WAI Program Management


The mission of WorkAbility I (WAI) is to promote the involvement of key stakeholders, including students, families, educators, employers, and other agencies in planning and implementing an array of services that will culminate in successful student transition to employment, lifelong learning and quality adult life.

Program Description

WorkAbility I is a program which…
  • Provides pre-employment skills training, work site training and follow-up services for youth in special education who are making the transition from school to work
  • Offers special education students the opportunity to complete their secondary education while also obtaining marketable job skills
  • Benefits students, employers and the community at large
  • Seeks employers in the business community who will give students with special needs a chance to prove themselves

WorkAbility I is driven by California Education Code which states…

56470 - The legislature finds and declares all of the following: (a) That an essential component of transition services developed and supported by the (CDE) is project WorkAbility. (b) that the WorkAbility program provides instruction and experiences that reinforce core curriculum concepts and skills leading to gainful employment. (c) That since project WorkAbility was established in 1981, substantial numbers of individuals with exceptional needs have obtained full or part-time employment.

56471 (d) - WorkAbility project applications shall include, but are not limited to, the following elements: (1) recruitment, (2) assessment, (3) counseling, (4) pre-employment skills training (5) vocational training, (6) students wages for try-out employment, (7) placement in unsubsidized employment, (8) other assistance with transition to a quality adult life and (9) utilization of an interdisciplinary advisory committee to enhance project goals.

Program Description (as it relates to Ed Code Topics):

When writing your program description, if you respond to each of these items, you will have included all of the information necessary for this component of your End of the Year Report.
  • What are the recruitment strategies used to encourage student participation?
  • What assessment tools are used and what is the delivery model?
  • What counseling is available to students as they participate in the WAI program?
  • What pre-employment skills training is provided and who is the provider?
  • What vocational training opportunities are available to students?
  • How do we provide students with opportunities to earn wages for try-out employment?
  • How do we offer placement in unsubsidized employment?
  • Describe your delivery model for offering other assistance with transition to a quality adult life.
  • Describe your utilization of an interdisciplinary advisory committee to enhance project goals.


WorkAbility I Values

  • Student focused programming,
  • Programmatic integrity,
  • Research-based program design,
  • Innovation and creativity,
  • Local control with WAI parameters, and 
  • Field driven governance and structure


WorkAbility I Expects

  • Collaboration with and leveraging of resources to provide a full array of student focused services with minimum administrative costs;
  • WAI resources to supplement, not supplant vocational and educational services;
  • Recognition of the value of WorkAbility I as a part of a bigger educational system;
  • Accountability as defined by student outcomes, program outcomes, and fiscal outcomes;
  • Active participation in WorkAbility I field activities; and 
  • Participation in on-going capacity building through staff development, community involvement and mentoring for the students, parents, WAI providers, staff, educators and partners.
WorkAbility I culminates in preparing students for successful transition to employment, continuing education and quality adult life with an emphasis on work-based learning opportunities for all students.


Vision of WorkAbility I

The Vision of the California Department of Education, Special Education Division is to enable all individuals with disabilities to successfully participate in a program which will prepare them for the workplace and independent living.


History of WorkAbility I

The California Department of Education completed a two-year study in 1981 that provided substantive information concerning the status of vocational programs for students with disabilities. Results of the study indicated that these students were not being adequately prepared for the labor market.

WorkAbility I was initiated in November 1981 as a pilot project to test the concept of work experience for youth with disabilities.

WorkAbility I continues to successfully conduct interagency coordination of services which began with a September 1982 Employment Development Department, State Department of Rehabilitation and California Department of Education non-financial interagency agreement.

In July 1999, a Task Force of WorkAbility I practitioners was organized to align WorkAbility I with state and federal transition initiatives for youth with disabilities. As of August 2002, WorkAbility has funded high school and middle school programs.

Through a designation as one of the ten best transition programs of its type in the United States, WorkAbility I has received national recognition of its success in matching young adults with disabilities with employers who need workers.

In 2012 WorkAbility I celebrated its 30th anniversary.


WorkAbility I Flow Chart 

WorkAbility I Flow Chart


WorkAbility I Bylaws 

Draft of Bylaws Advisory


WorkAbility I Array of Services

The Array of Services comprise an effective transition system for Middle School (DOC) and High School (DOC) students. A WAI student must be provided curriculum integration of work readiness skills, career/vocational assessment, and a minimum of one Connecting Activity and one Work-Based Learning Service. The Array of Services link provides a basis for ensuring program consistency
WorkAbility I Array of Services Definitions

WorkAbility I (WAI) is a model transition program for youth with disabilities. The following activities are critical elements of an effective delivery system for transition services as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and stated in the California Education Code (EC) Sections 56470–56474.

The WAI funding model is based on the number of students “served”. To qualify as served, a student must be provided career/vocational assessment, career counseling and guidance in the School-Based Component, and one or more services in the Connecting Activities and Work-Based Learning Component. At least one of these services must be directly provided by the WAI Program, or documentation must exist of WAI’s role in the indirect provision of the service.

