• Christina Delgado, M.Ed.

Special Education: Transition to Adult Independent and/or Interdependent Living

* This blog post utilizes a large degree of research and data.

This blog post focuses on individuals with disabilities who are transitioning to adulthood through the use of independent and/or interdependent living. According to American Community Survey (ACS) 2016’s data, the overall rate of individuals with disabilities within the population of the United States population is 12.8%. Also, from 2010 to 2016, the percentage of individuals with disabilities rose from 11.9% to 12.8% (Institute on Disabilities, 2018). This review will focus on various key factors incorporated in independent and interdependent living. Typically, individuals with disabilities who are more emotionally, mentally, medically, and/or financially dependent exercise interdependent living, while individuals who require less assistance choose to exercise independent living.

The Dilemma:

Independent living verses interdependent living:

According to Witso and Kittelsaa (2018), independent living refers to the philosophy that people with disabilities should be able to do the following: Personal control over one’s life, independent housing, financial independence, employment, vocational education and/or secondary education, the ability to make decisions that affect personal life, self-direction, ample participation in society, exercise freedom of choice, risk-taking, obtains basic living skills, and equal access. When utilizing independent living, supports equal participation in community life (Witso & Kittelsaa, 2018). Also, independent living supports a service system made up of centers for independent living. It focuses on social attitudes and physical barriers verses one’s limitations. Most often, independent living emphasizes one’s right to certain types of help and assistance in efforts to succeed. Lastly, independent living supports include the following: Modifications to a living space, personal assistance, and changing policies to indorse the ability to live independently (Witso & Kittelsaa, 2018).

In contrast, Felce (2017) defines interdependent living as an idea that refers to living with one or more individuals due to the need of emotional, physical, financial, medical, and/or mental support. Four common forms of interdependent living include: Community living, shared housing, living with family members, and medical housing. Typically, individuals who transition into interdependent living are more dependent of financial, emotional, behavioral, medical, and/or physical assistance than those who exercise independent living (Felce, 2017).


For decades, individuals with diagnosed disabilities have had their legal rights integrated into federal documentation. Over the years, their legal rights have been added to and modified in efforts to provide individuals with disabilities with access to equality and equity throughout various arenas. These arenas include: Housing, employment, education, medical, and throughout the community. Current laws provide students and adults with disabilities the opportunity to gain equality and fairness within their communities by addressing their physical, emotional, mental, and medical needs. For example, the American with Disabilities ACT (ADA) requires that all public structures offer wheelchair accessible walkways to accommodate those with physical impairments.

Civil Rights Movement:

The Civil Rights Movement occurred during the 1960’s. This movement set off a chain reaction of federal legalities attempting to equalize various opportunities for many individuals, including those with disabilities (Project Ideal, 2013). This movement began the prohibition of discrimination across various areas, including: Race, color, national origin, and disability. This movement prohibits discrimination in educational programs and activities which receive government financial aid (Project Ideal, 2013). Due to the Civil Rights Movement, transition services evolved throughout the upcoming decades. By 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to specifically prohibit the discrimination of individuals based on disability. Lastly, by 1990, this movement resulted in ADA Title II, which prohibits discrimination based on disability within public entities. The evolution of this movement has created opportunities for individuals with disabilities for decades (Project Ideal, 2013).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines transition as a service mandated to students who are in K-12 who have an individualized education (IEP) plan (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2018). The following are IDEA’s 13 categories of special education: Autism, blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2018). Transition planning is designed to be within a result oriented process and focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of individuals with disabilities. The transition process from school to post-school activities should be facilitated. Potential post-school activities include: Post-secondary education, vocational education, employment, continuing education, adult services, independent living, and community participation (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2018).

The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA):

The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) of 1975, Public Law 94-142, highlights the following topics for individuals with disabilities: Access, equal opportunity, and equity (Project Ideal, 2013). The legal implementation of EAHCA positively affected change in various ways for students with disabilities. For example, the EAHCA adjusted the IEP requirements, and integrated a more detail oriented and supportive transitioning process for students transitioning to adulthood. Lastly, EAHCA provided students with disabilities legally mandated rights to receiving equal opportunities for education across all school districts nationwide (Project Ideal, 2013).

Transition Factors:

The following factors should be considered by the individual, their family members, educators, and other support agencies before assisting the individual to transition to independent or interdependent living. Both independent and interdependent living include different degrees of support throughout an array of factors from varying stakeholders. These factors include the following: Employment, vocational education, basic living skills, service/ program availability, locations for living opportunities, transportation, medical requirements, knowledge to accessing community resources, and financial standing (Achola, & Greene, 2016).

