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Improving Postsecondary Education Access and Results for Youth with Disabilities

By Megan A. Conway

A postsecondary degree is increasingly becoming an equalizer for individuals with disabilities seeking to enter and advance in the workforce. For the general population, level of education is correlated closely with employment rate and earnings. This correlation is even higher for people with disabilities. Fortunately, the number of postsecondary students who identify themselves as having a disability is on the rise, from 2.6% in 1978 to 10%-20% in 2002, with individuals who identify themselves as having a learning disability representing over half of these students (National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports, 2002). This increase is likely due to the passage of federal special education and disability rights legislation resulting in increased identification and educational supports, as well as changes in awareness and attitudes about disability.

Despite these gains in postsecondary participation, individuals with disabilities are still half as likely to be employed and significantly less likely to initiate and complete a postsecondary degree as are individuals without disabilities (National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports, 2002). There is an urgent need to further explore ways to improve access to and participation within postsecondary education for youth with disabilities.

Issues of Preparation

Barriers to preparation for postsecondary education is one area that needs to be addressed in increasing access and participation. The following four barriers are among the most significant:

Issues of Participation

Once in a postsecondary environment, students with disabilities often encounter barriers to participation, including:

Strategies for Improving Results

Six strategies that may be used in secondary and postsecondary schools to address the barriers identified here are the following:


Youth with disabilities must be given every opportunity to access and participate in postsecondary education. A postsecondary degree is a critical component of career success for all youth, and it is even more so for youth with disabilities. In order for equal postsecondary participation to become a reality for students with disabilities, schools must address issues in preparation and participation that impede student success.



National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports (2002, July). Briefing book and proceedings of the national summit on preparation for and support of youth with disabilities in postsecondary education and employment. Washington DC: Author.

Megan Conway is Assistant Professor and Coordinator with the Center on Disability Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu. She may be reached at 808/956-6166 or


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Citation: Gaylord, V., Johnson, D.R., Lehr, C.A., Bremer, C.D. & Hasazi, S. (Eds.). (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from


The print design version (PDF, 671 K, 36 pp.) of this issue of Impact is also available for free, complete with the color layout and photographs. This version looks the most like the newsletter as it was printed.

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