Bringing Disability into the Conversation: Transition Planning and Self-Determination with All Youth

Bringing Disability into the Conversation: Transition Planning and Self-Determination with All YouthImage about bringing disability into the coversation

As a young person, you may be starting to think about your future—the kinds of things you want to do in life and the steps you can take to achieve these goals. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be scary and challenging to understand your interests, learn about the different paths you can take, and make decisions under pressure. Some mistakes along the way are normal for everyone, but preparation and planning can really help.

Like the young person in the picture, you may feel like there’s a lot of information to process, and you’re not sure where to start. Fortunately, it can help to remember you’re not the only one thinking about these things, and there are many resources out there that can help you make sense of it all. Before showcasing one useful tool, let’s define the process of transition, who it should include, and how self-determination plays a role.

Transition Planning with All Youth

The word “transition” is often used to refer to the period of preparation and decision-making that leads youth to successfully move from school to work. Though the paths they choose might look different, all youth should have access to transition planning and a meaningful input in planning for their future career and life goals. This means you’re not alone if you have questions or concerns, so it can help to talk with peers who are also thinking about their futures. 

As you’re thinking and talking with others, it’s important to include everyone in the conversation about transition planning. This in part encourages all youth to share experiences and discuss solutions, but it can especially benefit some youth who face more significant barriers, such as youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system, disconnected youth[i], and youth with disabilities. For example, talking about transition planning can benefit youth with disabilities and other interested peers as they learn to recognize and navigate the barriers they may face, some of which are explained in an earlier blog post entitled, “Let’s Talk Disability: An Intro to Forming Partnerships and Recognizing Barriers.” Whatever challenges come your way, talking about transition planning with others is a great way to learn from different perspectives and figure out a plan that best meets your individualized needs.   

The Role of Self-Determination

Along with having access to conversations about transition planning comes the related idea that all youth, including youth with disabilities, should learn and practice an important skill called self-determination. If you haven’t heard of self-determination before, it refers to the skills you need in order to have control over your life. Self-awareness, goal-setting, and problem-solving are three examples that can empower you to make informed decisions and achieve success—however you choose to define it—in transition. While it is an important part of transition planning, self-determination is a skill you can acquire over time and is one that you will use throughout your life, including when accessing accommodations in the workplace or expressing your interests, needs, and preferences in other ways.

To learn more about self-determination, check out this resource. Because youth with disabilities sometimes face lower expectations or barriers to self-determination, this Secondary Transition Guide from Pennsylvania includes a roadmap of steps that youth can follow from ages 10-21 to learn and practice self-determination when it comes to accommodations and inclusive transition planning. 

Now You’re Ready to Dive In

Now that you know what transition means and about the importance of self-determination in this process and throughout your life, it’s a good time to begin doing your own planning. One helpful resource for getting the conversation started is the Guiding Your Success Tool. All youth, including youth with disabilities, can use this resource to think about and answer some important elements that help contribute to success in transition. By following this tool, youth can:

  • Learn to set and carry out educational goals
  • Engage in career development, including self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management, in order to select education and training for the career of your choice
  • Participate in essential youth development activities like mentoring, service, leadership, and other forms of community engagement to build skills like self-advocacy and self-determination
  • Learn about important supports to maintain physical and mental health and access to transportation, housing, benefits, and financial planning
  • Consider the important role of family and other caring adults in setting high expectations for all youth, including those with disabilities, throughout the process

As you practice self-determination when planning for transition, what comes next is up to you. Just remember it’s always a good idea to seek advice from peers and other caring adults along this journey of preparing your goals and making them a reality. 


[i] Disconnected youth are often defined as young people ages 14-24 who are homeless, in foster care, involved in the justice system, or are neither employed nor enrolled in an educational institution.