Thriving in Trade School with a Disability

Support Services, Adaptive Tools & Resources to Succeed on the Vocational Path

As high school graduation draws near, students with disabilities encounter a spectrum of options for their transition into the working world. Some students find vocational programs to be a viable post-secondary option as they lead to meaningful, independent work in a skilled trade. The following guide highlights the benefits of vocational education, potential careers, and laws that protect both students and employees with disabilities. Employers can also find simple steps for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

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Why Vocational School?

Students with disabilities enjoy access to more opportunities than ever before. While many students decide to pursue a four-year degree, a growing number of learners choose vocational and trade schools. Vocational education offers distinct benefits, including taking less time and costing less than four-year institutions.

Vocational programs for students with disabilities often take two years or less to complete, while a bachelor's degree typically takes four years or more to complete. Training to become a licensed practical nurse or respiratory therapist, for example, takes about two years. Training programs for electricians and plumbers also average two years, although apprenticeships to become fully licensed can take longer.

Trade schools cost much less to attend than four-year colleges. A year of tuition and fees at a four-year college averaged $8,300 for public schools and $28,000 for private schools in 2017-18. In contrast, tuition and fees at two-year schools averaged only $3,600 for public schools and $14,600 for private schools in the same year.

If you are seeking a streamlined, affordable path to a good job, trade or vocational school might be right for you. Use this guide to explore your career options, available resources, and rights as a disabled student.

Vocational Career Options for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities can take advantage of many adaptive tools to help them access educational opportunities and meaningful employment. Below, you can explore some of the accommodations and career options available to people with physical and cognitive disabilities as well as visual and hearing impairments.

Physical Disabilities
Adaptive Tools
  • Building Modification

    Ramps, elevators, and other modifications can make schools and workplaces more accessible to wheelchair users and people with other physical disabilities.

  • Assistive Devices

    Modified computers, telephone headsets, automatic lights, and adjustable-height desks make office and classroom settings more conducive to navigating physical impairments.

  • Modified Schedule

    People with physical disabilities that prevent them from completing a full class day or work shift benefit from part-time, flexible leave and online attendance policies.

  • Writing Assistance

    Assistive technologies, like speech-to-text and note-taking software, help students with dexterity disabilities succeed in the classroom.

Vocational Career Ideas
  • Medical Transcription, Billing or Coding Professional

    Medical coding and billing professionals take doctor case notes and other medical records and code them so that providers can properly bill insurance companies. Medical transcriptionists create medical records from audio files of consultations.

  • Web Designer or Developer

    Web designers create the layouts and other visual elements of websites. They need a combination of graphic design and computer skills. Web developers build the core structures of websites using coding languages. They need knowledge and skills in one or more coding languages.

  • Graphic Designer

    Graphic designers work in fields such as marketing and advertising to communicate clients' messages visually to the public. They must demonstrate creativity and design and communication skills. Graphic designers also need the technical skills necessary to create finished products in a variety of media.

  • Court Reporter

    Court reporters attend depositions, hearings, and other court proceedings to transcribe official legal records of these meetings for lawyers, judges, and others. They must be able to listen and concentrate for long periods.

Learning & Cognitive Disabilities
Adaptive Tools
  • Spoken Language

    Instructors may allow for written tests or training programs. Students and teachers may also benefit from learning American Sign Language as another means to effectively communicate.

  • Written Language

    Written information can be delivered in audio format, lectures and meetings can be recorded, and extra time can be given to complete written tasks. Speech-to-text software is also available.

  • Arithmetic

    Visual graphing software, talking calculators, and calculation charts make mathematical tasks more attainable.

  • Reasoning or Organization

    Using checklists, reminder apps, and graphic organizers in combination with frequent meetings between students and their instructors helps set clear expectations and provide focus.

Vocational Career Ideas
  • Veterinary Technician

    Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in caring and providing treatment for pets, livestock, and other animals. Vet techs may need to stand for long periods and must possess the physical strength to handle the animals they care for. They also need to use technical equipment while administering tests, x-rays, medication, and first aid.

  • Transportation

    Transportation professionals include bus drivers, truck drivers, machine operators, cargo agents, and air traffic controllers. Working in transportation requires flexibility in addition to teamwork, time management, and problem-solving skills.

