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Disabled Teens Aim High - But Unequal Opportunities Thwart Success

Armen Hareyan's picture

Disabled Teens

Disabled teenagers hold the same aspirations to stay in education and find fulfilling careers as their non-disabled classmates, according to research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. But while involvement in mainstream education, and the example set by successful disabled adults, may have encouraged them to aim high, many have had their ambitions frustrated by their mid-twenties and are left intensely disappointed in their inability to shape their own future.

The study shows that the Government's key targets for improving educational attainment and raising employment rates among disadvantaged groups are far from being achieved for disabled young people.

Analysing two representative samples of people born in Britain during the 70s and 80s, the researcher, Tania Burchardt, academic fellow at the London School of Economics, found that:

  • Despite having aspirations as high as their non-disabled counterparts, young disabled people get lower qualifications.

  • At age 26, disabled people were more than two and a half times as likely to be out of work as non-disabled people, even after taking account of differences in their educational qualifications.

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  • For those in employment, earnings were 11 per cent lower than their non-disabled counterparts with the same educational qualifications implying discrimination in the workplace.

  • Encouragingly, the aspirations of disabled and non-disabled teenagers appear to have converged since the 1970s.

The study argues for attention to be directed towards removing barriers, sometimes based on direct or indirect discrimination, which disabled young people are experiencing when pursuing their ambitions. With many disabled young people reporting not getting the education or college place they wanted, the report urges for more support in the way of funding and equipment to help with their move from school to further education.

Evidence of disabled young people's low level of educational attainment highlights the need for more help to ensure that they are able to gain the qualifications that they aspire to. For those who don't, more opportunities and financial support should be available for them to return to education.

Programmes like New Deal for Disabled People and Pathways to Work are criticised as being misdirected for disabled young people since motivation is far from lacking. Work placements, combined with extending the availability of Access to Work to cover work experience, might prove to be more effective.

Tania Burchardt, author of the report, said: "It has been a struggle for young disabled people to gain recognition of their potential and to develop positive aspirations for playing useful roles in adult life. That achievement is certainly to be celebrated. But the fact that equality of opportunity in turning those aspirations into reality is still far from realised, leaves no room for complacency."