Date Presented 04/22/2023

This poster presents a mixed-methods descriptive study analyzing teacher-perceived barriers for students with disabilities to obtain employment. Results highlight school, community, and student barriers and recommend OTs’ role in transition services and community programs.

Primary Author and Speaker: Angelika Pine

Contributing Authors: Austin Crabtree, Jacqueline Pereira, Lilianna Rafalski, Gillian Reed, Ashley Underwood

20% of individuals with disabilities (IWD) are employed. Unemployed IWD may suffer from occupational deprivation. Addressing the disproportionality of employment for IWD begins with understanding their barriers. Schools are mandated to provide transition programming for IWD so understanding teacher-perceived barriers may address issues at the onset of this transition. The study asks, ‘What do high school educators of students with disabilities (SWD) in SWVA perceive as barriers to employment upon transitioning out of high school?’ A mixed-method descriptive study with purposive sampling of all 57 high schools in southwest VA was utilized. With permission from a school district, high school special educators were invited to participate in the IRB exempt study through direct email. An online survey was completed by 26% of invited educators and 23% of them were interviewed. Surveys were quantitatively analyzed for trends. Interviews were qualitatively analyzed through coding cycles and then themed. Survey results yielded student-specific barriers of a lack of social skills and executive functioning skills, decreased motivation to work, and a lack of community mobility. Community-related barriers included lack of transportation, hesitance to hire IWD, lack of employment opportunities and community partnerships. Themes found that students with disabilities experience low levels of motivation, special education teachers are experiencing burnout, and outside influences contribute to teachers’ feelings of helplessness. Barriers identified for rural areas in the literature and our study results were transportation, social skills, and employment opportunities. Student motivation was notable in this study as it was not mentioned as a barrier in previous literature. OTs who work in school systems should be included in transition services. Community-based OTs can promote programs and interventions to help underserved populations to obtain employment.


Benson, J. D., Tokarski, R., Blaskowitz, M. G., & Geubtner, A. (2021). Phenomenological study of the transition process for adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75, 7503180040

Test, D. W. & Fowler, C. H. (2018). A look at the past, present, and future of rural secondary transition. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 37(2), 68-78.

Wehman, P., Chan, F., Ditchman, N., & Kang, H.-J. (2014). Effect of supported employment on vocational rehabilitation outcomes of transition-age youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities: A case control study. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 52(4), 296–310.

Riesen, T., Schultz, J., Morgan, R., & Kupferman, S. (2014). School-to-work barriers as identified by special educators, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and community rehabilitation professionals. Journal of Rehabilitation, 80(1), 33.