaborate together and share assessment results. 

My Google Classroom Code is: kpwsytq

I encourage you to take a look at it and create a Google classroom for your own practice.

Competencies: 6.4, 6.5, 6.6


Career Development Continuum. New Ways to Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from 

Lindstrom, L., (2008). Career development: Options and opportunities. Impact: Feature Issue on Employment and Women with Disabilities. MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

Lindstrom, L., Doren, B., & Miesch, J. (2011, June 22). Waging a Living: Career Development and Long- Term Employment Outcomes for Young Adults with Disabilities. Exceptional Children.

Tilson, G. P. (2016). Enhancing cross-agency collaboration through the use of a universal discovery instrument: Introducing the Life and Career Assessment Matrix. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation,44(3), 257-271. doi:10.3233/jvr-160796

Career Awareness, Exploration, and Preparation

Beginning in elementary school, students begin learning about career awareness when they study about community.  They learn about what fire fighters, police men and women, doctors, nurses, and teachers do, and how they contribute to the community.  From career awareness they continue on to career exploration and begin to discover how their interests, values, and skills can relate to different careers they have an interest in.  Job shadowing, guest speakers, employer presentations, workplace visits, career fairs and college fairs are all suggested activities that take place as students with disabilities explore careers.  Career preparation is the final step in the continuum.  Students at this stage build their resumes and cover letters, learn how to apply for a job,  practice interview skills, develop soft skills, and learn how to advocate for their workplace needs.  This past year we worked with United Way and set up mock-interviews for students.  They provided the interviewers, and we provided the students.  It was a great experience for students to practice their interviewing skills and experience what it is like to do an interview.  We started with one high school and hope to expand it further next year.

In SPED 862, I developed a Positive Personal Profile for a student, which helped her have a clearer picture of what her strengths, preferences, interests, and needs were.  From there, she was able to explore different career pathways that would best suit her.

Competencies: 6.3, 6.4, 6.5



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