Each site is required to place 25 percent of the students they serve in paid competitive, integrated employment (CIE) experiences. These placements may be either subsidized by WAI or other sources, or employer paid.

The following definitions of terms and activities are intended to provide consistency in program implementation and documentation of the Array of Services. The references used to compile the definitions are the National School to Work Glossary of Terms, Work-Based Learning Guide, Fair Labor Standards Act, School to Work Opportunities Act, and National Standards and Quality Indicators for Transition.

School-Based Component
The integration of school-based and work-based learning is identified as a best practice for transition by the National Transition Standards, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and the reauthorized Carl Perkins Career and Technology Act. This incorporates academic and occupational learning and links elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and postsecondary education. The elements are as follows:
  1. Career/Vocational Assessment: Assessments that evaluate the student’s interests, skills and abilities. The results are utilized to assist students to choose a satisfying, lasting career that will culminate in competitive, integrated, employment and to evaluate transition needs. Assessments may be formal or informal and include: 
    • Self-Assessment: a self-inventory that requires students to reflect on their personal traits, skills, interests and aptitudes to identify their natural talents and abilities.
    • Aptitude/Ability Tests: measure overall abilities, general intelligence, achievement and aptitude. 
    • Interest Inventories: help individuals identify their preferences for a particular activity. 
    • Personality Surveys: match types of interests to possible career paths. For example, the Holland Code (Self Directed Search) or Myers Briggs Test. 
    • Values Assessments: assist individuals to identify characteristics of occupations of value to them. 
    • Career Development Assessments: determine where a person is in the career development process.
    • Computerized Information Systems: match data assessment, data for research, and exploration. 
    • Special Vocational Assessment: may include a diagnostic process to identify learning styles, vocational interests, skills, talents and aptitudes, and/or the student’s need for accommodation in order to participate for CIE. 
  2. Career Counseling and Guidance: Services that guide students through a process to make and implement educational and occupational plans based on informed choices; services should assist students in exploring career options with attention to surmounting gender, race, ethnic, disability, language, or socioeconomic impediments to career options and encourage nontraditional career choices when appropriate. Services may be delivered individually or through group or class activities. The National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG) and National School Counseling Standards provide an extensive list of age and grade appropriate competencies that will lead to CIE.
  3. Youth Development and Leadership: Training to assist students to understand their rights and responsibilities, express themselves and their ideas, state their needs, and know where to go for assistance and support (self-advocacy skills). Disability awareness, awareness of learning styles, and needed accommodations are encompassed in youth development and leadership.
  4. Curriculum Integration of Work Readiness Skills: Academic and work readiness skills as reflected in the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) Competencies, are taught in a manner that emphasizes the relationship and application of skills in the workplace.
  5. Career/Transition Portfolio: A collection of a student’s transition related documents and assessment results. An age appropriate career or transition portfolio may contain:
    • Personal information 
    • Academic information (e.g., transcripts, awards) 
    • Exhibits of personal accomplishments 
    • Career assessment information (e.g., interest, aptitude, values, learning styles and/or personality survey assessment results) 
    • Career exploration results 
    • Documentation of career technical skills 
    • Work related documents (e.g., resume, master job application, list of references, letters of recommendation, and copies of important documents like driver’s license, certificates, etc.) 
    • The student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), dreams and goals, and/or career plan 
    • The student’s Summary of Performance for students exiting high school
  6. Vocational/Career Technical Classes: Classes that provide introduction to job skills in the areas of agriculture, business, home economics, industrial technology, and health care also included are Regional Occupational Centers Programs (ROCP) that provide students occupational training and certification in entry level positions through a community classroom model or school-based classes.
  7. Independent Living/Functional Skills: Activities and curriculum that teach the use of community resources and help develop domestic skills, money management skills and other skills required for independent living and CIE.
Connecting Activities
Connecting Activities are programs and services that help link school and work-based learning opportunities. The elements are as follows:
  1. Partnership/Collaboration: cooperative relationships with entities within the school system or in the community that provide students work readiness and life skills and/or assist in their transition from school to life after high school. The following relationships are included:
    • Interdisciplinary: collaboration between departments, services and programs within a school
    • Interagency: partnerships/collaboration with agencies that provide support for student transitions
    • Community: facilitating access to community resources for students
    • Business: partnerships with business community members who provide career resources for youth, serve as advisors and offer employment and training opportunities for youth
  2. Parent Participation: WAI requires that parents provide support for their children to be involved in work-based learning opportunities and permission for student involvement in off campus opportunities and/or work experience. WAI encourages parental involvement and recognizes the role of the family as essential to assisting students to become economically self-sufficient individuals working in CIE.
Work-Based Learning Component
The Work-Based Learning Component includes activities that involve actual work site learning experiences or connect classroom learning to work and help the student to achieve CIE. All community-based placements, paid and unpaid, are in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Key elements of this component include:
  1. Career Awareness Activities: on and/or off-campus activities designed to make students aware of the broad range of careers and/or occupations in the world of work. These activities are typically occasional experiences that may include field trips, guest speakers, career fairs, conducting interviews with employees and/or employers and career research using career information, internet and/or computer information systems. 
  2. Career Exploration Activities: activities designed to provide more in-depth exposure to career options for students. They are of longer duration, 2 hours to one semester. These activities may include:
    • Job Shadows: student follows an employee at a work site to learn about a particular occupation of interest. The activity is designed to assist the student to explore a range of career/occupational choices and to select a career/occupational goal as they advance into the latter part of high school.
    • School-Based Project/Business: enterprise in which goods or services are produced by students as part of their school program. Project-Based Learning is a type of integrated school-based project that provides an opportunity for students to tackle a “real world” problem and identify potential solutions by applying academic skills, social skills, life skills and problem-solving and creative thinking skills. 
    • Service Learning: method of instruction that combines community service with a structured school-based opportunity for reflection about that service, emphasizing the connections between service experiences and academic learning. Most programs are balanced between students’ needs to learn and the recipient's need for service. Students benefit from acquiring skills and knowledge, and learning civic responsibility.
  3. Career Preparation: community based activities that provide the opportunity to develop work readiness skills and career-related technical skills. These activities may include: 
    • Internship: provides students an opportunity to participate in unpaid, work-based learning in an integrated setting for a specified period of time to learn about a particular industry or occupation. In most internship situations, a workplace mentor instructs the student, critiques the performance, challenges and encourages the student to do well. It is critical to ensure that all aspects of criteria outlined by the FLSA are met to ensure that this experience is a work-based learning experience – not employment, or mock sheltered workshop activities. 
    • Apprenticeship: youth apprenticeship programs are formal, multi-year programs that combine school and work-based learning at a competitive wage in a specific occupational area or cluster and are designed to lead directly into either a postsecondary program, entry level job or registered apprenticeship program. Most apprenticeship programs are developed in collaboration with the State Apprenticeship Standards Board.
    • Community Classroom: method of instruction which utilizes unpaid on-the-job training experiences at business, industry, or public agency sites to assist students in acquiring those competencies needed to acquire entry level, competitive, integrated, employment. The intent of the community classroom experience is to augment classroom instruction that can be extended into the community. It is most typically associated with ROCP. It is critical to ensure that all aspects of criteria outlined by the FLSA are met to ensure that this experience is a work-based learning experience – not employment.
    • Community Based Vocational Instruction: the development of learning experiences in the community through WAI and in compliance with all FLSA requirements for a work-based learning experience. FLSA requirements for Unpaid Training:
      • A comprehensive training plan 
      • Activity involving the performance of work 
      • Planned, sequential learning occurs, resulting in skills documentation 
      • Youth are exposed to all aspects of the industry 
      • Placement provides challenging real or simulated tasks
    • Preparation for the Work Site: activities that develop awareness of employer requirements in a specific work-based learning opportunity, and/or work experience placement in the areas of duties to be performed, appropriate attire, workplace rules and other expectations.
    • Job Search: curriculum and activities that provide students with the needed skills to find a job such as interview skills, use of a portfolio in a job search, where to find job listings, how to make use of resources and networking, and how to contact employers.
    • Placement Services: WAI staff develop jobs in the community or connect students with other placement opportunities. The typical placement process involves contacting employers, developing training plans, securing a training agreement, arranging schedules, and scheduling the student interview and/or orientation. A training plan includes the following elements:
      • Clear statement of student hours and wages 
      • Name of worker’s compensation insurance company 
      • Statement of related goals and interests 
      • Statement of employment skills addressed in work experience 
      • Statement of how performance will be evaluated
      • Designation of a work site supervisor and a school coordinator/supervisor 
    • Employment: students are productive employees, receiving at least minimum wage for performing tasks independently. The work experience education component encourages a connection between school and work.
    • Job Retention: curriculum and activities that reinforce the skills that a student needs to maintain and/or upgrade a job and the appropriate way to leave a job.
    • Work Site Mentor: mentor serves as an advocate and role model for the student. A workplace mentor instructs the student, critiques the performance, challenges and encourages the student to do well, and works in consultation with the classroom teacher.
    • Job Coach: works in consultation with the classroom teacher to provide direct supervision and training to individuals or groups of students. The coach trains students to perform job tasks independently and advocate for themselves at the work site, assists with mobility training and assists students to develop the personal qualities, communication skills, and interpersonal skills required to maintain employment.
    • Mobility Training: students may require mobility training to utilize public transportation and/or to cope with a sensory deficit. Another aspect of mobility training is community orientation to learn the community and to travel from various points within the community independently.
    • Work-Based Follow Along: routine contact with the student and the work site during the placement to evaluate, trouble-shoot, coach, and monitor the implementation of the workplace training plan.
    • Follow-Up: contact with the student after graduation for collection of WAI data.