Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Youth with Developmental & Other Disabilities

Key Lessons

  • Mentoring programs can support youth with disabilities by:
    • Using accommodations so mentors and mentees of different abilities can participate in the program activities;
    • Providing ongoing training to mentors and mentees about disability-related issues;
    • Supporting mentors in working with the particular needs of their mentees while maintaining a strengths-based approach;
    • Developing confidentiality policies and procedures for addressing disclosures;
    • Preparing a budget that includes costs for accessibility services; and
    • Allowing mentees to have a choice in the program activities.1, 2, 5, 9
  • Mentors should have training in safe interactions for youth with physical and mental challenges, establishing boundaries, and disability etiquette.2, 5, 9, 10, 11
  • There are many benefits to matching youth to mentors with similar abilities, such as developing confidence, learning about adaptive technologies, normalizing the disability, and creating a strong disability identity.1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9
  • E-mentoring is a promising practice for youth with disabilities as it may make connecting easier and reduce stigma.9, 12

“I would say that my disability is a pretty big barrier. Most mentors are not familiar with the challenges that having a disability could bring, so I find it’s more difficult to find a mentor on that level. A mentor that’s comfortable talking about disability, and constantly being around disability, ‘cause I find a lot of people can be awkward about it almost – they don’t know what to say, or do.” (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada Youth In Care Focus Groups)

Existing Tools & Resources

The Best Practices Guide in Mentoring Youth with Disabilities:

Mentoring 101: An introductory workshop for new mentors:


Effective Mentoring for Youth with Developmental and Other Disabilities


Standards & Good Practices

(linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info

(from other studies & reports)

Program Planning

Interventions for youth with disabilities should be person-centred by emphasizing assets, fostering independence and developing a positive disability identity.1

When developing a mentoring program for youth with disabilities, staff should:

  • Use accommodations to support full inclusion of mentors and mentees with disabilities, e.g., on program/agency website, paper materials, meeting locations, and procedures.
  • Receive ongoing disability-related training.
  • Ensure mentors have the capacity to handle their mentees’ particular abilities.
  • Consider confidentiality and how disclosure issues will be handled.
  • Support the mentors in acknowledging challenges associated with the mentees’ disabilities while also operating from a strengths-based approach.
  • Plan for extra costs that may be incurred for accessibility services.2, 9
Many youth mentoring programs have overlooked inclusion of youth with disabilities, so if wanting to provide mentoring for youth with disabilities new programs do not necessarily need to be developed. However, there are strategies that can enhance current programs to make them more accessible.9

Successful mentoring programs should be setup to have positive impacts for everyone involved- mentors, mentees, parents/caregivers, program staff, and community partners.2

Refer to Mentoring Youth with Disabilities article for examples of mentoring programs in the US for youth with disabilities.8

Refer to The Best Practices Guide in Mentoring Youth with Disabilities for examples of mentoring programs for youth with disabilities, best practices for implementing a mentoring program, resources, sustainability information, evaluation, etc.9

Program Implementation

Differently abled young people should have a say in their treatment/intervention activities to ensure they are relevant to interests and needs. This will also foster independence and self-determination and help youth feel more able and competent.1, 5

Program advertising materials should be in multiple formats which make the material more accessible, e.g. braille, large print.9


Research about youth with disabilities has found they are vulnerable to negative outcomes:

  • Youth with disabilities are less likely to graduate high school, continue to post-secondary education, receive employment, and move onto independent living than their able bodied counterparts.
  • Differently abled youth are more likely to have lower self-esteem, which can make it difficult to create and sustain relationships.
  • Youth with disabilities are more likely to experience sedentary lifestyles and other physical health challenges.1, 3, 11

Mentoring can provide positive outcomes for youth with disabilities:

  • Youth with disabilities who have mentors who share these experiences are more likely to develop self-efficacy more quickly.
  • Youth who had mentors that lived independently with disabilities were more likely to learn, observe, and practice strategies for independent living from their mentors.
  • Mentors help youth with feeling connected to their communities which is very important for differently able mentees who typically have greater difficulty forming strong, lasting relationships.3, 5

Mentoring is particularly helpful for youth with disabilities transitioning from school to work.12

Mentee Referral, Selection & Training


Programs should openly state that they will accept youth with disabilities.2

Connecting with special education schools and departments, parent advisory groups, health care providers, and other social service organizations can help with recruiting.9

Mentee training should include establishing boundaries with the mentors, disclosure of disability-related issues, mandatory reporting about abuse/ neglect, and responsibilities and expectations of mentors and mentees.2, 9, 10

Mentor Recruitment, Screening & Selection


Connecting with local employers, Independent Living Centers, rehabilitation programs, and disability organization can help to recruit mentors with disabilities.9

Mentor Training

Mentor training for youth with disabilities should include:

