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School to Where? A Literature Review on Economic Outcomes of Youth with Disabilities

Article Summary

Wittenburg & Maag (2002) conducted an extensive literature review that examined the transitional process of youth with disabilities. They focused on several types of economic and social outcomes, which included employment, post-secondary education enrollment, and independent living. They reviewed studies that satisfied several different criteria. The literature Wittenburg and Maag reviewed had to include, information from a data source of at least 250 observations from a large state or national study. Second, each study had to contain empirical information on employment, economic, post-secondary, and independent living outcomes. Lastly, all studies reviewed were conducted after 1990.

Wittenburg and Maag presented an overview of four different definitions of disability commonly used in research, which includes special education participants (defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) participation, and Parental/Self/Other identification of disability limitation. A summary is provided of data sources, methodology, and results from each of the major studies, which used one of the four definitions of disability.

Wittenburg and Maag found that outcomes vary significantly across different groups, especially those with specific impairments. They suggest that this is due to the availability of government services and programs for certain populations. They also found that most studies do not provide information on recent outcomes and almost no information on long-term outcomes (5-7 years after high school). Wittenburg and Maag report that this limitation is very important because recent policy changes can not be measured and these policy changes substantially affect transitional decisions of youth with disabilities.

Wittenburg and Maag conclude, "With the increasing emphasis on improving transitional outcomes of youth with disabilities, particularly employment, policy makers and administrators will need new data to better understand the outcomes of this group. Of particular importance will be the influence of current programs on transition decisions." They report that current research does not provide insight of the effects of the programs, even with recent policy changes. Wittenburg and Maag suggests, "Several types of survey and administrative data initiatives, as well as new research projects using available data, to address current gaps."


Wittenburg, D. C., & Maag, E. (2002). School to where? A literature review on economic outcomes of youth with disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17, 265 - 280.


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