Using Youth Leadership Programs to Improve Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities

In “Guideposts for Success: Framework for the Future,” the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) identifies youth development and leadership as one of five key domains of comprehensive support to achieve successful employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YAD). The framework is intended for policymakers and administrators interested in improving their state’s future workforce by strengthening the programs and services available to Y&YAD.

Programs focused on preparing Y&YAD to be leaders in their communities are one of the key components of the framework’s evidence-based strategy.

Research shows programs that provide opportunities to take initiative and build self-advocacy, critical thinking and social skills can improve postsecondary outcomes for transition-age youth with disabilities. States across the country have taken steps to develop leadership programs that help Y&YAD develop these skills and prepare them for a smooth transition from high school to employment or postsecondary education. Examples include:

Oregon Camp LEAD (Leadership. Empowerment. Advocacy. Development) – Educational and post-secondary transition planning during high school requires Y&YAD to become more active participants in their future. Self-advocacy is a necessary skill to meaningfully participate in shaping a future that accomplishes their personal and career goals. Camp LEAD is a summer leadership camp that helps Y&YAD develop self-advocacy while giving them paid work experience in the natural resources industry.

Pennsylvania Mission Empower: Youth Summit – Critical thinking is another essential skill a young person needs to achieve their personal and career goals. Y&YAD need adequate information about themselves, their environment and their options. Mission Empower’s Youth Summit helps Y&YAD develop their strengths and self-esteem while learning from speakers about communication, teamwork, disability history and rights, civic engagement, preparing for college with a disability, understanding and appreciating cultural differences, and more.

Nebraska Youth Leadership Council – Y&YAD build employable social skills and develop a network of trusted relationships through mentoring opportunities. Research shows these benefits apply to both mentors and mentees. Nebraska’s Youth Leadership Council capitalizes on these dual benefits with a unique mentoring program. Members of the Council range in age from 14-24, and older members coach younger members on advocacy, presentation skills and how to be a leader. Younger members gain skills knowing that they will need to teach future council members what they have learned.

Oklahoma Youth Leadership Forum – Employers value individuals who take initiative in the workplace. Y&YAD participating in Oklahoma’s Youth Leadership Forum are challenged to create personal leadership plans and identify resources that can help them achieve their postsecondary goals.

State programs like these play a critical role in building the skills of Y&YAD and strengthening the nation’s future workforce. Learn more about what states are doing to prepare Y&YAD for successful transition to employment by visiting our website: