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Transition Planning Series: Postsecondary Independent Living (Part 4 of 5)

Transition Planning for Independent Living Skills
Lucile H. Lynch

Part 1: The Transition Plan - What is it?
Part 2: Postsecondary Education
Part 3: Postsecondary Employment
Part 4: (This Article)
Part 5: Creating the Transition Plan


Under the IDEA, transition plans are supposed to include goals related to independent living "where appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1401(34)(13); 34 C.F.R. § 300.43. Most students with moderate to severe disabilities will need independent living goals to increase their independence as they enter into adulthood. Independent living skills are skills that adults use to sustain themselves on a regular basis such as 1. self help/daily care, 2. transportation, 3. residential care, 4. financial management, 5. community relationships and 6. safety awareness. Most students will need training or education to learn independent living skills so the transition plan should include the agency responsible for the training (e.g. the school, SDRC, Department of Rehabilitation, Child Welfare Services, etc.) and the location, duration and frequency of the training/education so that all IEP team members are aware of their respective roles and responsibilities. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics from July 2014 reveal that persons with disabilities are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as persons without disabilities so planning and practicing early is important to help a student find work and stay employed.

1. Self Help
Parents may not realize how many things they do regularly at home to care for themselves, their home or their student. To determine what the student needs to learn to increase the student's independence during adult life, ask the school to perform an independent living skills assessment or to take a "life skills inventory." Consider also doing an assessment at home because what is seen in a home setting may differ from what is assessed at school. An excellent table to help identify living skills is available from Taft College (which also has a postsecondary "college experience" residential program for young adults to learn transition skills). Table: Taft College Transition to Independent Living Program Skills Inventory. Other helpful forms can be found at: Life Skills Inventory & Protocol (Washington State Dept. of Social & Health Services), Independent Living Skills Checklist, and the Transition Hub (a nice assortment of different, free assessments).

Is prompting assistance needed? If a person has memory or attention deficits, assistive technology may be needed to help the student remember to do thing something (e.g. wake, brush teeth, put on deodorant, take medication, pay a bill, pack lunch, lock the door at night) or to remember how to do something (what to pack in a lunch, which bus to take, etc.) Calendar apps exist for computers and handheld devices that can be set with reminders at different time intervals. There are also talking reminder apps that allow the user to record a message that can state what needs to be done (e.g. Voice Reminders app, Smart Talking Reminder). Alarm clocks also exist with talking reminders (e.g. take medication, etc.) The use of Skype, FaceTime or other video conferencing tools may also provide direct "off-site" supervision for particular times of the day.

Is physical assistance needed? There are numerous tools available to help with physical independence and safety that are often overlooked. Many companies specialize in providing tools to help those with disabilities become more independent. Examples of companies include:,,, and others. Below are some examples of tools that may increase independence:

  • Bathroom use: higher toilets, seat lifters (to help a student with balance issues stand up more easily), safety or grab bars (to use the shower, toilet or get out of bed), hand held shower heads, clearly marked hot/cold faucets or knobs, bath seat or transfer benches to sit on;
  • Bedding: adjustable or electronic beds to help users sit up or get out of bed;
  • Communication: Picture phones (has photo slots with programmable numbers to help student know who to call), big button phones, voice command phones;
  • Dressing or grooming: 1. "Good grip" button hook - to help student button shirts, larger loops for zippers, dressing sticks, 2. longer handled combs or brushes, 3. elastic shoelaces or shoes with velcro, 4. sock aids - help student put on socks without bending over;
  • Fine motor/Vision: "Great Grips" make turning a door knob easier, large key phones, speaker phones;
  • Lighting: lamp switch enlargers, light-it sensors under the bed can provide light when students get out of bed so that they don't have to reach for a light;
  • Locating or tracking support: Some persons may have memory issues and there are several supports that can be attached to keys or put on important items (e.g. purse, backpack, etc.) such as BluTracker, Bringrr & Bringtags, Find'em Tracking Card, Linnet, Lupo, PebbleBee, Protag Elite, "Stick-n-Find" bluetooth location trackers, Tile, XY Find-it, and more;
  • Medication: Programs exist that provide sensors to alert family members of whether certain things such as taking medicine has been done (e.g. Lively, Proteus Digital Health Systems, and even ingestible sensors to provide alerts regarding when medications were taken);
  • Driving: Car starter key turner to help turn the key in the ignition;
  • Safety: personal or medical alert systems to wear as a pendant or on the wrist to alert someone if there is a fall or safety issue (be sure to check to see if the alert item can be worn in the shower where many accidents happen, make sure there is a set rate as many persons with disabilities are on a set budget, avoid signing a long term contract if possible and, if possible, look for contracts that can be easily canceled. Some examples of emergency response systems include: Alert1, Lifeline, LifeStation, Lively, Medical Guardian, but which system will work best will depend on the person's individual needs and family's budget;
  • Technology generally: There are numerous tools to increase accessibility such as specialized keyboards (e.g. larger print, keyless keyboards, big keys), adaptive mouses, eye or gaze tracking programs or devices (e.g. Eyegaze, myGaze, PCEye Go), head pointers, portable magnifiers, voice command centers and more.

