Patterns of employment and independent living of adult graduates with learning disabilities and mental retardation of an inclusionary high school vocational program

Authors: Lynas, L.
Year Published 2005
Publication Research in Developmental Disabilities
Volume 26
Number 4
Pages 317-325
Publisher Elsevier

Although employment rates for individuals with disabilities may be improving, improvement is needed. The picture for independent living is not much better. Studies have indicated that most adults with disabilities remain both single and living with their parents. They are isolated socially with few friends or meaningful relationships. Schools and school programs that facilitate the transition to adult life are needed.


The purpose of this study was to examine the employment careers of graduates in an inclusionary vocational and technology high school.


The setting for the study was an inclusionary vocational/technical high school in Ohio.


Thirty six students participated in the study. Nineteen individuals (11 males and 8 females) had been diagnosed with mild mental retardation and 17 (10 males and 7 females) with a specific learning disability by a school psychologist. All had been enrolled in full time programs for students with special needs and had an Individual education plan on file. During the last two years of high school they attended high school for two or three periods then spent the remainder of the day at a Vocational/Technology Center. Students were aged between 20 to 25 years. The majority or 26 of the students were caucasians. The subjects had been enrolled in a variety of vocational programs while attending the vocational tech center. On average, participants had exited or graduated from high school and the vocational center within the last five years at the time of the study.

Data Collection

A sixteen item questionnaire was used to learn more about participants' employment and living situation. Participants were contacted by telephone. After answering each question, the participant was given the opportunity to make comments. Chi-square analysis was used to determine statistical differences between the two groups.


The study included a comparison group.


Overall, the majority or 81% of the participants were employed. However, only 68% of individuals with mild mental retardation were employed as compared to 94% of those with learning disabilities. This was a significant statistical difference. There was no differences related to gender or the program the student attended at the vocational technical center. More participants with learning disabilities were employed in skilled jobs than those with mild mental retardation. Those individuals were working in service industry and factory jobs.
The mean rate of pay for those working was $9.00. there was no significant difference on rate of pay or benefits held by disability type. The majority or 94% of the sample were single. Most or 95% of those with mild mental retardation lived with their parents as compared to 53% of those with learning disability. The majority or 94% of those with learning disabilities owned a car while only 26%of those with mild mental retardation had one. Among those who were working and not driving 40% relied on public transportation. Related to recreation, a third of the respondents indicated watching movies was their main activity. All of the individuals with learning disabilities were registered to vote and had voted. Only 63% of those with mild mental retardation reported having voted.


Overall over 81% of the graduates were employed. However, this is primarily accounted for by employment of students with specific learning disabilities (94%) as opposed to respondents with mild mental retardation (68%). However, even when this variance between the two disability types is accounted for, even the students with mild mental retardation are employed at a higher rate than other figures reported in earlier studies.
Another positive finding in the study was the rate of pay for the respondents. For those students working, the median hourly rate was $8.90 which is significantly above the national minimum wage with no statistical significant difference found between the two disability types. Additionally, 68% of those working reported to be receiving benefits.
The majority of participants with mental retardation (95%) were still living with their parents; whereas, 53% of those with learning disabilities were living at home. Members of both groups could benefit from training in this area including how to secure housing.
Individuals with learning disabilities were much more mobile in the community than their peer respondents with mental retardation. The students with learning disabilities were much more likely to own a car (94%) and thus get around the community in a more independent fashion. In areas without public transportation local agencies should provide transportation services for those adults with disabilities who do not or cannot maintain an automobile. The individuals who graduated from an inclusionary high school vocational and technology environment have done fairly well compared to respondents in other reported studies on the areas of employment, pay, and independent living. This may have been partially due to the fact that the learning environment moved students quickly through the exploratory phases of vocational education into the focused phase where students received specific vocational and job training as well as training in independent living skills. This was accomplished in a setting with other non-disabled peers who were also receiving strong vocational training.

Disabilities Intellectual disabilities | Specific learning disabilities
Populations Black / African American | White / Caucasian | Male & Female
Outcomes Employment acquisition
NIDILRR Funded Not Reported
Research Design Quasi-experimental
Peer Reviewed Yes