Transition fair in McCandless aims to help disabled plan for future

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 2:03 p.m.

More needs to be done to eliminate post-secondary education, job training and employment barriers for people with disabilities, education experts said.

Those who are at least 16 years old had a 20.7 percent labor participation rate in February, compared with 68.8 percent for non-disabled individuals, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nine school districts, including Avonworth, Deer Lakes and Shaler Area, are joining forces to inform high school students and non-students with disabilities of the post-secondary, employment and training opportunities that are available to them.

The districts are sponsoring the second annual Northern Area Transition Fair on April 18 in the A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless.

The event will bring together exhibitors such as the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Goodwill Industries, Bidwell Training Center, Three Rivers Center for Independent Living, Slippery Rock University and Community College of Allegheny County, said Beth Sipe, learning support teacher/transition coordinator for Pine-Richland High School. The Pine-Richland district is one of the fair's sponsors.

Many school districts countywide have been hosting transition fairs for years.

The northern area districts decided that they could make more of an impact by attracting more vendors and more families to a larger event.

“It's a win-win situation if we can get a bigger audience,” said Stacie Dojonovic, transition coordinator for the Fox Chapel Area School District, which is a fair sponsor.

Fox Chapel has an extensive transition program that links students with disabilities with the district's partners, such as Carnegie Mellon University, and nonprofit agencies, she said.

Often, finding post-secondary educational and employment resources is the result of efforts by parents working collectively, said Lisa Kellick, special education supervisor in the Career Development program at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

All the school districts sponsoring the fair have students enrolled in A.W. Beattie for job training programs during part of their school days.

About 40 percent of those enrolled at A.W. Beattie are special-education students, said Erin Rushe, a learning center facilitator at the career center.

Last year, six districts participated in the fair, which drew about 60 families, she said.

State law requires that students who are at least 14 years old and have disabilities receive transition planning from their school districts. The plans focus on post-secondary education, employment and independent living, Sipe said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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