One of the most important self help skills students need to develop are good "readiness skills" so that they can wake, get dressed and get to school or work on time. Often a student can get a job but keeping the job often depends on whether the student is able to get ready and get to the job on time.

2. Transportation
Some students with disabilities will be able to drive or use other transportation means while other students will need someone to transport them to and from their activities. There are different levels of transportation support ranging from transportation training (to help students take public transportation alone) to curb-to-curb options (which pick up the student at home and deliver the student to a location). Resources can vary from region to region but this article, written for San Diego readers, will share some insights on the types of programs that may exist locally. The student's transition plan should include goals and services designed to help the student learn how to access, navigate and use the appropriate transportation option(s). (Note: Many of the organizations that provide support for independent living offer programs to help students get a driver's license -- e.g. Chapel Haven West).

  • Potential Drivers: In California, the California DMV has a tiered program to get a driver’s license. For students between 15 ½ and 17 ½, they must: 1. complete a state-approved driver’s education course, and 2. pass the written driver’s test to get a “provisional permit” (also known as learner’s permit). If a student is 17 ½ but under 18, the student may get a permit without a learner’s permit but will not be able to take the driving test until age 18.

    As part of a driver’s ed program, students must complete at least 25 hours of classroom or online instruction. The DMV recommends the “Drive Safely” online program ($69.95 – $99.95) but there are others that are also certified and less expensive (e.g. $14.95).

    After the Driver’s Ed instruction, students must take the written test to get their permit. Driver’s Ed Curriculum is available from the DMV website. Click here for sample practice tests. Drivers with a provisional permit may only drive when accompanied with an adult aged 25 or older. (For more details visit the CA DMV website).

  • Non-Drivers: For students who are not able to drive themselves to their destinations, there are numerous programs and supports to help them become more independent. While some students may have access to parental or other support for transportation or carpools, below are a few of the other programs available that may be beneficial.

    ADA Travel Training: Many counties have transportation programs offer “mobility management programs” such as “travel training.” Travel training is a 1:1 personalized training program to help persons with disabilities learn how to use public transportation. A travel trainer is assigned to a student to help the student find where to take public transportation, plan trips, pay fares, advocate to let the driver know to alert the student where to exit the bus, and other services. There are other supports as well such as “Peer travel,” “Transit buddies,” ADA travel supports and more. (The program also trains trainers and provides supports to seniors). For more information on Travel Training in North County San Diego, visit the North County Transit Department website.

    Travel training to foster independent transportation may be used in conjunction with the L.I.F.T program (below) in the event the student is unable to independently take public transportation under certain circumstances (e.g. multiple streets to cross to get to destination, multiple buses to get to a destination, weather, etc.).

    Peer Travel Training: Funded by the County of San Diego Mental Health Services, this program offers trained peer travel trainers to help mental health consumers learn how to use public transit such as the Coaster and Sprinter trains and Breeze buses. For more information in San Diego, call the Mobility Management Program at 760-967-2863 or visit the website.

