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WorkAbility I: A California Transition Program

Background Information

The California Department of Education (CDE) 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 (WAI) was initiated in November 1981 as a pilot project to test the concept of work experience for youth with disabilities.

WAI continues to successfully conduct interagency coordination of services, which began with a September 1982 Employment Development Department (EDD), State Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), and CDE non-financial interagency agreement.

The WAI program is funded and administered by the CDE. The WAI program provides comprehensive pre-employment skills training, employment placement and follow-up for high school students in special education who are making the transition from school to work, independent living and postsecondary education or training. Program services are appropriate to individual student needs, abilities, and interests.

The WAI program offers students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) the opportunity to complete their secondary education while also obtaining marketable job skills. WAI provides secondary students with an understanding of job seeking and job keeping skills. The employability of students improves through occupational class training and on-the-job subsidized or unsubsidized work experience.

The WAI program seeks employers in the business community who will give students with special needs a chance to prove themselves in a competitive integrated employment setting. Local program sites successfully coordinate state and local service providers to offer comprehensive services tailored to local economic, social, and geographic needs and abilities.

Two year follow-along support services provided by local program staff greatly increase the potential for student employment success.

The WAI program is governed by the following:

California Education Code (EC) sections 56470–56474

EC 56470

  • The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

  • That an essential component of transition services developed and supported by the State Department of Education is project workability.

  • That the workability program provides instruction and experiences that reinforce core curriculum concepts and skills leading to gainful employment.

  • That since project workability was established by the State Department of Education in 1981, substantial numbers of individuals with exceptional needs have obtained full-or part-time employment.

  • That project workability is a true partnership established at the state level through nonfinancial interagency agreements between the State Department of Education, the Department of Employment Development, and the Department of Rehabilitation, and has elevated awareness in the private sector of the employment potential of individuals with exceptional needs, and focuses its efforts in developing careers for these youth, and preventing needless economic and social dependency on state and community agencies and resources.

  • That local education agencies in California establish linkage between agencies, eliminate duplication of effort, and develop precedent-setting employment training practices which should be preserved and advanced to better assure future productive employable citizens.

EC 56471

  • The program shall be administered by the State Department of Education.

  • The department shall establish an advisory committee. This committee will include representatives from local workability projects to ensure ongoing communications.

  • The Superintendent shall develop criteria for awarding grants, funding, and evaluating workability projects.
  • Eligible applicants shall include local educational agencies, including school districts, county offices of education, state special schools, and charter schools, and nonpublic, nonsectarian schools, as defined in Section 56034.

  • 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) student 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.

EC 56472

  • The population served by workability projects may include secondary students with disabilities, adults with disabilities and other individuals who experience barriers to successful completion of school.

EC 56473

  • Project workability shall be funded pursuant to Item 6100-161-0001 of Section 2.00 of the annual Budget Act.

EC 56474

  • The Superintendent shall continue to seek additional state and federal funding for project workability.

Mission of WAI

The mission of 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 competitive, integrated employment (CIE), lifelong learning and quality of life.

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

Current WAI Site Information

273 local education agency WAI projects sites are funded statewide.

55 California counties are served by a WAI program.

Coordination with Businesses and Corporations Statewide

Annually over 10,000 employers statewide have found WAI students to be well prepared for entry-level employment, reliable employees and assets to their businesses. Consequently, employers, and labor unions have built strong, long-term partnerships with local WAI staff.


WAI Meeting Agendas


WAI Regions and Contact Information

WAI Resources Acronyms and resource links for families and professionals.

Mentoring Frequently Asked Questions


Project Workability

WorkAbility I Timelines For Grant Year July 1 – June 30.

Questions: Nicolas Wavrin | | 916-327-3932 
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, April 24, 2019
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