Dr. Thoma looks at employment for youth with disabilities

Spotlight on SOE faculty and doctoral student research

Headshot of Dr. Colleen Thoma, professor in the VCU School of Education.
Dr. Colleen Thoma

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Colleen Thoma, professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, which looks at the efforts to improve employment outcomes for youth with disabilities.


Dr. Colleen Thoma, along with doctoral students Joshua Taylor, Holly Whittenburg, Tonya Gokita and Gabrielle Pickover, examined how interagency collaboration established by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 impacts the transition services associated with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004.

The purpose of WIOA is to establish competitive employment for underserved populations such as individuals with disabilities. The most significant provision of WIOA is that each state is required by law to allocate 15% of its federal grant funds to pre-employment transition services. Pre-employment transition services are provided to fill the employment gap for transition-aged youth with disabilities via five required services: job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling related to transition or post-secondary education, workplace readiness training, and self-advocacy instruction.

Many of the components of both IDEA and WIOA overlap, and transition practitioners can utilize both pieces of legislation to improve transition effectiveness and employment for youth with disabilities.

Dr. Thoma and her colleagues recommend strategies for practitioners that should be included in student transition planning in schools. For example, they encourage inclusive education and community-integrated work-based learning for students, as these have been shown to predict better postsecondary outcomes in both employment and education.


Taylor, J., Thoma, C., Whittenburg, H., Gokita, T. & Pickover, G. (2019). Collaboration to improve employment outcomes for youth with disabilities: Implications of pre-ETS components of WIOA on IDEA transition requirements. DADD Online Journal: Research to Practice, 6(1), 38-47. http://www.daddcec.com/uploads/2/5/2/0/2520220/doj_6_2019_final.pdf