    The L.I.F.T. Share-ride program (through For persons who are not able to get to or ride public transportation on their own due to a mobility, visual, or cognitive disability, the Federal Transportation Agency funds the LIFT program which is a share-ride, door-to-door program available for eligible persons. Persons must submit an application (available online) and have a care professional also fill out the form to verify the person’s needs (e.g. a treating physician, SDRC case worker, etc.). The application review process takes approximately 21 days. Once a person has been deemed eligible, they may purchase ride tickets ($3.50 one way) and make transportation reservations to be picked up at their home or other address and delivered to another address much like a taxi service. This program is a share-a-ride program so persons using this service will need to plan on extra time to get to their destination. Personal care attendants (PCAS) are also available to accompany persons on LIFT, Breeze and Sprinters. Lift Fact Sheet Flyer

    Breeze Bus Transit Program: Many students may need to take the bus to reach their destination. Routes and other information are available from this website. Single rides cost around $1.75 but persons with disabilities may obtain a reduced fare ID card. Click here for application. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System offers discounted fares on fixed-route buses and trolleys.

    Share Ride Programs: Many transportation districts have “Vanpools” or "Rideshare" programs where students can sign up to commute together and share the costs of driving. In San Diego, there are “share ride” programs through and other similar programs.

    Rides on Demand: Many companies now offer rides on demand such as taxis or other options. Some of the other options include Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. Many of these programs have apps that will enable a user to request and pay for a ride via their phone. And, of course, there is always the local taxi program.

Other transportation options for nearby destinations may also include a bike, motorized bikes, scooters, electronic scooters and other similar items (note: be sure to check with DMV to determine what if any age restrictions, license, registration or insurance is needed for motorized devices). If the student has goals in the transition plan that include self advocacy goals (e.g. learning their rights under the ADA, etc.), then the plan should include the learning of transportation rights under the ADA. California's Protection and Advocacy program has a valuable publication "Transportation Rights for People with Disabilities Under the American with Disabilities Act" which can help a student learn his or her transportation rights. See also the Department of Rehabilitation website for information on public transportation.

3. Residential Care and Placement
There are many different physical living arrangements available to persons with disabilities. Options may include independent living, supported living (roommate), community care facilities (CCFs), Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) and CIT/group. There are also numerous supports and services available to increase a person's level of independence depending on the physical location selected (discussed below). Once a realistic postsecondary residential goal is devised, IEP team members should determine if there is a wait list for the living option selected and be sure to contact the agency directly to learn how to get on the wait list.

Common residential models and resources include:

  • "Independent living" (student may need training to transition to an independent setting and these services are available from both public and private agencies);
  • "Supported living" (student receives services from third parties to help him or her live on his or her own but with supports in place to help maintain independence);
  • "Supervised living" (student may live with a peer or other person who can help provide daily in-home support);
  • "Group Home" (student lives with a group of people in a home and with personnel trained to work with people with disabilities);
  • "Intermediate Care Facility" (for persons with more severe disabilities who need daily treatment and continued training to try to develop skills to increase independence, funded by Medicaid. Teri Inc. provides at least 12 homes throughout Northern San Diego County for those needing a more supported living situation);
  • Sample residential homes include those provided by: 1. The ARC of San Diego (has several residential homes in Pacific Beach, Kearny Mesa, National City, Chula Vista, Lemon Grove and Santee), 2. Home of Guiding Hands, 3. Hope Village (Chesed Home, Provides individualized services and a safe and nurturing environment with Jewish values for adults with mental illness), and 4. Teri, Inc. (provides residential placement and the support of experts to help create menus, grow produce, and access recreational, social and enrichment opportunities);
  • Collaborative Private Arrangements: To ease safety concerns, some parents of children with special needs form relationships with other parents to purchase homes or other properties to provide a home to their children. These arrangements can be made more formal (eg. a foundation or LLC) and can help parents share the responsibility of caring for a disabled child. Parents can share or divide responsibilities or collectively pay for the assistance of a third party to supervise their children;
  • Ranch-style Living: Parents are beginning to create their own solutions by building communities specifically to safely house and support their children with special needs. Some examples include: Jeremiah's Ranch (Fallbrook): This family driven project will eventually be a community of homes offering different levels of care for adults with developmental disabilities where they can learn vocational, social and life skills;
  • Southern California Housing Collaborative: This organization helps people locate and secure affordable housing;
  • Housing Resources;
  • Life Works Program;
  • CSA Fairing Housing Advocates (to help residents obtain railings, etc.);
  • California Public Housing Agency.