  • Cosmetologist

    Cosmetologists work as hairstylists, barbers, estheticians, and makeup artists. They help clients care for their hair, scalp, skin, and nails. Cosmetologists often stand while they work. They need good listening skills, stamina, and creativity.

  • Culinary Arts

    Culinary arts jobs include chef, cook, bartender, and caterer. These professionals create, prepare, and safely serve food and drinks. These jobs require stamina, teamwork, creativity, and customer service skills.

Visual Impairments
Adaptive Tools
  • Screen Readers

    Available as software or mobile apps, screen readers translate text to audio for easier comprehension.

  • Braille Resources

    Schools and workplaces use Braille printers or translators to provide resources in a format that individuals with visual impairments can access.

  • Screen Magnification

    Often included with screen reader software, screen magnification programs transform cursors into magnification tools, enlarging and adding shading to make what's beneath it more easily visible.

  • Optical Character Recognition Systems

    By scanning, interpreting, and reading printed text aloud, OCRs translate resources for persons with visual impairments in the classroom and workplace.

Vocational Career Ideas
  • Paralegal

    Paralegals assist lawyers by preparing legal documents, contracts, and correspondence. They need research, writing, stenography, and transcription skills. Paralegals may need to interview clients or write reports. Some paralegals specialize in a particular area of law, such as family law or criminal law.

  • Computer Programmer

    Computer programmers write code for computer software applications and operating systems. They test computer programs and make necessary updates. They need skills in one or more programming languages to translate designs created by engineers into instructions computers can follow.

  • Sound Engineer

    Sound engineers use equipment and software to record, edit, and mix sound and music recordings. They may record performances live or in a recording studio. They may also work in post-production settings.

  • Network Architect

    Computer network architects design, create, and maintain data communication networks. They recommend and install the hardware and software needed to run and support computer networks. They need strong computer skills and the ability to troubleshoot when network problems arise.

Hearing Impairments
Adaptive Tools
  • Captions

    Text displayed on video content helps increase comprehension and gives context for what is seen but not heard.

  • Visual Systems

    Auditory signals, such as buzzing on emergency exits, can be accompanied by flashing lights or other visual signals to visually convey important messages.

  • Interpreters

    American Sign Language interpreters can be made available to translate training or lectures for students.

  • Assistive Listening Devices

    Amplification devices, such as FM systems, hearing loops, or personal amplifiers, can be provided to students in a class or training environment.

Vocational Career Ideas
  • Computer Programmer

    Computer programmers use their knowledge of programming languages to write the code that enables computer software, applications, and operating systems to run. They also test computer programs and make required updates. They may work with other IT professionals to design and create new applications.

  • Medical Laboratory Technician

    Medical lab technicians assist doctors and medical lab managers to diagnose illnesses and diseases. They use lab equipment to perform tests on samples of blood, tissue, and bodily fluids. They may specialize in a specific area of medical testing, such as immunology or microbiology.

  • Construction Worker

    Construction includes skilled trades such as plumbing, painting, masonry, and carpentry. Construction workers must know about building methods and materials and understand safety protocols, construction blueprints, and cost estimations.

  • Drafting Professional

    Drafters use CAD systems to convert architectural and engineering designs into technical drawings and blueprints. They must know how to use CAD software and understand the materials and processes used in a specific industry, such as building construction, civil engineering, or electrical systems.

Vocational Rehabilitation: Resources for Reaching Goals

Each state runs a Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) tasked with helping disabled state residents meet employment goals. The U.S. Department of Labor manages these state departments at the federal level. VR departments provide services such as job training, career counseling, and job placement to support people with physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional disabilities.

If you receive disability services through Social Security, you likely qualify for VR services. However, anyone with a disability who requires assistance to find or keep a job may apply for VR services. Your VR counselor can help create an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE), outlining the job you seek and the training and services you need to get this job. The VR department may then help you get the training you need to secure employment.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

VR services vary by state. VR counselors typically assess your needs and help find the services, training, accommodations, and equipment you may need to find and keep a job. See below for some of the VR services commonly available to those who qualify.

