Thriving in Trade School with a Disability

ASO Staff Writers
Updated November 20, 2023
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Support Services, Adaptive Tools & Resources to Succeed on the Vocational Path

High school students should survey their options before joining the working world. Some students prefer vocational programs, which lead to independent skilled work. The following guide covers the benefits of vocational education. This page also explores the laws protecting students and employees with disabilities. Employers should read on for information about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Why Vocational School?

Students with disabilities can access more opportunities than ever before. Many pursue four-year degrees, but vocational schools are becoming more popular. Trade schools offer distinct benefits. They take less time and cost less than four-year schools do.

Vocational programs for students with disabilities take two years or less to complete. A bachelor’s degree takes four years or more. Training for practical nurse or respiratory therapist licensure takes about two years. Training programs for electricians and plumbers also last two years. Apprenticeships for these jobs can take longer to complete.

Trade schools cost much less to attend than four-year colleges. Tuition and fees at four-year colleges averaged $9,212 for public schools as of the 2018-19 school year. Private schools cost $31,875 on average. Tuition and fees averaged $3,313 for two-year public schools and $15,727 for private schools that same year.

Students seeking an affordable path to a good job might prefer vocational school. Use this guide to explore career options, resources, and your rights as a disabled student.

Vocational Career Options for People with Disabilities

People with disabilities can use adaptive tools to access education and employment. Below, explore accommodations and career options available to people with disabilities. This includes people with physical and cognitive disabilities and those with hearing impairments.

Physical Disabilities

Adaptive Tools

Vocational Career Ideas

Learning & Cognitive Disabilities 

Adaptive Tools

Vocational Career Guides

Visual Impairments 

Adaptive Tools

Vocational Career Ideas

Hearing Impairments

 Adaptive Tools

Vocational Career Ideas

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Vocational Rehabilitation: Resources for Reaching Goals

Each state runs a Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) tasked with helping disabled state residents meet employment goals. The U.S. Department of Labor manages these state departments at the federal level. VR departments provide services such as job training, career counseling, and job placement to support people with physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional disabilities.

If you receive disability services through Social Security, you likely qualify for VR services. However, anyone with a disability who requires assistance to find or keep a job may apply for VR services. Your VR counselor can help create an Individual Plan for Employment (IPE), outlining the job you seek and the training and services you need to get this job. The VR department may then help you get the training you need to secure employment.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

VR services vary by state. VR counselors typically assess your needs and help find the services, training, accommodations, and equipment you may need to find and keep a job. See below for some of the VR services commonly available to those who qualify.

Getting Assistance Through Your School

Trade and vocational schools must provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires this. Campus accommodations may include accessible parking, buildings, classrooms, restrooms, and housing. Access for service animals and transportation services counts as well.

Schools must also ensure access to their programs for students with special needs. This includes distance-learning programs. These services may comprise help with registration and tutoring and counseling services. Communication aids and writing help are other common services. Instructors may provide test-taking accommodations, such as extended time or assistive technology.

Check with your school to learn about and request accommodations. Do not expect to receive what you need automatically. You likely must apply or register for services and provide documentation of your disability.

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Timeline: Transitioning from High School to the Workforce

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities receive the special education services they need to access a free, public education. Schools outline the needs of each disabled student and the services they will provide in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP requires a team of school staff, parents, and the student to meet at least once a year to assess the student’s needs, set goals, specify accommodations and special education services, and review student progress.

The IDEA requires schools to include transition planning and postsecondary goals in a student’s IEP beginning at age 16. An IEP may include vocational counseling and training. If it does, a VR counselor can participate in the student’s IEP meetings and transition planning. The VR counselor ensures that when the school’s services end, VR services through the state begin.

Students needing individualized VR services after high school must participate in an eligibility assessment. Once found eligible, the student’s VR counselor will work with the student to create an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) by the time high school ends.

If vocational or trade school is part of the IPE, then students can apply to and attend trade school with the assistance of a VR counselor. VR counselors can also help graduates get the accommodations and protections they need to succeed in their new job. 

What advice would you give a high school student with dyslexia, or any learning disability, as they look ahead to life after high school?

If you keep on pushing, you can do it. One of [my] main challenges was that it took me longer to do the program I was in. I had to redo a math class because the teacher wasn’t a good match for me. Getting information orally and on video is very helpful to me now.

Corey Missiaen

Paying for Vocational Training: Scholarships and Financial Aid

Trade schools and community colleges typically cost much less than four-year degrees, but they still require a significant financial investment. Students with disabilities may qualify for scholarships and other financial aid opportunities to help cover the costs of vocational training.

To qualify for federal and state loans and grants, you must complete the FAFSA. Check with your trade school to see if their students qualify for federal financial aid programs. If they do, you may qualify for subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans, state or federal grants, and other aid available through your school once you complete the FAFSA.

You must pay back any money you accept in student loans once you finish your training and start working, but grants and scholarships do not require repayment. Learn more about scholarships and other financial aid available to students with disabilities below.

Federal Student Aid 

Student loans are available from the U.S. government by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

HEATH Resource Center 

Families may consider starting an Individual Development Accounts to save for a student’s vocational school needs. Find more information through the National Youth Transitions Center George Washington University’s HEATH Resource Center. maintains an extensive list of scholarships specifically for students with disabilities. 

Find a list of specific scholarships for students with learning disabilities and attention issues at, an organization created to help parents of students with learning disabilities. maintains a list of scholarships that can be applied to vocational and trade schools across the country.

