14 Testing Interests, abilities, values, needs, aptitudes

Individual vocational goals vary widely, depending on personal circumstances. Some students are eager to secure any type of paid employment to obtain or supplement income and to gain skills and experience. Many students hold part-time jobs while attending post-secondary and it is common for youth to work at an entry-level job strictly for income while pursuing the job they are really interested in. Other students have a strong career focus and are not interested in sampling other types of work. Some students simply want to learn about work while experiencing the post-secondary world and do not have a strong financial or personal incentive to work. They may want to focus their energy on the educational experience and have plans to move on to further education or training. They may have enrolled in an employment readiness program, simply because there were no other post-secondary options available to them. Some students, arriving with little or no experience with work, have limited information upon which to make work choices or to state preferences. These factors emphasize the importance of the getting to know the individual student and developing an individual profile, as well as the importance of assessment component of ASE ER programming.

For special education teachers and transition specialists, transition assessment represents the “ongoing process of collecting data on the student’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the current and future working, educational, personal, and social environments” (Sitlington & Payne, 2004, p. 2, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014)

Assessment, in the past, had a heavy reliance on standardized, formal testing to gauge vocational interests, aptitudes and competencies. “The assumption was that test results would predict employability and performance in work environments…however, the assumption was largely unsupported by outcome data.” [1] In recent years, there has been a reduced emphasis, or reliance, on traditional forms of vocational assessment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and an increased focus on activities that involve person-centered planning, self-determination and an expanded emphasis on authentic exploration activities. “Traditional assessment may limit thinking about potential work experiences for individuals with disabilities, especially those with significant disabilities.” [2] “Not only are they often less than perfect predictors of youth performance, but they often lead to the conclusion that youth are not ready or able to work in a chosen occupational area.” [3] [4] Part of the problem appears to be the comparative nature of such tests, which are not accurate when applied to an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability and that results “often did not transfer to performance in actual employment settings.” [5] There are a number of specialized evidence-based vocational assessments developed for this population, some of which are outlined in this section.

“In the 1990s, the self-determination movement was gaining strength among families, educators, and adult service providers (Field & Hoffman, 1996). Determining one’s own career path was compelling and intuitive, but individuals with disabilities sometimes had limited information and resources at their disposal to make career decisions.” [6]

The reported theme in BC’s ASE programs was a focus on an individualized, personalized approach to matching students with appropriate work experiences. The use of formal assessments appears to supplement the information gathered through individual exploration methods. Information gathered from formal assessments may be used to inform a profile and develop themes created through the exploration strategies used in the “customized employment” or “person-centered” approaches or the development of a “Positive Personal Profile.” [7] Marc Gold and Associates state that these personalized strategies “…seek to understand who the individual is, as the primary source of information for employment, rather than how the individual compares with established norms, with general demands or with others.” [8]

CLBC also advocates Local Employment Action Plans, “which are expected to identify local projects and solutions to advance employment that meet the needs of specific communities.  It is expected each community will likely take a unique approach…” (Community Living British Columbia, n.d.). [9] These methods, which include exploration strategies such as a modified “discovery” component, use a more functional approach to vocational assessment and are currently employed and supported by advocacy groups, CLBC, the Supported Employment Advocacy Network, Think College, etc. The purpose of such activities differs somewhat when performed within a post-secondary program, as the information is generally more focused on vocational outcomes than whole-life planning. BC’s ASE ER programs reported a variety of methods in exploring areas of interest and of work experience activities; work sampling, situational assessments, job tryouts, job shadowing, informational interviewing, formal vocational assessment tools, specific classes and exercises focused on career exploration, research activities, creating personal profiles, action plans or job plans, etc. Additionally, some students may have also had the opportunity to participate in extensive transition and personal planning including activities, such as the PATH and MAPS activities, or a formal vocational assessment process prior to attending post-secondary.


PATH is a planning process — for individuals, schools, families, groups, and businesses — that brings people together to address a common issue or difficult problem. PATH begins with defining a vision and sharing a dream for the future. As in MAPS, the process begins with forming a caring team whose purpose is to build a common understanding and create the needed support. The team then identifies the steps that must be taken to make that dream come true. [10]


MAPS and PATH are person-centered visual planning tools developed by Jack Pierpoint, Marsha Forest and John O’Brien.  PATH and MAPS are group processes using visual planning tools in a series of meetings that include a group of people chosen by the individual. MAPS (originally Making Action Plans) “focuses on gathering information for planning- based on the story (history) of a person or organization.” [11] Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH) – This is used in planning actions and setting life goals and creating a positive profile of the individual.

