States support numerous programs for individuals with disabilities through initiatives focused on employment, education, transportation and other aspects of full community inclusion. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these efforts are more important than ever. States must ensure that the rights and needs of individuals with disabilities continue to be met, including challenges that individuals with disabilities face as a result of the health crisis. While youth with disabilities are not inherently at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19, youth with disabilities may be disproportionately affected by the disruption of services, such as appropriate special education and related services, access to accommodations included in their Individualized Education Programs (IEP), IEP planning and transition services and access to other daily supports and services.

Many states and school districts have implemented remote learning environments; however, these environments may limit the access to critical services students normally receive during a traditional in-person school day. In order to provide students with critical services required for a youth’s successful transition into adulthood, states and school districts are thinking creatively to adapt to a remote environment. Regardless of the setting, students with disabilities should be provided equitable opportunities for postsecondary education and workforce training as they prepare for life beyond high school. These opportunities include apprenticeships and other work-based learning initiatives such as job shadowing, self-advocacy training, pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) and a myriad of other services including financial literacy, mental health, health care and Social Security Administration benefits counseling.

All states experienced disruptions to traditional in-person instruction in their public elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools in response to COVID-19. Unfortunately, lack of access to in-person instruction can be particularly challenging for the 7.1 million students with disabilities in the U.S. School days can provide valuable structure, development, training and a sense of community. In light of this challenge, states have supported the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 outbreak through:

Assistive Technology

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines an assistive technology device as any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

States across the country have used assistive technology to provide students with disabilities access to distance learning and other special education services.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is a method of education in which classes are conducted over the internet or through written materials at home, without the student attending school in person. To ensure an equal education as mandated by federal law, distance learning providers must accommodate students with disabilities who may face accessibility issues.

Family Engagement

Families play a critical role in the education and transition process of youth with disabilities. Family engagement becomes even more essential during distance learning. Transition aged youth with disabilities need family support regarding education and career development.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A plan for each child with a disability is developed, reviewed and revised according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The plan includes goals, measures of performance, provided services and necessary accommodations. Updates to IEPs to reflect changes to the learning environment are critical to keeping students with disabilities on track with their transition plans throughout the crisis.

Mental Health

Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. Youth with disabilities may benefit from a wide range of mental health services that support their education, career development, self-advocacy or personal lives. Mental health services are critical for students and young adults with disabilities in helping them cope with the effects of the pandemic.


Telehealth is the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely. Youth with disabilities can benefit from remote/virtual access to healthcare/mental health care during social distancing measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Transition is the period when adolescents focus on planning for postsecondary education and careers. Key aspects of transition include goal setting, career assessment and career exploration, among others. Schools have come up with unique ways to provide transition planning and services without students being physically present.


As many as 23 million people in the U.S. have developed Long COVID, or ongoing health conditions resulting from a COVID-19 infection. Long COVID can qualify as a disability when symptoms substantially limit one or more life activities, including employment and education.

Find out what your state is doing to provide youth and young adults with disabilities with services during the COVID-19 outbreak.