  • MOBILITY EVALUATION

    Determines adaptive technologies required to safely operate a vehicle.

  • WORK-BASED TRAINING

    Apprenticeships and on-the-job skills training that can lead to full-time employment in a trade.

  • INTERPRETERS

    Certified interpreters in American Sign Language for people with hearing-related disabilities.

  • PHYSICAL RESTORATION

    Equipment, therapies, and surgeries that improve someone's ability to work, such as eyeglasses and prosthetic devices.

  • LOAN ASSISTANCE

    Low-interest loans for assistive technologies such as hearing aids, communication devices, and modified vehicles.

  • TRANSITION SERVICES

    Dedicated counselors to help high school students transition to the workforce.

  • EMPLOYMENT READINESS

    Worksite visits may accompany training in self-determination, decision-making, and employer expectations for students with autism spectrum disorders.

  • VOCATIONAL ASSESSMENT

    Identifies strengths and weaknesses and makes recommendations for next steps after high school through counseling or an interactive Skill Explorer.

  • TRANSITION SCHOOL TO WORK

    In cooperation with high school Individual Education Program (IEP) planning, counselors help students find post-high school opportunities.

Getting Assistance Through Your School

Trade and vocational schools must provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities as required by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Campus accommodations may include accessible parking, buildings, classrooms, restrooms, and housing as well as access for service animals and transportation services.

Aside from making their campuses accessible, schools must do what they can to ensure access to their programs for students with special needs, including distance-learning programs. Such services may include help with registration, tutoring and counseling services, communication aids, and writing assistance. Instructors may provide test-taking accommodations, such as extended time or assistive technology, as needed.

Check with your school to learn about and request accommodations. Do not expect to receive what you need automatically. You likely must apply or register for services and provide documentation of your disability.

Expert Interview with David Greenberg Founder of Parliament Tutors
What services does Parliament offer veterans with disabilities considering vocational or trade school?

In addition to working with college-bound students, we have multiple contracts with Veterans Affairs to help students who qualify for their benefits. We offer tutoring and assistance in pursuing education at a technical institute or in automobile and engineer programs at trade schools.

Many professionals have worked in their field for decades but need that certification or associate degree to get a promotion, so they come to us for help. We also offer job-search help to veterans, including interviewing and resume writing tips. They often do not know where they will work after leaving the services, and we help them translate their skills to today's job market.

Do you see any trends in the number of veterans with disabilities pursuing vocational school over a four-year degree?

There is a far greater interest in computer science and web development than we have seen in the past. Many of our clients are older than the average student. I see veterans with disabilities who are age 50 and older who came back from Vietnam with no education and are now going back to school to learn basic skills in Java, C++, or database management. It's impressive that they are taking on that challenge, and we are happy to support them in the pursuit.

What advice do you have for veterans with a disability just beginning to consider their opportunities after service?

It's all about information for veterans and anyone else with disabilities looking to pursue education. Most vets do not know about benefits available to them for free. For instance, through the GI Bill Chapter 30 and 31, veterans are entitled to job and employment training through the VR office, and can receive help with accommodations for their disability at work.

Timeline: Transitioning from High School to the Workforce

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities receive the special education services they need to access a free, public education. Schools outline the needs of each disabled student and the services they will provide in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP requires a team of school staff, parents, and the student to meet at least once a year to assess the student's needs, set goals, specify accommodations and special education services, and review student progress.

The IDEA requires schools to include transition planning and postsecondary goals in a student's IEP beginning at age 16. An IEP may include vocational counseling and training. If it does, a VR counselor can participate in the student's IEP meetings and transition planning. The VR counselor ensures that when the school's services end, VR services through the state begin.

Students needing individualized VR services after high school must participate in an eligibility assessment. Once found eligible, the student's VR counselor will work with the student to create an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) by the time high school ends.

If vocational or trade school is part of the IPE, then students can apply to and attend trade school with the assistance of a VR counselor. VR counselors can also help graduates get the accommodations and protections they need to succeed in their new job.

Start here
Develop Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Parents meet with school guidance counselors to create a plan for high school and begin initial vocational assessments.

IEP Meetings

Ongoing conversation about student’s academic, social, and occupational progress.

