Expanding the impact of Career Readiness nationwide

At PYD, we envision a world in which youth with disabilities lead self-determined lives filled with dignity, pride, and purpose. To help achieve that vision, inclusive employment has long been a goal for PYD. We began our Career Readiness program in 1997 as one of the nation’s first career readiness programs for low-income youth with disabilities designed to address the persisting high unemployment rate of individuals with disabilities. Since then, we have worked with thousands of young people with disabilities in the Greater Boston area to ensure they receive excellent career readiness supports and guidance toward successfully entering the workforce.

Career Readiness first began as a direct service model, with a classroom instructor teaching weekly classes across several high school classrooms. In 2014, we expanded our reach by developing a Train the Teacher model, in which educators and youth professionals are trained to use PYD’s Career Readiness curriculum and receive regular support to ensure successful implementation in their classrooms.

“Working with [PYD] helped me to connect my students with many more real world, authentic experiences. The curriculum helped me to redesign my units in my classes for students with a variety of skills so that all students were able to benefit.” - TeacherIn 2019, we expanded even further to develop a national replication model. We’ve grown tremendously since then, and our program now operates in thirteen states across the country. We are connecting with like-minded organizations and businesses across the country who share in our vision for an inclusive society to further our reach to more youth with disabilities.

Using PYD’s Career Readiness curriculum, our replication partner organizations combine our materials with their expertise in supporting youth with disabilities to explore career interests, enhance their workplace and soft skills, and identify opportunities for employment. They are placing their participants in internships, leading job shadows, and hosting guest lecturers to speak about their professional experiences. As a result, participants leave these programs with tangible products like resumes, cover letters, sample job applications, and scripts for disability disclosure, to either include in their professional portfolios or to prepare for the job application and employment process.

Our PYD Career Readiness Curriculum contains the lessons and resources that help all youth participants thrive. The curriculum was designed using the principles of Universal Design for Learning, which include flexible goals, methods, materials, assessments, and accommodations for learning differences, allowing for the curriculum to be used in both inclusive and substantially separate special education classrooms. Because of the inclusive nature of the curriculum, over the years it has been used with students with a wide range of disabilities. We are so grateful to disperse the many lessons learned from teaching a curriculum to youth with disabilities in the Boston area to positively impact their peers around the country.

Chart showing the number of teachers using the Career Readiness curriculum by year. In 2018, it was 15 teachers. In 2019, 18 teachers. In 2020, 40 teachers. And in 2021, 41 teachers to date.Unfortunately, our work is nowhere near done. In January 2020, the employment rate in the United States for people with disabilities was 17.9% compared to 61.8% of people without disabilities (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). These disparities are not simply a result of ability; instead, they reflect the ongoing misunderstandings among employers – and society at large – about what people with disabilities bring to the table.

People with disabilities are chronically underemployed not because they lack the requisite skills or abilities but because of persistent disability stigma, misunderstandings or prejudice, and lack of information about disability by non-disabled people. We live in a society that stigmatizes disability, and that can (and will) be hard to overcome.

Yet, the fact is that everyone benefits from employing people with disabilities and including them in the workplace. People with disabilities represent a pool of highly valuable workers. Studies show that hiring people with disabilities increases workplace productivity, attendance, and morale, and fosters a more inclusive workplace setting . People with disabilities reduce turnover costs as they tend to remain in one position longer than other employees. Additionally, other research demonstrates that consumers overwhelmingly favor businesses that employ people with disabilities .

Learn more about our replication partners at the Curriculum page of PYD’s website. We are always looking to expand our partnerships – to join us in creating a more inclusive workplace, contact Emma Kahn at ekahn@pyd.org.