…this MAP group process enables ‘clarifying gifts, identifying meaningful contributions, specifying the necessary conditions for contribution, and making agreements that will develop opportunities for contributions’ (O’Brien et al., 2010, p. 16).[12]

BC PSE ER programs experience some challenges in administering detailed formal assessments; time constraints, limited personnel with the appropriate level of qualification required to administer certain tests, varied levels of need represented within each class (as some students may arrive with an array of test results, while others have none), etc.


Some of the formal vocational assessments reportedly used in BC’s ASE ER programs are:

  • Reading Free Vocational Interest Inventory
  • Choices
  • Ashland Interest Assessment
  • Jackson Vocational Interest Survey
  • Meyers Briggs Type Indicator
  • Holland Codes (various forms, e.g., “Paint Career with Colors”)
  • Learning Styles Inventory
  • PATH Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope
  • MAPS (Making Action Plans)
  • Workplace Discovery activities
  • Janus Employment Skills Planner*
  • Destination 2020 – Building Work Skills*
  • Career Cruising
  • Starting Points Curriculum (reporting on assets)

Other work preference assessments recommended specifically for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities [13] include:

  • Self-Directed Search – based on the work by John Holland outlining six personality types, commonly abbreviated as RAISEC – Realistic, Artistic, Investigative, Social, Enterprising and Conventional
  • PICS – Picture Interest Career Survey – This test does not require reading, it is picture-based and based on the Holland codes. Completing the test provides a code which can then be compared an inventory of 600 jobs.
  • Reading Free Vocational Interest Inventory – Another picture-based test. Students select preferences from 55 sets of 3 pictures which represent career areas.
  • Work Preference Match – requires about a grade 5 reading level, but provides a more in-depth assessment based on the concept of “congruence” and factors in “contextual variables.” [14]
  • COPSystem 3C (online) is a three-part assessment (COPS, CAPS, and COPES) which assesses interest, ability and values.
  • MECA -Microcomputer Evaluation of Careers and Academics – Is a multi-part comprehensive transition planning package.
  • YES – Your Employment Selections – Uses questions and short video selection process to recommend preferences.

Further tools identified in the chapter on employment assessment in “The Road Ahead: Transition to Adult Life for Persons with Disabilities” are also listed below. This book also contains a comprehensive table, including a detailed overview of each these tools and the reading level required to complete each assessment. “These assessment instruments have been found effective in assessing various skills related to transition, including vocational, employment, self-determination, and academic skills.” [15]

  • Transition Planning Inventory (Clark & Patton, 1997, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014)
  • the ARC ’s Self Determination Scale (Weymeyer & Kelchner, 1995, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014)
  • ChoiceMaker Self-Determination Series (Martin & Marshall, 1995, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014)
  • Life-Centered Career Education program (Brolin, 1997, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014)
  • BRIGANCE: Transition Skills Inventory (Brigance, 2010, as cited in Ellerd & Morgan, 2014).


A good planning process for people with disabilities (and anyone else) must be empowering to the individual, and promote self-reflection, personal insight, creativity and a wide range of possibilities. A useful approach is “person-centered” planning, which develops individual solutions through collaboration, creative thought, and group problem solving.  (Institute for Community Inclusion, n.b.) [16]


Another resource can be accessed through the guide on the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability website (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability, 2004). [17] A link to the guide, “Career Planning Begins with Assessment: A Guide for Professionals Serving Youth with Educational and Career Development Challenges” is included in the appendix. BC ASE ER programs report the use of a combination of formal and informal exploration and assessment methods to develop personal “themes” and ascertain possibilities for job matches.

Recently, the Focus Disability Network Society published the Supported Employment Career Exploration Guide a “workbook for those interested in exploring careers that make sense for who you are, what your skills are and attributes are, and where to look for jobs that make sense with the ideal conditions for employment”  (Focus Disability Network Society, 2017). [18]  This workbook was based on the contributions of several agencies and partners and the preface to this workbook explains that it is a blend of “a traditional and a customized approach to career exploration.” It is available in PDF and Word formats for print or online use and is an excellent resource for planning. The Supported Employment Career Exploration Guide also includes a comprehensive overview of assessments, which is included in its entirety on the following pages.

Other examples are available through the Think College and ThinkWork websites. Links to these resources are included in the appendices. These pages include guidance and working documents for creating a Positive Personal Profile.


A Positive Personal Profile (PPP) is a way to “take inventory” of all the attributes of youth that will be relevant to their job search, employability, job match, retention and long-range career development. It is a mechanism for collecting information from a variety of sources, including assessments, observations, interviews, and discussions with the job seekers – and people who know them well. [19]


According to Dr.  George Tilson, the following components are taken into consideration in creating the Positive Personal Profile.