Identify Transition Services

The IEP should be amended with a statement of transition services to help the student prepare for leaving high school.

Evaluation by VR Counselor

Vocational Rehabilitation counselors evaluate students prior to graduation and determine what VR services to include in IEP.

Apply to Vocational/Trade School

Explore fields where student’s interests and abilities overlap and lead to employment in a skilled trade.

IEP Services End

Parents should ask school representatives for the student’s Summary of Performance, including recommendations for post-secondary success.

Attend Vocational/Trade School

Ongoing support can be found through the school’s Disability Support Services or local Vocational Rehabilitation office.

IDEA services end

Secure Job in Skilled Trade

The employed person is now protected by ADA and other employment laws.

What advice would you give a high school student with dyslexia, or any learning disability, as they look ahead to life after high school?

If you keep on pushing, you can do it. One of [my] main challenges was that it took me longer to do the program I was in. I had to redo a math class because the teacher wasn’t a good match for me. Getting information orally and on video is very helpful to me now.

Corey Missiaen

Paying for Vocational Training: Scholarships & Financial Aid

Trade schools and community colleges typically cost much less than four-year degrees, but they still require a significant financial investment. Students with disabilities may qualify for scholarships and other financial aid opportunities to help cover the costs of vocational training.

To qualify for federal and state loans and grants, you must complete the FAFSA. Check with your trade school to see if their students qualify for federal financial aid programs. If they do, you may qualify for subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans, state or federal grants, and other aid available through your school once you complete the FAFSA.

You must pay back any money you accept in student loans once you finish your training and start working, but grants and scholarships do not require repayment. Learn more about scholarships and other financial aid available to students with disabilities below.

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Accredited Schools Online – Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

Our complete list of scholarships organized by disability along with additional financial resources.

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Accredited Schools Online – Students with Hearing Impairments

Browse our list of financial aid and scholarships available to students with hearing impairments.

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Accredited Schools Online – Students with Visual Impairments

Our guide for students with visual impairments includes a section on funding opportunities.

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Disability.gov

The government's information clearinghouse for people with disabilities. Maintains a comprehensive list of scholarships organized by disability type.

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Federal Student Aid

Student loans are available from the U.S. government by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

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HEATH Resource Center

Families may consider starting an Individual Development Accounts to save for a student's vocational school needs. Find more information through the National Youth Transitions Center George Washington University's HEATH Resource Center.

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Scholarships.com

Scholarships.com maintains an extensive list of scholarships specifically for students with disabilities.

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Understood.org

Find a list of specific scholarships for students with learning disabilities and attention issues at Understood.org, an organization created to help parents of students with learning disabilities.

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Unigo.com

Unigo.com maintains a list of scholarships that can be applied to vocational and trade schools across the country.

Workplace Diversity: Disability & Inclusion

Many employers value diversity in the workplace because it represents a wider range of experiences and perspectives. Workplace inclusion policies lead to a more diverse workforce, which in turn can lead to better products and more creative business solutions.

Disabled workers in the U.S. benefit from government protection from discrimination. Federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, regulate how employers must treat disabled workers, and many states offer legal protections for disabled workers as well. Learn more about the benefits of a diverse workplace and the rights of disabled workers in this section.

For Workers with Disabilities: Knowing Your Rights

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects workers with disabilities from discrimination by enforcing federal laws that make workplace discrimination illegal. Workers who believe they experienced discrimination may file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC will investigate the claim and, if they find evidence of discrimination, either settle the claim or take the employer to court.

The EEOC enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits private employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating during the hiring process. This law also protects disabled workers from discrimination when it comes to pay, benefits, promotions, and terminations. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

1. Who is protected under the ADA?
Any disabled person qualifies for protection under the ADA. The ADA defines a disability as a lasting physical or mental impairment that limits major life activities. Anyone with a disability or a history of disability -- and anyone whom others may view as disabled -- can qualify for ADA protections.

2. What is reasonable accommodation?
Providing reasonable accommodation means modifying the workplace or the way workers typically perform tasks to help disabled workers apply for jobs, perform essential duties, and remain productive. The accommodation must not be too hard or expensive for the employer to make. Common accommodations include installing wheelchair ramps; allowing service animals; and offering modified work schedules or equipment, assistive technology, or interpreters.

