Supporting Change

Navigating the transition from school to adult life with a disability.

More than four million people in Australia have some form of disability, according to the Australian Network on Disability. The unemployment rate for working-age Australians with disabilities (9.4%) is almost twice that of those without (4.9%).

Bridget found it very difficult to find a job after she left school. She wanted to get into childcare, but was not able to receive the help she expected to make her ambition come true. Bridget has an intellectual disability. “I don’t comprehend properly and I muddle my words,” she explains.

Bridget went from one adult disability service to another, until she settled at Alive4Life, a community and disability organisation where she is both a client and an employee. At Alive4Life, she gets help with reading and building her self-confidence. She also supports others.

Bridget found communication especially difficult during her transition from school to adult life. She also struggled to find someone who really understands people with disabilities, she says.

Bridget, now 24, is part of a five-member advisory group for a Western Sydney University research study funded by the Endeavour Foundation. All five members of the advisory group are between 16 and 25 years old and have an intellectual disability.

The study aims to understand how young people with intellectual disabilities experience the transition from school to adult services.


“I’m interested in finding the best research approaches and methods to include the views of children, young people, and people with a disability who might have different means of communication,” says Lise Mogensen, a senior lecturer in medical education at Western and the principal investigator of the study.

Mogensen and her team, including community child health specialist and Western medical education senior lecturer, Jenny McDonald, are interviewing young people with intellectual disabilities, their carers, educators, and service providers to understand their experiences six to 12 months before and after the transition from school to adult life. An online survey aims to reach around 100 young people with intellectual disabilities and to explore their experiences two to five years after leaving school. Survey participants who opt in also receive an invitation to participate in more in-depth interviews about their experiences.

In 2015, the Australian government began rolling out its National Disability Insurance Scheme, which should be fully operational in 2020. The scheme aims to address problems with the country’s earlier model, in which funding went directly to organisations. The new scheme’s consumer model aims to provide personally tailored support for those who need it. But there have been teething problems. Mogensen and her colleagues hope their research will provide the scheme with information about the gaps that still need to be addressed and will identify the necessary factors for a good transition process from school to adult disability services, training or employment.

Meet the Academic | Doctor Lise Mogensen

Dr Lise Mogensen, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher in the School of Medicine. She is an award-winning educator, who specialises in research methodology, and coordinates the applied research programs in the MBBS and MD courses. Lise is an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in Occupational Therapy and a PhD in social justice focusing on disability issues. She has a particular interest in critical disability studies, and has more than 20 years’ experience in working directly with people with disability, personally, clinically and in research. 

Lise specialises in designing/co-designing participatory research methodologies with vulnerable populations, and consults on research methods and ethics locally and internationally. She has developed approaches and methods to include children and young people with autism and developmental disability as active participants in research, which she has implemented in several of her studies on well-being, diagnosis and identity, inclusion, and transition. She is passionate about translating research into policy and practice for vulnerable populations, and publications from her projects have influenced best practice guidelines for specialist health service delivery and inclusive education.

Meet the Academic | Doctor Jenny McDonald

Dr Jenny McDonald is a Senior Lecturer in the Medical Education Unit, School of Medicine and Coordinator of Personal and Professional Development.

She is a specialist in Community Child Health with clinical and research experience in child development and disabilities, Aboriginal child health and the impacts of social disadvantage on child well-being. She worked as a staff specialist at Campbelltown Hospital between 2001 and 2016 and in private consultant paediatric practice between 1993 and 2000.  She was a director on the board of Mater Dei School between 1995 and 2007 and served as chair in the years 2004-7.

Jenny is a joint PhD candidate with Western Sydney and Maastricht University.


This research was funded by the Endeavour Foundation Disability Research Fund.

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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.