Basic Living Skills:

One of the most basic living skills that one must learn when transitioning to independent living is the skill of cooking. According to the Institute on Disabilities (2018), individuals with disabilities typically suffer from heightened rates of obesity. According to the Institute on Disabilities (2018), 38.9% of individuals with disabilities, ages 18 and above, were labeled as being obese in 2016. However, data shows that individuals who are 18 and above without disabilities had a 26.4% obesity rate. This resulted in a 12.6% obesity percentage gap in 2016. Data from this report has clearly shown that there is a correlation between individuals with disabilities and obesity. As a result of these high rates, cooking and healthy eating options are a daily living skill that should be addressed during transition planning and the transition period to better prepare individuals with disabilities for independent living (Institute on Disabilities, 2018).

Researchers Cullen, Simmons-Reed, and Weaver (2017) conducted a study which utilized self‐directed video prompting via iPad with the “My Pictures Talk” application designed to assist transition aged youth (TAY) and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in a postsecondary program. This program was created to help transitioning students acquire, sustain, generalize, and obtain daily living skills in a particular subject. Researchers Cullen et al. (2017) believed that acquiring and simplifying daily living skills encourages TAY with IDD to meet personal needs with limited reliance on others. The technology utilized for this study served as a self-prompting device, which aided task achievement that would have been otherwise less attainable. This study demonstrated results, which showed a functional relationship between the initial usage of the video prompting intervention to the enhancement in designated skill execution (Cullen et al., 2017).

Transition and Employment:

According to the Institute on Disabilities (2018), 35.9% of people with disabilities ages 18-64 were employed in 2016. In contrast, individuals without diagnosed disabilities, ages 18-64, reached a medium employment rate of 76.6%. This resulted in more than double the employment rate of individuals with diagnosed disabilities with 40.7 % in 2016 (Institute on Disabilities, 2018).

Researchers Tomaszewski, Fidler, Tapapatra, and Riley (2018), conducted a study which examined the adaptive behavior and executive function (EF) profiles during early adulthood of individuals diagnosed with down syndrome (DS) along with the connection between these areas of employment status and functionality. This study’s participants included 31 parents and/or caregivers of young adults (averaging the age of 25.9 years old) who were diagnosed with DS.

The study utilized the “Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales – Second Edition the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function – Adult version” along with a questionnaire, focusing on demographic information, which gathered information addressing the current status of adult employment (Tomaszewski et al., 2018). Results from this study identified a specific pattern of associated strengths and challenges within adaptive behavior and EF. Also, findings showed that the EF sub-domain of working memory was a large forecaster of individuals employment status (Tomaszewski et al., 2018). Lastly, particular features of the DS cognitive profile could have a vital effect on the employment status in young adults who have been diagnosed with DS (Tomaszewski et al., 2018).

Transition to vocational education and/or post-secondary education:

According to researchers Plotner, Oertle, Reed Tissot, & Kumpiene (2017), the vocational rehabilitation (VR) system provides individuals with disabilities with an array of opportunities, including: Job skills training, university and/or college training, counseling, and supportive services. These supportive services focus on degree and non-degree educational programs to support a self-efficient transition process for young adults with disabilities. In addition, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 legally officiated these services for individuals who meet the requirements (Plotner et al., 2017). Within 2011, approximately 180,000 TAY had their VR records closed. As a result, this was responsible for approximately 30% of VR closures. In addition, the VR system includes a range of services for students with disabilities, which includes the following: Mental health treatment, higher education, independent living skills training, substance abuse treatment, vocational training, employment- related services, and medical services (Plotner et al., 2017).

Researchers Plotner et al. (2017) conducted a study based on an evaluation of transition policies in state VR agencies for the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). Within this study, 72 VR agencies were surveyed. Of the 72 VR agency surveys, 80 % claimed having individuals who organized transition services at a state level. Also, 63% of these agencies consisted of VR counselors who had caseloads of TAY (Plotner et al., 2017). More so, 46 % of these TAY VR councilors had counselors stationed in local high schools and 75 % had counselors placed in various job centers. The study reported several challenges when assisting TAY. These challenges include the following: VR programs low levels of involvement, VR programs vary through each state, developing national standards for TAY in VR verses state mandated standards, insufficient research on VR services focused on TAY, lack of collaboration amongst other agencies, unsuccessful state and city interagency agreements, and challenged due to referrals. Plotner et al. (2017)’s study made several suggestions in efforts to improve VR for TAY with disabilities. Firstly, the VR system can provide implemented and positivity reinforced education and employment opportunities. Also, stakeholders, such as educators, government officials, and families, could bring awareness and indorse VR services for TAY. Additionally, individuals can cultivate VR program benchmarks and expectations for working with TAY as well as building cultural competency amongst all parties affected (Plotner et al., 2017). Also, it would benefit most VR staff members to be provided with additional professional development and skill building opportunities in efforts to aid TAY. Finally, positive changes to VR policies at the national level, resulting in changes within state levels, can occur by improving VR relationships amongst states, local education agencies, and VR agencies (Plotner et al., 2017).