3. What employment practices are included?
The ADA protects disabled workers from discrimination in all aspects of employment. ADA-protected employment practices include hiring, compensation and benefits, work assignments, training, and layoffs and firings. The ADA also protects disabled workers from workplace harassment.

4. What can I do if I'm being discriminated against?
If you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace, you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. You must file a charge discrimination took place (or 300 days if your state or local government also enforces employment discrimination).

For Employers: Building Equality in the Workplace

About one-fifth of all disabled people participate in the U.S. labor force. Many employers seek to build a diverse workforce. Employers who hire disabled workers benefit from tax advantages and diversity of perspectives and experiences. A study conducted at the University of Chicago revealed that people with more varied connections generate more innovative ideas. In this way, diversity can offer companies a competitive advantage.

Employers that value diversity develop inclusive policies and seek to remove barriers to employment for disabled workers. To build a diverse workforce, managers and human resources personnel must find ways to recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified new workers, regardless of their disability status.

1. How can employers consider diversity while recruiting and hiring?
To build a more diverse workforce, employers can start by brainstorming ways to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants. They can also create hiring practices that ensure candidate selection remains consistent for all applicants and does not discriminate based on disability or any other protected class. If two candidates are equally qualified and one is disabled, the employer can hire the disabled applicant.

2. How can employers make reasonable accommodations?
Employers can make reasonable accommodations by identifying ways to remove barriers to productivity for disabled workers. They can examine the essential functions of the disabled worker's job and offer accommodations that will make the job more accessible. Examples include improving access to the workplace, allowing flexibility of job tasks or work schedules, and providing equipment or technology that will help the employee complete essential tasks.

3. How can employers plan ongoing inclusion training?
To create a workplace that values diversity and remains free of harassment, employers can plan ongoing inclusion training. During this training, they define company objectives and identify the training needs of their employees. Employers look at what needs to change and then design, deliver, and evaluate regular training sessions that meet their identified goals.

4. How Can Employers Prioritize Inclusion?
Employers can prioritize inclusion in many ways, such as:

a.) Include language on diversity and inclusion in company's core values
b.) Ensure employee gathering areas, such as break rooms, are accessible to all
c.) Hold regular trainings on inclusiong of all minority groups
d.) Consider collaboration between people with and without disabilities when creating projects
e.) Maintain a zero tolerance policy on bullying and harrassment
f.) Make training session locations and materials accessible and practice universal design concepts

Ongoing Support for Students & Workers with Disabilities

Understanding the Law

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund offers a big-picture comparison of the three important laws related to disability rights.

Understood.org offers resources for students with learning disabilities and their parents, including a guide to understanding the ADA and other disability laws.

Preparing for Transition

The Center for Parent Information and Resources offers an easy-to-follow guide to prepare for the transition from high school to postsecondary education.

JobTIPS from do2learn.com helps students consider the types of careers they might succeed in through guided exercises, graphic organizers, role-playing scenario cards, and pre-screening tests.

Choosing a Vocation

My Next Move is an interactive tool for job seekers to learn more about their career options. The tool shares tasks, skills, and salary information for more than 900 careers.

Occupational Outlook Handbook describes the education and training requirements, potential earnings, and projected job growth for a variety of occupations.

The Department of Education's College Navigator includes a search tool for career colleges and technical schools accredited by agencies recognized by the Department of Education.

Finding a Job

ABILITYjobs offers job listings specifically for people with disabilities, as well as resources on accommodations and recent research on disability issues.

DisABLEDperson posts over 200,000 active jobs from companies interested in recruiting qualified applicants with disabilities.

GettingHired seeks to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the jobs where they will succeed, including resources for veterans with disabilities.

Ongoing Education

The PACER Center operates on the premise that parents can help parents navigate the unique challenges of raising children with disabilities.

Veteran's Support

From Troops to Trade outlines skills gained in each branch of the military and demonstrates how military jobs can translate into civilian jobs.

VA Benefits outlines veteran support and services, including healthcare benefits, education and training, vocational rehabilitation, and employment services.

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