general population). The rates are much lower for those with severe disabilities or combinations of chronic illness and physical or cognitive impairments (White, 1997). Among adults with severe disabilities, only 26 percent are employed (McNeil, 1997). Using data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students for young people 3–5 years after leaving high school, Wagner et al. (1992) found that 57 percent of disabled individuals were employed and only 27 percent were enrolled in post-secondary education. Few disabled adolescents under the age of 15 are employed (White, 1997).
Not only do adolescents with disabilities lack work experience, but they also receive little preparation for work or careers. White and colleagues (White and Shear, 1992; White et al., 1990) have been studying a large sample of youngsters with chronic illnesses and physical disabilities. To measure their attitudes toward and knowledge of work, the subjects took a Career Maturity Inventory, which has been normed at each age group with adolescents who have no disabilities. The adolescents with chronic illnesses and physical disabilities scored high on involvement: They did not see themselves as hopeless in terms of work, and they saw their disabilities as less problematic than potential employers see them. But the subjects scored much lower on orientation: They knew little about work-places and what would be expected of them. Career maturity was found to be highly associated with parental perception of readiness for work. Often parents or other caregivers postponed a disabled child's entry into the workplace, and in some cases they did not think a first job was needed until age 25. Socioeconomic status played no role in this phenomenon. Interestingly, the degree of disability was not associated with career maturity.
These factors can have important consequences for development and successful transition into adult roles. Benz et al. (1997) found that having two or more job experiences during high school was highly predictive of a disabled individual's being competitively employed after high school. Work may play a central role in acculturating young people with disabilities. In making the transition from school to work, social context—how the parent or employer sees the disabled young person—may be as important as the young person's functional status (White, 1997).