Youth with Disabilities

Disability is defined as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.


  • 13.2 percent of individuals age 3-21 are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Adolescents with disabilities, like all adolescents, thrive when they have self-efficacy or the belief in one’s ability to meet challenges. Providing opportunities for adolescents to take action and overcome obstacles can help adolescents build their self-efficacy.

 The most recent statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 13.2 percent of individuals age 3-21 are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, individuals do not always choose to report their disability status so there may be other individuals with disabilities who do not receive services under IDEA that would not be accounted for in the 13.2 percent.

 National Trends: 

Across the United States, 31% of youth with disabilities especially those with Emotional, Developmental or Behavioral (EBD) challenges report NO participation in afterschool activities. This compares with only 18% of youth without Emotional, Developmental or Behavioral disabilities —that’s almost twice as many youth with these disabilities who miss out on extracurricular activities (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2016). By not participating in afterschool activities youth with these disabilities miss out on opportunities to build skills and make connections with peers.

For example:

Almost twice as many youth with EDB challenges report never participating in volunteer work or community service compared to youth without disabilities (38% compared to 21%). Youth with EDB are also less likely to work outside the home than youth without disabilities, meaning fewer work experiences to help them when they enter the world of work (NSCH, 2016).

We know that 4-H’ers are nearly 4 times more likely (than non-4-H youth?) to contribute to their communities. That means that youth with disabilities who participate in 4-H have the opportunity to gain skills and experience related to engaging in their community and preparing for the workforce.

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Vanessa Spero

Darcy Cole