Kessler Foundation Awards $500K to Transition to Education or Employment Program for Chicago High School Students with Disabilities

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Submitted by lscrivo on Thu, 01/07/2016 - 21:29

WEST ORANGE, N.J. January 7, 2016—Kessler Foundation awarded a two-year, $500,000 grant to Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago to launch the Realizing Education and Advancement for Disabled Youth (READY) Program—a transition program for high school students with disabilities in Chicago, Illinois, so that they can achieve economic independence after graduation. The grant is part of $2.3 million distributed by Kessler Foundation to organizations across the U.S. to support initiatives that create and expand job training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In this two-track, person-centered model, the READY Program will help youth with disabilities gain access to college or employment as they transition out of high school. Students will be connected with other disability organizations to receive a continuum of services. Participants who choose the college access track will receive one-on-one assistance from a post-secondary education specialist. The specialist will assist in navigating the application process and determining the accessibility of their potential school and available accommodations for students with disabilities. They will also learn how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), how to apply for grants and scholarships and how to write an effective personal statement. Once participants start college, the READY Program will continue to provide them with the skills training needed to be successful students.

Participants who elect the second track of the READY Program will receive supports and guidance for pursuing employment. Along with classroom instruction, a program specialist will provide one-on-one assistance with developing the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills needed to land a job and succeed in the workforce. Students will build their resumes and learn interview techniques, technology skills and job search navigation. Participants will be connected with existing programs in the Chicago area that offer employment and job training skills, while the READY Program will provide training and education on disability access and available accommodations in the job market.

“High school students with disabilities are often unprepared for the challenges of gaining access to college or the workforce,” said Elaine E. Katz, senior vice president of Grants and Communications at Kessler Foundation. “The best way to remove barriers and help individuals with disabilities become marketable to employers is to offer a pathway to employment as they are transitioning out of high school. Once they enter the workforce, quality of life improves for individuals with disabilities, as they gain confidence, become financially self-sufficient and enjoy being a productive member of society.”

According to Chicago Public School data, 15 percent of high school students have disabilities. A 2010 report by the Chicago Community Trust found that in Illinois, the employment rate of people with disabilities was 35.9 percent, compared to 74.1 percent for those without disabilities. In the United States, grade school students with disabilities are entitled to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)—which provides accommodations and supports needed to successfully complete high school. IEPs, however, do not follow individuals into college or the workplace, making self-advocacy a necessary skill for requesting reasonable accommodations. While job training and employment organizations help people with disabilities enter the workforce, the lack of a centralized point of contact causes gaps in service. The READY Program strives to intervene before students complete high school−easing the transition, providing the skill development needed to access further education or employment and connecting them to other disability-focused organizations for sequential and continuous supports.

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago secured partnerships to enhance the success of the READY Program, including the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Chicago Public Schools to provide recruitment support and program assistance. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Disability Resource Center will assist college-bound participants in requesting accommodations and address other matters related to navigating the college system. The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership will provide services for job training and placement. Additional partnerships are being explored.

About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit Follow Kessler Foundation on Facebook (, Twitter (@KesslerFdn) and YouTube (

Lauren Scrivo, 973.768.6583,
Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382,