Common Supports and Services: Supports and services can be paid for privately or, for students eligible for services from the San Diego Regional Center, they may be funded at no or low cost to the consumer. Contact the child's services coordinator to ask about information and/or programs provided by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and request a referral so that the student can access the DDS services to learn more about living options. Independent living services may be provided through some of the educational programs discussed in Part 2 of this series (Educational Options) but below are additional sources of information:

  • Supported Living Services (Dept. of Developmental Services, DDS): Supported Living Services are provided through a person’s “Individual Program Plan” (IPP) from the local regional center (e.g. SDRC) and are offered as long and as often as a person needs them to help the m manage their daily lives. Services can include some or all of the following services: Assistance with selection and move into a home, choosing personal attendants and housemates, acquiring home furnishings, common daily living activities and emergencies, managing personal financial affairs and other supports.
  • SDRC “day program services to help a student maintain self-help and self-care skills, work on social and recreational skills, integrate in the community and develop employment skills that may enable the student to have a broader range of living options.
  • Foster grandparent and senior companion programs (a/k/a/ "senior corps") provide assistance to students with disabilities by partnering them with low income seniors who are 55+ years of age. These partnerships build relationships between older adults and persons with special needs who need 1:1 support such as tutoring, mentoring and living support). Many programs provide the senior volunteers with a tax-free stipend, partial reimbursement for their travel, a meal each day that the senior volunteers, accident insurance, annual physicals and other benefits. See for example the Foster Grandparent Program through Catholic Charities,
  • Arc of San Diego;
  • Xcite Steps;
  • Toward Maximum Independence;
  • California Supported Living Network: The CSLN is an advocacy group that strives to enforce and develop rights for persons with disabilities to have supported living;
  • Creative Support Alternatives: CSA provides supported living services and independent living services to people in San Diego and Valley Mountain Regional areas with developmental disabilities to help adults live in their own home and be engaged with their community. Helps people find affordable housing, complete daily living activities, create back-up support programs, develop a support team and more;
  • SDGE: Offers TDD/TTY phone number, can have technician's mark controls so that they are more visible for persons with vision issues, offers bills in braille, has locations with handicap access and other access services;
  • Section 8 Rental Assistance: Rental subsidies and other help may be available to persons with disabilities with low income. If your child may be in need of rental assistance, please contact the housing authority of your city or county and sign up as soon as possible. These lists often have long wait lists to get help so consider submitting an application as soon as possible and do not wait until the child reaches an adult. Some programs allow you to submit applications online, but others (e.g. Carlsbad) require that they be submitted in person. Click here for the link to the Housing Authority of San Diego County. Cities such as Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and others cities have their own local housing authorities as well. Submit applications to local and the county if possible;
  • Capability Ranch: A ten acre learning and activity center for Ramona children and young adults with special needs.

Parents should remember that there are endless opportunities at home for students to learn skills to help them become more independent in their postsecondary living situation. Involve the student in regular home activities such as doing laundry, cleaning rooms and bathrooms, other regular activities so that the student learns how to use appliances and cleaning materials. Consider having certain activities performed on certain days so that the student develops a routine that can be continued into adulthood. The home setting provides a unique opportunity for students to learn how to take care of themselves and living area.

4. Safety Awareness: Persons with disabilities may lack the ability to determine whether someone or something is safe (or dangerous), or what to do in the event an emergency arises. Including a safety awareness goal in the transition plan can help the student learn important safety skills ranging from safety in the home to safety in the community at large.

