Transition Planning for Secondary-Age Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students

The issue


Transition-related legislation has been enacted in the United States because students with disabilities were entering postsecondary training or employment at rates far below their typical peers. Current U.S. legislation requires that planning address three key post-school domains: postsecondary training, employment, and independent living.  Schools also must collaborate with families and community agencies to ensure that students with disabilities receive a variety of services that will promote successfully movement from high school into adulthood.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students often experience higher unemployment and lower rates of attending postsecondary training than other disability groups. Typically, they may take longer to live independently and to complete postsecondary training. When employed, they often earn less than their siblings or typical peers and are more likely to be underemployed, a situation in which they have higher levels of training and education than their co-workers. In addition, they are more likely to be excluded from opportunities for training and advancement provided to co-workers. Yet, research also shows that employers rate DHH workers very positively and note few, if any, work problems.

What we know

Research on transition outcomes has focused on special education students more than on DHH students. This research has identified several effective transition practices:

(1) Interagency collaboration.
(2) Employment preparation and vocational education,
(3) Functional academics including self-determination and personal-social skills
(4) Graduation from high school,
(5) Family involvement, and
(6) Work experiences in paid or unpaid positions.

The importance of these elements is as follows: Work experience supports acquisition of attitudes and behaviors to meet expectations that are quite different from school. Career-focused training provides work-ready proficiencies leading to employment readiness. Functional academics support appropriate adult-living decisions, with self-determination providing the means whereby these decisions are effectively implemented. Early self-determination should include assuming an active role in one’s own IEP planning. Graduation with a diploma is important, and those who receive only a certificate often experience barriers to postsecondary program admission, and to employment. Demonstrating appropriate personal-social skills often is central to job retention and advancement, and in becoming part of one’s community.

Families continue to be important supports for their child’s adult success in finding employment, providing transportation, problem-solving, and in encouraging confident independence. Interagency collaboration expands beyond high school services to include a range of community-based opportunities leading to independence and employment. In addition, agency relationships formed in high school often remain important supports in subsequent years.

One specific concern is the continuing challenges with regard to literacy and academic outcomes for DHH students. These impact postsecondary and employment opportunities as well as perceptions of co-workers and supervisors. However, recent research has shown that once employed or accepted into postsecondary programs, English literacy has little if any impact on completion, satisfaction, or advancement opportunities at work.

What we don’t know

The practices identified above are based on students with other disabilities, although many appear likely to be equally beneficial for DHH students. Yet IEP teams must be cautious and ensure that programs and vocational options appropriately accommodate the unique challenges of DHH students. Many school district transition specialists have no training in working with DHH individuals and their recommendations may be less suitable for these students. Another challenge is that teachers of DHH students must have academic credentials, but they often have little training in the transition issues faced by DHH students.

Another unknown factor is the availability of community assistance, particularly in economically challenging times. Many community agencies are state or federally funded, with budget cuts resulting in substantially reduced services. Vocational rehabilitation is the primary agency serving DHH adults with Rehabilitation Counselors for the Deaf (RCD) having specialty training in the unique issues confronting DHH young adults. Establishing relationships during high school can help ameliorate potential or pending service reductions.


DHH students need appropriate supports and deaf-specific expertise in order to achieve comparable adult outcomes. Teams and districts may not have this expertise; however, many state residential schools for the deaf offer statewide outreach services. Large cities also typically have speech and hearing centers with a Deaf community unit and a range of other resources. Designated RCDs also are important to include in transition planning.

In addition, each DHH student must be provided with appropriate employment and training experiences that build upon his or her interests and abilities. Teens and young adults often change with maturity; however, beginning transition early allows the IEP team to modify plans that evolve to more accurately focus on realistic and enduring interests. Families and teams also must prepare for extended time in completing postsecondary training, and DHH students need perseverance in achieving their goals.

Posted on July 1, 2014 by
Pamela Luft
Kent State University

Further reading

Bowe, F. G. (2003). Transition for deaf and hard-of-hearing students: A blueprint for change. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 8, 485-493. view details

Garberoglio, C. L., Cawthon, S. W., & Bond, M. (2013). Assessing English Literacy as a Predictor of Postschool Outcomes in the Lives of Deaf Individuals. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19, 50-67. view details