Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Robert Wilton




In recent years, both disability activists and governmental policy have emphasised the importance of competitive employment for people with disabilities for economic and social independence. However, in reality enduring barriers are faced by individuals when attempting to gain employment. There is extensive literature on disabled adults but less exists on the specific experiences of young adults with disabilities attempting to enter the workforce. The sub-specialty of geographies of disabilities is an established field however, that of intellectual disabilities has been to some extent ignored. This thesis attempts to address these limitations by examining the experiences of young adults with intellectual disabilities in transition from high school to competitive employment. It reports on a longitudinal qualitative study that examines the changing lifeworlds of a small group of young adults as they leave high school. In depth open ended interviews are used to compare and contrast the perspectives of the young adults themselves, their parents, as well as employers, a manager of a sheltered workshop and an educator from the local school board. Analysis highlights the young adults' perception on the importance of competitive work in daily life, and indicates that social relationships are of prime significance. Preparations for employment, such as transition planning, appear to be insufficient which results in varied challenges that they and their parents face in attempting to secure competitive employment. Individual work/life histories are used to identify these challenges and the strategies utilised to overcome them. These combine to shape the evolving daily geographies of the young adults that allow particular spaces of transition, and the complex spaces of inclusion/exclusion to be conceptualised. These indicate that the young adults appear to be 'stuck' in the transitional spaces between high school and competitive employment. In addition transitionary spaces that are initially assumed as segregated and exclusionary can also represent spaces of inclusion and community for the young adults. The importance of transportation in the lives of these individuals and their families is also discussed. Policy implications are suggested, including proposals for education policy in improving transition planning, and governmental social policy and service organisation policies as related to competitive employment.

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