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Does School Integration Matter? Comparing Educational Attainment of Youth with Physical Disabilities in Germany and the United States

The dissertation explores whether education and certification have differing consequences for disabled youth in two advanced economies: Germany and the United States. Project foci are:

(1) the differing welfare-state definitions of "disability" since 1970;

(2) the school-to-work transitions experienced by youth with disabilities, and

(3) the social policies that attempt to integrate these youth into schools and labor markets.

Why have large investments in vocational training, subsidized employment programs, and anti-discrimination legislation not succeeded in integrating disabled youth into the labor force and into community life? Innovative policies in the 1970s attempted to "mainstream" disabled individuals, but serious policy-induced disincentives and institutional structures still exist that block full participation and reproduce stratification. Developments since Germany's 1970 "Aktionsprogramm zur Förderung der Rehabilitation der Behinderten" will be compared with those since the US’s 1975 Education of All Handicapped Children Act to determine what trans-Atlantic lessons can be learned from a quarter-century of implementation. Both countries have enacted legislation to bolster awareness of disabled citizens’ rights: a German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) Art. 3, § 3 of 1994 ("Niemand darf wegen seiner Behinderung benachteiligt werden") and the US’s Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990- "to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability."

Disabled people constitute 10% of the working age population in OECD countries. Only 30 to 40% of people with disabilities participate in the labor force, compared to the rate of 75% of the general population (Delsen 1996: 529). Why are these education and employment policies not succeeding? The German-American comparison offers lessons for certification's consequences. Two competing hypotheses are: that German disabled youth are worse off than Americans with disabilities because "Sonderschulen" can be used to legitimate exclusion. On the other hand, disabled Germans may be better off because sheltered apprenticeships in "Berufsbildungs- und Förderungswerke" certify skills that provide a marketable credential. Such specialized credentials are not often available to their US contemporaries in their more flexible, less credential-oriented labor market. Looking at this minority group at the threshold of adulthood comparatively provides a tool with which to analyze nation-specific credentialing education and training systems, stratification, and their consequences on employment opportunities, and individuals’ broader life chances thereafter.

Dissertation Project

Justin Powell