Transition and Finances:

According to the Institute on Disabilities (2018), the average income of individuals 16 years old or older with diagnosed disabilities who maintained employment was $22,047.00 in 2016. In contrast, individuals without disabilities earned an average of $32,479.00 within 2016. Within 2016, their median earning gap reached $10,432.00 between employees with disabilities and those individuals without diagnosed disabilities (Institute on Disabilities, 2018).

Researchers Gilson, Carter, Bumble, and McMillan (2018) conducted a study which focused on families being imperative partners to increasing and maintaining employment opportunities of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This study gathered data from 673 family members who were closely related to an individual with IDD. The data examined the participants expectations, preferences, and concerns related to the employment of a family member with IDD (Gilson et al., 2018). Results from this study showed that participants gave importance to paid employment over housing options. Also, participants scored high importance to quality of work environment, such as personal satisfaction and social interaction opportunities (Gilson et al., 2018). The quality of the work environment scored higher importance to participants than monetary compensation, work hours, and benefits combined (Gilson et al., 2018).

Transition and Housing:

Researchers Langi, Oberoi, and Balcazar (2017) conducted a study, which was designed to determine whether successful VR employment was influenced by one’s housing arrangement for those with disabilities. Within this study, the researchers focused on five types of housing and included 46,670 VR individuals ranging from 18 to 65 years old located in Midwestern states. The five types of housing included: private residence, community/ group residential, correctional/ rehabilitation facilities, nursing home/mental health facilities, and homeless shelter (Langi et al., 2017). Through the use of quasibinomial logistic regression and statistical modeling, results showed that those living in correctional or rehabilitation facilities were at a statistical advantage of reaching successful rehabilitation compared to individuals who were living in homeless shelters, nursing homes, mental health facilities. Individuals residing in homeless shelters, nursing homes, and mental health facilities were at a statistical disadvantage of reaching successful rehabilitation. Lastly, results showed that individuals who lived in private residence, community living, and group living all had the same likelihood of reaching a successful rehabilitation (Langi et al., 2017).

Researchers Finkelstein and Marcus (2018) conducted a study which gathered data through interviews with an individual named Eytan pertaining to the realities of interdependent living while having Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Data gathered reflected Eytan’s

challenges due to being dependent on caregivers and other interdependent relationships. Researchers utilized reflective writing so that readers could gain a detailed understanding of the challenges and complexities of Eytan’s daily experiences. Researchers Finkelstein and Marcus (2018) concluded that independence and care are vastly entwined in the lives of individuals who are immobile, like Eytan.

Due to recent policy changes, there are increased opportunities for adults with (IDD) to live independently in inclusive settings. According to Burke, Chung, Chung, Rios, Arnold, and Owen (2017), it would prove valuable to identify easily influenced and related community living options in efforts to develop interventions to meant to amplify broadened independent living. Researchers Burke et al. (2017) conducted a study which included reports from 546 parents and siblings of adults with IDD who competed a national survey. The data showed that adults with IDD were at an increased likelihood to live outside of their family home when the family were involved in future planning, the individual had a larger range of informal supports, more functional abilities, and had parents with limited caregiving capacities (Burke et al., 2017). In addition, of the 187 adults with IDD who did not live in their family homes, those with more frequent problem behaviors and fewer functional abilities were at an increased likelihood of living in larger group homes, in contrast to living independently with and without additional supports (Burke et al., 2017). In addition, results showed that the higher the family participation in pursuits of future planning, adults with IDD were more likely to live in a group home than independently. Lastly, data showed that when parents had limited caregiving abilities, adults with IDD were more likely to reside in larger group homes rather than living independently (Burke et al., 2017).

Researchers Achola and Greene (2016) competed a study titled, “Person-family centered transition planning: Improving post-school outcomes to culturally and diverse youth and families”. This research compared and contrasted the similarities and differences between families of diverse cultures and mainstream American society in terms of transition support, transition planning, and person-family interdependent living approaches for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students with disabilities. Achola and Greene (2016) implemented a framework designed for CLD families, which reflects various value systems such as family empowerment, adaptions to the transition planning process, and sustainability of transition services. During this study, Achola and Greene (2016) became aware of how cultural differences vary in the transition processes of CLD family members with disabilities. For example, in mainstream American society, children are deemed to be independent at the age of 18, while Latino families deem independence once an individual has become married. Research from this study showed that CLD students with disabilities do benefit from an implemented person-family interdependent approach in terms of long term transition outcomes and heightened family satisfaction when adhering to the transition planning process.


The transition planning process, along with implementing an effective transition for individuals with disabilities, can be challenging due to various factors. Central stakeholders need to collaborate, such as educators, parents, counselors, and post-secondary agencies, to determine the most effective transition plan for each individual depending on their limitations, strengths, levels of dependence, family involvement, and goals. Individuals planning and/or experiencing independent living, interdepending living, transition planning, and/or the transition process often times find that the goals, planning, and actions taken to reach a successful transition amongst those with disabilities are unique and costume depending on one’s emotional, mental, medical, and financial realities.


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