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Planning for your future

A girl in a wheelchair in a college class.

Looking ahead to the future can be really exciting — and a little scary. Do you want to go to college, get a job, or do something else, like volunteer? Learning about your options can give you information you need to go in the direction you want. It also can give you the great feeling that you’re in charge of where you’re going!

Keep reading to learn more about the following areas of planning for your future:

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Success stories

Everybody has to figure out how to be independent in the world. You’re not the only one! Check out the story of a guy with an intellectual disability who refused to give up his dream of living in a college dorm.

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Start thinking about what you want to do after high school arrow top

If you have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), by the time you turn 16 it must map out a plan to help you prepare for life after high school. This transition plan — called an Individual Transition Plan, or ITP — will set some future goals that are based on your needs, strengths, and interests. It also will list the services you will need to meet these goals. Remember, this is your plan, so make sure you say what you want!

Here are some helpful steps for planning for your future:

  • Think about classroom subjects that interest you. Then talk with your school counselor about the skills and training you will need to pursue your interests. You can look into more than one area!
  • Learn more about college and careers. Ask your counselor to help you find books and websites on these topics as well as college and career fairs that you can go to. Talk with your family and people in your community about jobs and schools that interest you.
  • Learn more about yourself. Talk with your school counselor, parents or guardians, and doctor about your strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at and what do you need to practice? Then make some early choices with your counselor and parents or guardians about what might be the best path for you — going to college, working, both, or something else?
  • Ask someone who works in a field that interests you if you can visit them at work. See if you can "job shadow," which means you watch what they do during a normal day on the job. You can also learn about a work mentoring program specifically for people with disabilities .
  • Make a list of possible goals and then break them into some manageable chunks. You can check out a website for teens thinking about life after high school, . It offers a Life Map and other tools for learning about your options and deciding about your future.

If you would like to work arrow top

  • Learn about vocational programs offered in your high school and community. Vocational programs teach you how to do certain kinds of jobs. There are many types of vocational careers, such as working as a dental assistant, working in hotels, and working with computers.
  • Work with a vocational rehabilitation counselor on skills you need to learn to do your job. A counselor also can help you practice interviewing and figure out how you will get to work. If you don’t already have a vocational rehabilitation counselor, ask about one at school. You also can look for your state vocational rehabilitation office online or in your phonebook in the state government listings section.
  • Get experience working by:
    • Taking on a summer or part-time job
    • Volunteering at your school or in the community
    • Doing chores around the house or for your neighbors
  • Check out links to employment resources at, a website for young people with illnesses and disabilities. It also has a message forum where you can get an employment tips.
  • Explore job banks and other resources. The Americans with Disabilities Act says that employers can’t reject you for a job you are qualified for because of your disability. Employers also have to provide “reasonable accommodations,” which are changes to a job or workspace to help people with disabilities. Examples include a bigger computer monitor, a special chair, a quieter work area, or a more flexible schedule. The Job Accommodation Network offers lots of help and information related to work rights.
  • Contact a local disability organization for help. See if they can find a mentor who has a job that interests you.
  • Learn whether supported employment is right for you. Supported employment programs help a person with a traumatic brain injury, a mental health disorder, a learning disability, or another severe disability find a job and learn how to do it. You would work at a regular job in your community with ongoing support from a local disability agency.

If you would like to go on to college or vocational training arrow top

  • Find out which schools offer programs that interest you. You can look online or ask them to send you information.
  • Ask schools to provide information on how to apply for financial aid.
  • Contact schools’ disability offices to make sure they can meet your needs. Examples of the things these offices can do for you include helping with note-taking if you have a learning disability or chronic fatigue syndrome, arranging to give you more time to take tests if you have ADHD, and helping you find textbooks in Braille if you’re blind.
  • Find out what exams you have to take to get into college, study, and take them.
  • Work with your guidance counselor and vocational rehabilitation counselor to choose which school to go to and how to pay for it. Read about financial aid options for students with disabilities .

There are many different ways to keep learning. You can: arrow top

  • Choose a two-year college (or community college) or a four-year college
  • Take classes at a community college even if you do not plan to go for a full degree
  • Go to college close to home and live with your parents, or live at a college further away
  • Take college classes or get a full college degree online
  • Take part in vocational or technical training

If you would like to live on your own arrow top

If you decide to live on your own, you must be able to arrange for all of your health care needs. This may mean that you handle all your health needs on your own or have a nurse or family member come help you. Or you may live in a home where health staff is there for you on site.

  • Talk with your parents, doctor, and other caregivers. They will help you learn about the daily tasks that go along with living on your own. Together you can decide what the best living situation will be for you.
  • Take on some responsibilities from your parents. For example, if your mom gives you your medicine in the evening, try doing this yourself to see how it feels. Or offer to get the mail, do the laundry, or cook dinner to build independence.
  • Find a place to live. Some people live in their own apartments, some choose to live in group homes for extra support, and some choose to stay with their parents. These are all great options. Whatever you choose, make sure that your home is accessible to you, whether you use a wheelchair or need other support tools. Remember, you are the expert on your health, so make sure to ask for what you need.
  • Learn about federal housing regulations for people with disabilities. When you are ready to live on your own, you will need to know your rights. Visit a government website about housing rights to learn more.
  • Learn how to manage money and budget household expenses. Ask your parents to give you an idea of what it costs to run a household each month. A vocational rehabilitation counselor can also give you tips. To learn more about money, visit The .
  • Understand leases and know about utilities (electricity, phone, water, heat). A vocational rehabilitation counselor can give you information about the bills you'll need to pay if you live in your own place.
  • Find your place in the community. Centers for Independent Living are community-based organizations that help people with disabilities. They can provide you with information about housing, activities, and work. They also provide training for living on your own and counseling for emotional problems. Many of the people who work at Centers for Independent Living themselves have disabilities. Find a local Center for Independent Living .
  • Think about getting a personal assistant, which is someone who helps people with disabilities or illnesses do daily tasks. These could include cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, dealing with paperwork, and getting around. If you can’t afford to pay for this care yourself, ask about help through state or county offices. These include the department of disabilities, department of human services, or department of rehabilitation. Your local Center for Independent Living can provide information too. (Read more about them above.)

No matter which path you take, you will need to: arrow top

  • Work with your doctors, nurses, therapists, and parents to make a health care transition plan. When you reach 18, you might have to switch to a doctor who sees adult patients rather than kids.
  • Check with the Social Security Administration to see whether you will continue receiving Supplemental Security Income, if you have been receiving it before age 18. Ask what benefits you can qualify for on your own.
  • Learn more about assistive technology, tools that can make life easier for people with disabilities in the community, at work, and in classrooms. Examples of tools like this are wheelchairs, large screen computers, remote radios, and hearing aids. There are many more kinds of tools out there!
  • Ask your guidance counselor at school to help you find a counselor from your state's department of rehabilitative or rehabilitation services. The rehabilitation counselor will help you get ready for school or work after high school graduation.
  • Practice the social skills you will need to go about daily life, such as asking for help when you need it, getting around town, and feeling comfortable spending time with friends.

As you move into your future, you’ll build more of the skills you need — and the confidence that comes with them. It takes time and effort to create your path in life. Give yourself the credit you deserve!

Check out more resources to help you plan for your future.


Content last reviewed February 16, 2011
Page last updated January 20, 2015