Kentucky Pilots Focus On Employment for Students with Significant Disabilities

On March 27, 2020, Kentucky’s Partnerships in Employment (PIE) project KentuckyWorks conducted an online seminar titled Supporting Students with Significant Disabilities in Finding Competitive Employment. The seminar highlighted the local level impact of a pilot initiative supported by the YES! Center. 

It has been well documented that competitive employment outcomes for students and adults with significant disabilities (defined by KentuckyWorks as functional mental disabilities, multiple disabilities, and autism) lag far behind those without disabilities. Seminar moderator, Johnny Collett of the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute, shared the following statistics from the 2019 Kentucky Post-School Outcomes Study:

  • Only 13.2% of youth with significant disabilities were competitively employed after one year exiting high school
  • 56% of these students were not engaged in any employment or postsecondary education 

These numbers speak to the need to build the capacity of inter-agency school teams to focus on providing meaningful work experiences to students who traditionally have not had such opportunities. The YES! Center partnered with KentuckyWorks and two local school districts (Montgomery County and Simpson County) to conduct pilot activities that utilized proven strategies and tools to help schools focus on competitive employment as an option for all students. 

The pilots were based on TransCen’s Seamless Transition model and focused on building capacity in three main areas:

  1. Increasing understanding of assessment and job development strategies,
  2. Improving partnerships with families, and
  3. Improving effective engagement of the employer community.

The intervention included two onsite visits from YES! State Liaisons Dale Verstegen and Sean Roy where teams received foundational information and saw a structured parent interview and employer informational interviews in action. The entire process was meant to show that comprehensive information gathering about a student, communicating with families about positive futures, and learning about employer labor needs can lead to improved work experience opportunities for students. 

Panelists on the seminar included Trina Hewlett, Director of Kentucky’s Community Work Transition Program, and educators Kristen Hollmeyer from Simpson County, and Arden Goodman and Shelby Jones from Montgomery County. They shared that the pilot activities provided a process by which to better understand how to facilitate individualized work experiences. The panelists reported successes in feeling more comfortable with engaging employers and truly partnering with families around a common goal. Each pilot site said they planned on continuing to use the tools and strategies, expanding to more students. The school staff said that the pilot resulted in students finding employment, and the impact on those youth and families was profound. 

Federal legislation and new ways of thinking have raised expectations for employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. Inter-agency school teams find themselves needing to provide individualized work experiences in the community. The KentuckyWorks pilots helped build the capacity of participating schools to do just that. The hope of KentuckyWorks is to expand the use of pilot tools and strategies in the state. That is a step in the right direction.

For more information on building the capacity of inter-agency school teams to facilitate work experiences for students with disabilities, please contact Sean Roy at

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