Examples of common home safety skills: Locking up when leaving the house or going to bed, not answering the door if person is unknown, what to do in the event the stove catches on fire, use of knives, use of hot water, what to do if burned by hot water or a hot pot, what to do if the home is broken into, how to call 911 or to report a crime, etc.

Examples of common community safety skills: Avoidance of dark alleys at night, what to do if bullied, not entering a car of a stranger, avoid speaking to strangers or avoid the use of over friendliness, what to do if lost, what to do if wallet, purse or phone is lost, etc.

Creating strong independent living skills rests largely upon the parent or caregiver's ability to identify the areas of need because most of the student's day is spent outside of the school setting. The earlier the skills needed are identified, the more time the student will have to work on the skills to increase independence later. Greater independence usually means greater educational, work and living options.

Safety related resources:

  • "Living Safely" app by Ablelink Technologies: This app is designed to help persons with cognitive disabilities learn safety skills needed for home and community safety ($29.99). In the event a student needs to learn safety skills and has assistive technology at school, the addition of this app to the student's device should be discussed.
  • Tracking Devices/Apps: Part of the adult's program may need to include tracking support. Sample supports include: Amber Alert GPS, Bikn, Canary, Family Locator through Life360 (app), 5Star Urgent Response, "Pocket Finder," Secure GPS eZoom, Sprint Guardian, Trax, and others.

5. Financial Management: Financial management is often a difficult skill for all students, not just those with disabilities. When discussing financial management skills, it is important to start as early as possible because it is one of the more difficult skills to learn. The IEP team should consider having math goals that teach the student what a budget is, how to plan one and how to use support to track expenditures. IEP teams should also include training on how to use programs and applications that can help a student manage finances more independently.

Financial management is not only about managing finances but also about learning to identify which items should be included in a budget. Students will need to learn to identify income, expected expenses (e.g. electric bill, insurance) and have some savings or a budget for unexpected expenses (e.g. a special outing or trip). By the time they leave high school, they should also be able to identify forms of public assistance and apply for these benefits to make sure they are in place by the time they become adults (e.g. Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, etc.)

Other items or resources to consider:

  • Bank Account/Debit Card: Consider opening a bank account with a debit/credit card to start teaching the student how to access and use money. Parents may want to be co-signers or users to provide extra support and to have access to expenditures to make sure the student has not been taken advantage of by a third party. Students will need to learn how to use an ATM machine, access print outs of their statement and know when (and when not) to use the debit or credit card. Consider depositing a certain amount in the student's account each week and create a short personal shopping list for the student to take to the store to start learning where the needed items are in the store and whether there is enough money to purchase those items.
  • Assistive Technology: There are many programs that can help students manage their fiscal affairs. Commonly used programs include Excel (Microsoft), Numbers (Apple), iReconcile, Expenditure, Mint (for Android and Apple products - brings accounts together to help create budgets and plan); Manilla (free for iPhone and Android - helps with the organization of bills, financial accounts and more), Moneybook (good app for setting a monthly budget to manage expenses and income), and Toshl (nice basic app that tells user the remaining balance of their monthly budget after expenditure is entered). Transition and/or IEP goals should include goals that target the learning of one of these programs so that the student can become more independent in the money management. If assistive technology is not being given to the student at school, the Department of Rehabilitation or the SDRC may be able to offer "AT" support to help the student become more independent.
  • Financial Services Programs: Many organizations (usually funded by the SDRC) offer financial planning and support. Examples include Xcite Steps, Arc of San Diego and others. The Department of Rehabilitation also offers services to help its customers achieve economic independence so speak to the DOR or the SDRC to learn how to access financial support services.
  • Free Tax Preparation Help from IRS Volunteers: The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) offers free tax help to persons making $52,000 or less per year and who need help preparing their taxes.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI is a benefit paid to disabled persons based upon financial need.
  • "Benefits for Children with Disabilities" (2014): This informational booklet by the Social Security Administration summarizes the different benefits available to children with disabilities.
  • Disability Benefits for California residents:. (SSDI - California Department of Social Services website)
  • Energy Savings Assistance Programs (SDG&E): To help reduce energy bills, SDG&E will help qualified renters and homeowners receive improvements to their residence for free such as attic insulation, caulking, energy-efficient lighting, door weatherstripping, low-flow shower heads, replacement of select appliances, water heater blankets and more. 1-800-692-4011