  • Overview of program expectations and how to promote safe and positive experiences;
  • Communication skills and how to provide feedback;
  • Establishing boundaries with the mentees;
  • Disclosure of disability-related issues;
  • Reporting procedures for abuse/neglect;
  • Responsibilities and expectations of mentors and mentees;
  • Diversity and disability issues, including disability etiquette; and
  • Consider having a local disability agency come to deliver a presentation.2, 5, 9, 10, 11

Ensure training location is physically accessible and/or provide training online to make it accessible for mentors’ unique needs.9

See Mentoring 101: An Introductory Workshop for New Mentors for a comprehensive manual about training mentors working with youth with disabilities.10


Matching Process

Matching individuals with similar abilities can help the young person:

  • Experience a positive role model who is similar to them, which may help in developing confidence and feeling more able.
  • Learn about adaptive technologies used for independent living and new activities in which they could participate.
  • Normalize the disability.
  • Developing a strong identity, which encompasses their disability.1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9

Matching mentors and mentees based on proximity to one another to make meeting up easier was a strategy used by the I Can Do It, You Can Do It program.9, 11

If matching based on similar disability there could end up being a waiting list for youth in order to find an appropriate mentor.6


Mentoring Relationship Development

Regular meetings should be established as part of the program, so that youth with disabilities (who are particularly vulnerable to relationship challenges) do not withdraw from the relationship.2, 9

One program provided mentees with incentives to working on and achieving their goals.11

Host mentoring activities that are accessible and at locations that are physically accessible.9

Parent/ Caregiver/ Family Involvement

Staff should parental inclusion in mentoring programs by:

  • Requiring them to sign consent forms and assent to disclosure about their child’s disability;
  • Providing opportunities for parents to give insight about how to make the program successful and safe for their child; and
  • Providing opportunities to learn from the mentors how to help their child self-advocate.2, 5, 9



Mentoring websites should have accessibility features built-in.2

E-mentoring can be effective for use in mentoring youth with disabilities because they provide a safe place for youth with disabilities to connect with mentors and may better accommodate communication challenges posed by disabilities, reduce challenges associated with travelling, and any health concerns.9, 12

Face-to-face meetings can enhance an e-mentoring approach.4

Mentor should be screened as thoroughly for online mentoring as for in-person mentoring.9

Mentors studying social work related disciplines were more likely to be successful.7

Relationships where mentors and mentees communicated more regularly and both mentor and mentee were open (e.g., disclosed their disability) were more likely to be successful.7

E-mentoring reduces the stigma associated with disabilities because they are not physically apparent.4

E-mentoring can help reduce the communication challenges associated with in-person for those with limitations associated with their disabilities.4, 9, 12

Online mentoring was less successful when the mentor’s first email was more formal and less friendly.7

Connecting to Success, DO-IT, and Partners Online are examples of online mentoring programs for youth with disabilities.2, 4, 9




  1. Journey, B. J., & Loukas, K. M. (2009). Adolescents with disability in school-based practice: Psychosocial intervention recommendations for a successful journey to adulthood. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 2(2), 119-132.

  2. Sword, C., & Hill, K. (2002). Creating mentoring opportunities for youth with disabilities: Issues and suggested strategies. Issue Brief. Examining Current Challenges in Secondary Education and Transition, 1(4). National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
  3. Bell, E. C. (2012). Mentoring transition-age youth with blindness. The Journal of Special Education, 46(3), 170-179.
  4. Burgstahler, S. (2012). Opening doors: Mentoring on the internet. E-mentoring and individuals with disabilities. University of Washington. Retrieved from
  5. Powers, L. E., Sowers, J., & Stevens, T. (1995). An exploratory, randomized study of the impact of mentoring on the self-efficacy and community-based knowledge of adolescents with severe physical challenges. Journal of Rehabilitation, 61(1), 33-41.
  6. Shem, K., Medel, R., Wright, J., Kolakowsky-Hayner, S. A., & Duong, T. (2011). Return to work and school: A model mentoring program for youth and young adults with spinal cord injury. Spinal Cord, 49(4), 544-548.
  7. Shpigelman, C., & Gill, C. J. (2012). The characteristics of unsuccessful e-mentoring relationships for youth with disabilities. Qualitative Health Research, 23(4), 463-475.
  8. Association of University Centers on Disabilities. (2009). Mentoring youth with disabilities. Retrieved from
  9. Axelrod, E., Campbell, G., & Holt, T. (2005). The best practices guide in mentoring youth with disabilities. Partners for Youth with Disabilities. Retrieved from
  10. Callahan, S., Endelman, S. A., Manning, C., & Thomas, G. C. (2013). Mentoring 101: An introductory workshop for new mentors. Partners for Youth with Disabilities & Mass Mentoring Partnership. Retrieved from
  11. Kemeny, J., Arnhold, R., & Herold, S. (2012). I can do it, you can do it: A health promotion mentoring model for youth with disabilities. Palaestra, 26(1), 15-19.
  12. Snowden, R. (2003). Partners for youth with disabilities. American Rehabilitation, 36-41.
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services