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Centers for Independent Living and Transition-Age Youth: Empowerment and Self-Determination

Wehmeyer, M. L. & Gragoudas, S. (2004). Centers for independent living and transition-age youth: Empowerment and self-determination. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 20(1), 53-58.

Article Summary

While public school systems have been responsible for transition services for their students with disabilities, Centers for Independent Living (CILs) generally provide such programs as job training, benefits advocacy, and empowerment training. It is likely that schools' traditional role in transition planning for youth with disabilities has kept many CILs away from this population.

Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by Congress in 1990 emphasized these three goals (job training, benefits advocacy, and empowerment training), thereby narrowing the philosophical differences between public schools and CILs. This article focuses on the opportunities for schools and CILs to work together to support transition, empowerment, and self-determination for school-age youth.

Self-determination was incorporated into transition planning for students with disabilities in the 1990s. The components of this philosophical shift have offered special education students not only greater control over their futures, but more input into the decision-making process as well. The authors rhetorically questioned whether self-determination was important for students with disabilities, and they answered with a resounding "Yes" based on the following:

  1. Federally mandated policies
  2. Students who are more self-determined are more likely to work for pay and live independently.
  3. Adult consumers with increased opportunities for decision-making experienced improved vocational rehabilitation (VR) outcomes.
The article includes a description of a cooperative program in Lawrence, Kansas, whose components and curriculum could be readily duplicated in other areas as well. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Independent Living Management (RRTC-ILM) researchers at the University of Kansas approached staff from the public school system and Independence, Inc., a local Center for Independent Living, with the idea to develop an "empowerment group" for students with disabilities.

While certain aspects of the program were chosen ahead of time by the project staff, the students practiced considerable decision-making regarding group as well as individual goals. Participants in Friends for Life, the name chosen by the students, were instructed as to their role in the development of their Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and Transition Plans as well as providing information about the types of services available through Independence, Inc. The eight-week program ended on a festive note as the students planned and held a bowling and pizza party