6. Community Relationships (Recreation, Hobbies, Volunteer Efforts): Community relationships are important to help nurture a person's interests, well being and social connections. Creating positive contacts outside the home or school setting based upon the students interests can not only help the student meet new friends but also offer another support system to help with the student's development generally. Faith based youth groups, hobby clubs, singing or performance groups, nonprofits and other organizations are available in most areas and if a club that interests the student does not exist, help the student start one! (See, e.g. Nolo article on how to start a nonprofit.)

There are countless organizations that need volunteers or which provide engaging activities but below are some clubs or groups designed to support those with special needs. Even if a student may be too old to participate, these organizations may provide good opportunities for volunteering in a structured "sensitive" environment that does something the student enjoys (If you would like your organization listed, please write the author to add your organization to this list).

For persons interested in summer or winter sports, many areas have "adaptive sports" programs that provide adaptive equipment and lessons to help persons with disabilities learn techniques to help them access the selected sport. These programs typically provide 1:1 instruction and reduced costs to facilitate participation and access. The United States Adaptive Recreation Center (USARC), for example, offers specially trained instructors and volunteers to help with activities such as kayaking, fishing, skiing and more. UCLA Recreation offers numerous adaptive programs such as SOAR (which introduces a new adapted sport each week). In San Diego, the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association offers numerous year round and summer programs such as an annual junior wheelchair sports camp, wheelchair basketball, soccer, rugby, adaptive cycling and other sports clinics and events (as well as volunteer opportunities).

Helping students develop skills they need to lead the most independent, productive and rewarding lives they can is the underlying purpose of any transition plan. Identification of areas of need, exploration of options and writing goals based upon the student's interests is crucial to writing a strong transition plan. But, if done effectively, a transition plan can replace worries about the student's future into excitement!

Other resources that may be of interest:

1. Access Pass to National Parks: A free, lifetime pass is available to U.S. citizens who have a permanent disability to access more than 2,00 recreation sites;

2. California Disabled Discount Pass: California offers a lifetime disabled discount pass which enables the user to a 50% discount of fees and costs of all facilities operated by the California State Park System (e.g. parking, camping, etc.) Click here for form;

3. Community Interface Services: Independent and Supported Living Guide (for San Diego and Imperial Counties): Guide for individuals with development disabilities, service providers and family members (June 2000);

4. National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center: a. Age Appropriate Transition Assessment Toolkit; b. Indicator 13 Checklist: Form B (to help make sure needed information is in this transition plan);

5. CalSTAT Transition to Adult Living: An information and Resource Guide;

4. Transition Guide (website includes films, plans and other resources, “good day” plans to help with self awareness);

6. Autism Speaks Family Services Transition Tool Kit;

7. Disability Rights Publication: “Special Education Rights and Responsibilities” Manual (Ch. 9 and 10, especially); and

8. Transition to Adult Living Guide from the CA Dep’t of Ed.

9. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment: Offers links and resources, news briefs and more.

10. A federal government website that provides information for persons with disabilities such as information on civil rights, education, employment, housing and more.

11. Consumer Center for Health Education and Advocacy: A consumer empowerment service that provides advocates to help persons with disabilities learn what programs they are eligible for, how and where to get services from and what to do if there is a problem. 877-734-3258 (TTY 877-735-2929).

Other articles that may be of interest:

1. Reading: Is your student struggling and behind grade level? Reading is a crucial academic and functional skill needed for adult life. If your student is behind in this crucial skill, consider reviewing this article to learn what kind of help your student may need.

2. High School and Getting a Diploma: Options for Students with Disabilities. Students with disabilities who are not able to take a full high school academic course load to graduate in 4 years may have up to 8 years to work towards their diploma. Learn how to help a student earn a diploma!

Note: The inclusion of a resource or organization in this article does not reflect an endorsement by the author. Listings are solely for informational purposes so that readers are aware of their availability.

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