An ambitious effort to devise ways to help handicapped students in Montgomery County make the transition between school and independent living was announced yesterday by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist and School Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody.
The 28-member Task Force on Transition Services for Handicapped Students -- made up of representatives from private industry, schools, county government and the parents of handicapped children -- will meet for the first time Dec. 11 to consider ways the county can increase the training and placement of handicapped students in jobs.
"We have to provide every possibility for handicapped people to live full and independent lives, and not be separated and segregated from the community," said Gilchrist. "This is the next major step forward."
The emphasis on mainstreaming -- taking students out of institutions for the disabled and putting them into public schools and work places -- has been a national trend for the past decade, and is encouraged by federal law.
Montgomery County has been mainstreaming students with limited handicaps for the last 15 years. Last year, it began to mainstream severely retarded children, and two weeks ago announced a three-year plan to increase from 110 to 190 the number of these students attending regular schools.
Every year, the county's public schools graduate about 400 students who have a wide range of physical and emotional disabilities, Cody said.
Job placement and training is the primary focus of the task force, and Cody said school curricula for handicapped students have already begun to move toward more vocational training in the hope of preparing students for jobs after graduation.
A study issued in September reported that of the 175 severely disabled students who graduated from special education programs last year, 33 percent are unemployed and about 25 percent are receiving post-secondary training.
Economic incentives will be used to encourage businesses to hire more handicapped workers, Gilchrist said. Federal tax advantages for hiring the handicapped and the fact that they are often willing to accept low-paying jobs are two existing benefits. Although the county is not planning to offer its own economic incentives, Gilchrist said he would not rule out the idea.
Last year, Gilchrist directed county departments to increase the number of handicapped employes. At that time about 0.5 percent of them were handicapped, a number he said would be increased to 3 percent.
A preliminary task force report is due in March. Its final version is due June 30 and its recommendations are expected to be implemented beginning in July.