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Transition Programs Urged
for Students with Disabilities

By John Williams

Why is it that students with disabilities are seldom asked, “What do you plan to do after you graduate from high school?” Students have cried as they told me they felt abandoned by a society that does not want them to succeed. Sixteen-year-old Carrie Smiths of Houston, Texas, said: “I graduate next year and not one counselor has talked to me about college. They have talked to my classmates.”

Smiths uses a wheelchair and has a slight speech problem. She desperately wants to go to college. Her mother, Carla, said that Carrie, a B student, "can make it in college if she has the opportunity.” In Los Angeles, 18-yearold Roberto Alamar has been out of school for a year and does not have the money to go to college. He wants to be a graphic artist. He is developmentally delayed, and he lives on the streets. His family members are either in Mexico or in jail. His two older brothers, Louis and Thomas, are in jail.

Alfonso Ramirez said of Alamar: “He is a good boy. He needs adult guidance and a chance. Because he is Mexican, no one gives him a chance.”

Smiths and Alamar are among tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of students with disabilities nationwide who have the ability and drive to be successful provided they have access to resources and guidance. Both perceive society as working against them.

“I am not convinced that people who don’t have a disability want what’s best for me,” said Smiths in a reference aimed mainly at her schoolteachers.

Carla Smiths said that Carrie’s teachers "have never been supportive of her goals for higher education." Smiths’ parents are investigating higher educational opportunities for Carrie and are looking for a part-time job for her.

“It will be good to have a job reference on my history,” Carrie Smiths said.

Alamar has a driver’s license, but he has never held a job. He hungers to attend college and is looking for help. He is trying to sell his artwork on the street, but no one is buying. “I have talent, but I need schooling to build my life,” he said.

Ramirez is trying to help Alamar. He gives him a place to sleep twice a week and has investigated a variety of programs that can help Alamar go to college. ‘’I need help from my good friend Ramirez on going to higher schooling,” Alamar said.

Ramirez and Alamar are skeptical about going to a government agency to seek assistance because Alamar, who has lived in the country for 10 years, is an illegal. ‘If I am going to make a good life for me, it has to be here and not in Mexico, where I would never get help,” said Alamar, who insisted that he is not afraid of being ostracized from his gang if he can go to school.

Willard Macklin, a former special education teacher in Houston, said: “It has always been the case that able-bodied students fare better than disabled students in academia. I don’t understand why."

Macklin, who has taught in Texas, Arizona and Colorado, said there is a solution, “We need first-rate transition programs that enable disabled students to transition successfully from grade school to high school to college, and from college to the job market. In high school and college, we need to make sure that disabled students have jobs. Working is important to their success.”

How do Smiths and Alamar feel about transition programs?

“I want to be successful, and so I need to be involved in transition programs now and in the future,” Smiths said. Alamar agreed. He said he knows other youths like himself who need transition programs from school to jobs.

Maria Perez, a rehab counselor in Los Angeles County, agreed with Alamar on the need to help Latinos with disabilities graduate from high school and transition into college programs that will help them get jobs.

John Williams can be reached at

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