Despite numerous blue-ribbon task forces and resulting legislation (GOALS 2000: Educate America Act of 1994, PL 103-227, etc.), research efforts (National Longitudinal Transition Study I & II), and public/private funding dedicated to investigating methods to improve the workplace literacy of the US workforce (National Adult Literacy Survey, 1993), recommendations for creating a tighter linkage between instructional methods, outcomes that accurately reflect instruction, and their application to workplace situations have been largely ignored.

American business and the corporate communities response to the notion that the US was losing ground internationally because of poorly or inadequately prepared youth was first reported in 1990 by the Commission on Skills of the American Workforce report America’s Choice: high skills or low wages!

The US Department of Labor and leading corporate, business, and civic leaders collaborated on the Secretaries Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), published in 1992, a series of in-depth reports targeting what the workplace of the future would need of schools and their graduates as well as how to instruct/assess to these standards.

In addition to traditional content mastery, SCANS called for the radical notion of creating tiers of “outcomes” such as portfolios, certificates of initial mastery, accelerated tracks to postsecondary education/training, and applying theoretical content mastery tied to contextual real world performance.

Of particular importance for people with disabilities was the emphasis on developing “soft skills” such as communication, work ethics, practical decision-making, and experiential learning- all of tremendous value for non-traditional learners- allowing for a number of ways for the learner to demonstrate their knowledge.

The potential and promise of a multiple pathway system of high achievement that would be responsive to and inclusive of the very minorities identified in the Nation at Risk report was never implemented in a nationally comprehensive manner.

There are glimmers of hope for adults with disabilities regarding policy recognition through think tank reports in publication within this past year. Tough Choices or Tough Times, calls for a radical overhaul of education and specifically includes people with disabilities- of all ages-  in having the opportunity to achieve a better life through education and workplace training/retraining. This report is noteworthy from the standpoint that it looks at immediate national educational/workforce development priorities with the recognition that the majority of tomorrow’s workforce is already employed today.

The other report that is paying attention to our national disgrace at having an 80% unemployment rate and 40% school drop out rate among  working-age people with disabilities comes from the National Center on Disability.

The comprehensive report to the Obama administration emphasizes numerous opportunities to improve the quality of life of the growing number of citizens with disabilities, the emerging trends warranting changes in the government’s response, and recommendations for reviewing and modernizing the way the Federal Government approaches disability policy.

Although there have been billions spent over the past 25 years in both education and social policy/programming, the majority of people with disabilities are not yet finding success in the adult world, and the overall results obtained from reform interventions thus far have disappointed and fallen short.

For existing data collection efforts (i.e. Bureau of Labor Statistics), adults with high incidence, non-apparent disabilities are not represented in their specific manifestation categories, data collection does not control for co-morbidity/dual diagnosis, and adults of all ages still tend to choose not to disclose/claim their identities as people with disabilities.

Without consideration of the manner, condition, and duration these disabilities impact an individual’s functional abilities and present functional limitations, a coherent and cohesive understanding by  public sector governmental program planners/policy makers and the business/corporate communities will not emerge. We become more likely to experience another generation of potential contributors to our nation’s problems  lost to institutional short-sighted ignorance that is avoidable .

In order to achieve higher standards of living and competitive abilities to work in jobs that don’t exist today (we  may vaguely remember Google, Facebook, Second Life & Twitter did not exist 10 years ago), the workforce over the age of 25 must be able to participate in significant ways  that are far different from what has been used or is currently being considered by the Educational Industrial Complex.

The aforementioned social media innovations occurred as a direct result of uncontrolled/ unscripted experimentations in technologies developed from scatch and through trial & error.

The academic experiences & “failures” of the very non-traditional entrepreneurs credited with creating the virtual gaming, texting, and self-publishing empires that an entire generation of people has grown up with as a daily part of their life sound very much like they could be adults with hidden disabilities.

They have thrived under market conditions that are 180 degrees the opposite of conventional business models and higher education systems where the idea and product are pushed. This is an environment of choice and community, and it is populated by a savvy generation of young adults/consumers that are not being reached by most of the workplace or educational reform efforts used today.

The demands of today’s workplace, with its emphasis on high technology, strong interpersonal skills, and maintaining market share against global competition that is less expensive/better educated, are driving forces behind any meaningful reform themes in adult and workplace education programs.

The higher expectations of the workplace should have changed the way that assessment and placement of adults with high incidence hidden/non-apparent disabilities into education, instruction, and employment programs are conducted.

Sadly, the exact opposite has been the case as funding, viable programs, and interagency linkages have been cut or not part of any meaningful systematic strategy of any major effort- in this country or abroad.

Most employment and education reform initiatives continue to display a lack of awareness of, sensitivity to, or acknowledgement of adults with LD, ADHD, Asperger’s, anxiety and mood disorders, who represent the largest identified group of people with disabilities seeking higher education, employment, and adult education services.

Many of these people are nontraditional learners who do not accurately present their greatest capabilities with traditional assessments and academic approaches. The ability of HR managers, line supervisors, corporate trainers and other practitioners to accurately predict how an individual who is a nontraditional thinker knows, understands, perceives, learns, and processes information can result in prescriptive, individualized training and instruction that would benefit the entire workforce and lifelong learning communities.

The next post will explore the past generation of education reform efforts, the depth of inclusion of adults with hidden disabilities, and pending developments that could improve the enrollment, retention, and matriculation of students with these conditions into higher education and postsecondary training/instruction.