Workplace Diversity: Disability and Inclusion

Many employers value diversity in the workplace. Workplace inclusion policies lead to a more diverse workforce, which in turn can lead to better products and more creative business solutions.

Disabled workers in the U.S. benefit from government protection from discrimination. Federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, regulate how employers must treat disabled workers, and many states offer legal protections for disabled workers as well. Learn more about the benefits of a diverse workplace and the rights of disabled workers in this section.

For Workers with Disabilities: Knowing Your Rights

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects workers with disabilities from discrimination by enforcing federal laws that make workplace discrimination illegal. Workers who believe they experienced discrimination may file a claim with the EEOC. The EEOC will investigate the claim and, if they find evidence of discrimination, either settle the claim or take the employer to court.

The EEOC enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits private employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating during the hiring process. This law also protects disabled workers from discrimination when it comes to pay, benefits, promotions, and terminations. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled workers unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

1. Who is protected under the ADA?
Any disabled person qualifies for protection under the ADA. The ADA defines a disability as a lasting physical or mental impairment that limits major life activities. Anyone with a disability or a history of disability — and anyone whom others may view as disabled — can qualify for ADA protections.

2. What is reasonable accommodation?
Providing reasonable accommodation means modifying the workplace or the way workers typically perform tasks to help disabled workers apply for jobs, perform essential duties, and remain productive. The accommodation must not be too hard or expensive for the employer to make. Common accommodations include installing wheelchair ramps; allowing service animals; and offering modified work schedules or equipment, assistive technology, or interpreters.

3. What employment practices are included?
The ADA protects disabled workers from discrimination in all aspects of employment. ADA-protected employment practices include hiring, compensation and benefits, work assignments, training, and layoffs and firings. The ADA also protects disabled workers from workplace harassment.

4. What can I do if I am being discriminated against?
If you feel you are being discriminated against in the workplace, you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. You must file a charge discrimination took place (or 300 days if your state or local government also enforces employment discrimination).

Where Can I Look for More Information?

For Employers: Building Equality in the Workplace

About one-fifth of all disabled people participate in the U.S. labor force. Many employers seek to build a diverse workforce. Employers who hire disabled workers benefit from tax advantages and diversity of perspectives and experiences. A study conducted at the University of Chicago revealed that people with more varied connections generate more innovative ideas. In this way, diversity can offer companies a competitive advantage.

Employers that value diversity develop inclusive policies and seek to remove barriers to employment for disabled workers. To build a diverse workforce, managers and human resources personnel must find ways to recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified new workers, regardless of their disability status.

1. How can employers consider diversity while recruiting and hiring?
To build a more diverse workforce, employers can start by brainstorming ways to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants. They can also create hiring practices that ensure candidate selection remains consistent for all applicants and does not discriminate based on disability or any other protected class. If two candidates are equally qualified and one is disabled, the employer can hire the disabled applicant.

2. How can employers make reasonable accommodations?
Employers can make reasonable accommodations by identifying ways to remove barriers to productivity for disabled workers. They can examine the essential functions of the disabled worker’s job and offer accommodations that will make the job more accessible. Examples include improving access to the workplace, allowing flexibility of job tasks or work schedules, and providing equipment or technology that will help the employee complete essential tasks.

3. How can employers plan ongoing inclusion training?
To create a workplace that values diversity and remains free of harassment, employers can plan ongoing inclusion training. During this training, they define company objectives and identify the training needs of their employees. Employers look at what needs to change and then design, deliver, and evaluate regular training sessions that meet their identified goals.

4. How Can Employers Prioritize Inclusion?
Employers can prioritize inclusion in many ways, such as:

  • Include language on diversity and inclusion in company’s core values
  • Ensure employee gathering areas, such as break rooms, are accessible to all
  • Hold regular trainings on inclusion of all minority groups
  • Consider collaboration among people with and without disabilities when creating projects
  • Maintain a zero tolerance policy on bullying and harassment
  • Make training session locations and materials accessible and practice universal design concepts

Ongoing Support for Students and Workers with Disabilities

Understanding the Law

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund offers a big-picture comparison of the three important laws related to disability rights. offers resources for students with learning disabilities and their parents, including a guide to understanding the ADA and other disability laws.

Preparing for Transition

The Center for Parent Information and Resources offers an easy-to-follow guide to prepare for the transition from high school to postsecondary education.

JobTIPS from helps students consider the types of careers they might succeed in through guided exercises, graphic organizers, role-playing scenario cards, and pre-screening tests.

Choosing a Vocation

My Next Move is an interactive tool for job seekers to learn more about their career options. The tool shares tasks, skills, and salary information for more than 900 careers.

Occupational Outlook Handbook describes the education and training requirements, potential earnings, and projected job growth for a variety of occupations.

The Department of Education’s College Navigator includes a search tool for career colleges and technical schools accredited by agencies recognized by the Department of Education.

Finding a Job

ABILITYjobs offers job listings specifically for people with disabilities, as well as resources on accommodations and recent research on disability issues.

DisABLEDperson posts over 200,000 active jobs from companies interested in recruiting qualified applicants with disabilities.

GettingHired seeks to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and the jobs where they will succeed, including resources for veterans with disabilities.

Ongoing Education

The PACER Center operates on the premise that parents can help parents navigate the unique challenges of raising children with disabilities.

Veteran’s Support

From Troops to Trade outlines skills gained in each branch of the military and demonstrates how military jobs can translate into civilian jobs.

VA Benefits outlines veteran support and services, including healthcare benefits, education and training, vocational rehabilitation, and employment services.

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