Accessing Disability Services: Introduction

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Section 1: Collaborating to Improve Postsecondary Access for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Why Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities Matter!

Meet Eddie, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University!
“To see the potential of students with intellectual disabilities, one need look no further than Eddie Lewis. When he was in ninth grade, Eddie shared his dream of attending college with his family. Reluctantly, his mother said that because of his disabilities college was not an option. Eddie has autism as well as an intellectual disability. In high school, he didn’t converse often or engage in much eye contact. Eddie’s mom changed her mind when she heard about Academic & Career Exploration: Individualized Techniques (ACE IT) in College at Virginia Commonwealth University. After learning the details of the program, Eddie’s mother told him to 'reach for the sky' and not let others squash his dreams!”  Find Eddie’s story in the sidebar.

Eddie may never have had the opportunity to feel the personal empowerment to succeed without becoming a student at VCU.   When institutions of higher education (IHE) embrace postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities (ID), they not only offer students the opportunity to be part of a college environment, but they give those students the chance to work alongside and study with same-aged peers without disabilities. Students like Eddie achieve the skills and self-confidence to live the dream. Eddie now has a full-time job with health benefits.  Going to college gave Eddie the chance to “meet people and try different things.” ACE IT, he says, “was a wonderful experience.”

Supporting Collaboration from the Association on Higher Education and Disability
The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) is committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education.  AHEAD provides training and professional development opportunities for individuals who work in college settings with students with disabilities, and fully supports the Disability Services collaboration with programs for students with intellectual disabilities into postsecondary education

According to the AHEAD White Paper on Students with Intellectual Disabilities and Campus Disability Services:

Numerous programs for students with intellectual disabilities currently exist in a variety of postsecondary educational settings. While Disability Services professionals do not usually operate such programs, we are in a unique position professionally to inform institutional decisions to design and implement programs that are welcoming and inclusive for students with intellectual disabilities. Where such programs already exist on a campus, Disability Service professionals can work with the program staff to determine how students with intellectual disabilities can access accommodations and other resources of their offices. AHEAD, in partnership with the Institute for Community Inclusion and ThinkCollege.net, will continue to provide its members with guidance on how to support and facilitate the full participation of students with intellectual disabilities in postsecondary educational settings.

Read the complete AHEAD White Paper 

College is the “great equalizer.”   Programs for students with ID are developing all over the country, and ideally the young adults attending college through these programs will have the same access to disability supports and services as any other student with a disability.  However, due to the relative newness of this type of higher education program, misunderstandings and confusion may present challenges for both Disability Service providers and for those who work in programs for students with ID as to the role that each plays.  This module is designed to address those confusions and misunderstandings and bridge the gaps that may exist.

The ultimate goal for anyone who attends college is to gain the knowledge and skills that will lead to a productive, adult life.  Students with ID are not all that different from anyone else attending college.  They dream of a job, a family, a home; inclusive postsecondary programs have the common purpose to teach the skills that support those independent, social, and employment goals.  Postsecondary programs for students with ID not only teach academic skills, but they provide career development and employment, independent living opportunities, socialization, and networking skills.  Watch “I’m Thinking College…Even with a Disability” in the To Learn More section to hear directly from several students about their experiences.  

Valuing the Benefits of Collaboration

The benefits of collaborating to support inclusive higher education extend well beyond the students with ID. When the DS office and ID program staff work together, students with intellectual disabilities have the opportunities to gain skills that open up previously unreachable goals. Both the college and the community benefit through interactions with the students. As everyone learns from each other, expectations are elevated and barriers to understanding are removed. Students have the opportunity to attend classes, meet other students, gain social and employment skills, and plan life as an accomplished adult. 

As you move through this online module, you will learn the responsibilities of both the DS and ID programs and their collaborative roles.  You will also learn how to address potential barriers that might arise.

To Learn More: 

This video shares the stories of several students with ID who are enrolled in the Next Steps program at Vanderbilt.Read more

Dr. Michael Davis, Special Assistant to the Provost for Strategic Initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University speaks on the importance of academic diversity and support for students with ID. “…we can’t do anything better than...Read more

This Think College Story shares Eddie's experiences at Virginia Commonwealth University and how it resulted in a full time job with benefits.Read more

Insight Brief #12 discusses the history of the development of postsecondary options for students with ID, as well as future implications.Read more

This White Paper is written by the Executive Committee members of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and provides an introductory statement that shares the organization's perspective on higher education for students with intellectual disabilities, and provides facts...Read more