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Grants Could Help Students With Disabilities Access Jobs and Training

pointed road sign with career services listed

Much of our work at the Special Education Foundation is focused on giving students with disabilities the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. So we were thrilled to see an article published recently in Disability Scoop reporting that more than $200 million is being made available in a broad push to establish innovative approaches to transitioning young people with disabilities into competitive integrated employment.

According to Shaun Healsey's piece, the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration is offering $236 million in grants as part of its most significant investment ever in its Disability Innovation Fund program.

The funds are open to state agencies and, for the first time, nonprofits, providing an opportunity for a diverse range of organizations to develop model demonstration projects. These projects are aimed at creating, implementing, refining, evaluating, and disseminating new or substantially improved model strategies or programs to transition youth and adults with disabilities into competitive integrated employment, as stated in a notice posted in the Federal Register this month.

Applicants’ proposals can aim to help people with a wide range of disabilities. They include physical disabilities (such as mobility impairments or chronic health conditions), sensory difficulties (such as blindness or deafness), intellectual disabilities (such as developmental delays or cognitive challenges), and mental health conditions (such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder).

Those disabilities collectively impact a significant chunk of the population. More than a quarter—26 percent—of adults live with a disability, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018.

And 7.1 million students ages 5 through 21 received services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the primary federal law for students in special education, during the 2022-23 school year.

Officials have outlined several key areas for potential projects. These include increasing access to advanced technology careers, using advanced technology to support youth or adults with disabilities in accessing competitive integrated employment, assisting justice-involved youth with disabilities in gaining employment, exploring early intervention and workforce reintegration strategies for those with acquired disabilities, and efforts to reintegrate disconnected individuals with disabilities into the workforce.

Federal officials said they intend to fund between 23 and 29 projects valued at $8 million to $10 million apiece.

The Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services will hold a meeting on May 1 for those interested in the program, and grant applications are due by July 8.