  1. Dreams and Goals
  2. Interests
  3. Talents, Skills and Knowledge
  4. Learning Styles
  5. Values
  6. Positive Personality Traits
  7. Environmental Preferences
  8. Dislikes
  9. Life and Work Experience
  10. Support System
  11. Specific Challenges
  12. Creative Solutions and Accommodations
  13. Creative Possibilities and Ideas

A link to the Think College resource “Developing a Positive Personal Profile” is also included in the appendix.

  1. Gaylord-Ross, R. (1988). Vocational education for persons with handicaps. Mountain View, CA, United States of America: Mayfield Publishng Company.
  2. Inge, J. T. (2007). Person centered planning. In P. I. Wehman (Ed.), Real work for real play: Inclusive employment for people with disabilities (pp. 57-73). Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  3. Gaylord-Ross, R. (1988). Vocational education for persons with handicaps. Mountain View, CA, United States of America: Mayfield Publishing Company.
  4. Luecking, R. G. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition. Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company Inc.
  5. Cobb, B. (1983). Curriculum-based approach to vocational assessment. Teaching Exceptional Children(15), 216-219.
  6. Ellerd, D., & Morgan, R. (2014). Employment Assessment. In K. Storey, D. (. Hunter, K. Storey, & D. Hunter (Eds.), The road ahead: Transition to adult life for persons with disabilties (3rd Edition ed., pp. 59-84). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.
  7. Tilson, G. (n.d.). Developing a positive personal profile. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from Think College: https://thinkcollege.net/sites/default/files/files/resources/Developing_a_Positive_Personal_Profile.pdf
  8. Marc Gold and Associates. (n.d.). Using alternatives to traditional vocational assessment: The why and how of exploration strategies such as discovery. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from Marc Gold and Associates: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57fa78cd6a496306c83a2ca7/t/5830fa839f74568b2916f228/1479604868982/Discovery+article.pdf
  9. Community Living British Columbia. (n.d). Local Employment Plans. Community Living British Columbia. https://www.communitylivingbc.ca/provincial-projects/community-action-employment-plan/local-employment-plans/
  10. Inclusion BC. (n.d.). Tracking students who graduate with evergreen certificates. Retrieved November 9, 2017, from Inclusion BC: http://www.inclusionbc.org/sites/default/files/Tracking%20Students%20Who%20Graduate%20With%20Evergreen%20Diploma%20-%20July%202013.pdf
  11. Inclusive Solutions. (n.d.). Person centered planning. Retrieved December 19, 2017, from Inclusive Solutions: https://inclusive-solutions.com/person-centred-planning/#typesofplanning.
  12. O’Brien, J., Pearpoint, J., & Kahn, L. (2010). Comparing Approaches To Individual Planning. The PATH and MAPS handbook: Person-centered ways to build community (p. 16). Inclusion Press. 
  13. Ellerd, D., & Morgan, R. (2014). Employment Assessment. In K. Storey, D. (. Hunter, K. Storey, & D. Hunter (Eds.), The road ahead: Transition to adult life for persons with disabilities (3rd Edition ed., pp. 59-84). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.
  14. Ellerd, D., & Morgan, R. (2014). Employment Assessment, p. 68. In K. Storey, D. (. Hunter, K. Storey, & D. Hunter (Eds.), The road ahead: Transition to adult life for persons with disabilities (3rd Edition ed., pp. 59-84). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.
  15. Ellerd, D., & Morgan, R. (2014). Employment Assessment, p. 62. In K. Storey, D. (. Hunter, K. Storey, & D. Hunter (Eds.), The road ahead: Transition to adult life for persons with disabilities (3rd Edition ed., pp. 59-84). Amsterdam, Netherlands: IOS Press BV.
  16. Institute for Community Inclusion. (n.d.). Job Placement for People with Disabilities. Retrieved Nov 22, 2017 from https://www.communityinclusion.org/onestop/section7.pdf 
  17. National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability. (2004). Career planning begins with assessment: A guide for professionals serving youth with educational and career development challengesNational Collaborative on Workforce and Disability. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://www.ncwd-youth.info/career-planning-begins-with-assessment 
  18. Focus Disability Network Society. (2017). Resources. Retrieved November 2017, 2017, from Focus Disability Network Society: https://www.focusdisability.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Supported_Employment_Career_Exploration_Guide.pdf
  19. Tilson, G. (n.d.). Developing a positive personal profile. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from Think College: https://thinkcollege.net/sites/default/files/files/resources/Developing_a_Positive_Personal_Profile.pdf


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