In October 2020, Meg Grigal, co-PI of the Think College National Coordinating Center (NCC), received an email from Marisa Maia Machado, Researcher at CIDTFF – Research Centre on Didactics and Technology in the Education of Trainers located at the Department of Education and Psychology at University of Aveiro (UA) in Portugal. Marisa explained that she became passionate about including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) when she was a classroom teacher in 2000-2015. In 2017, Marisa got a research studentship. As a PhD student in Education, with a focus on Diversity and Special Education, she became aware of inclusive higher education options at international universities in Europe. This excited her, realizing there could be similar options in Portugal. After much research, she realized this was not the case—but of course, it was possible!
Marisa developed a project called InclUA (Inclusion in University of Aveiro), which was a name chosen by researchers and students in the study. The main purpose was to develop and implement a pilot program to create a path to inclusion of people with IDD in Portuguese higher education. The hope was that UA would later adopt and offer a related program. The main aims of InclUA were to create opportunities that were viable for people with IDD to participate in the Portuguese higher education system in academics and campus life. Throughout the pilot study, students received individualized planning and supports from peer mentors and Marisa, and slowly the students and other program participants became part of the university community. All stakeholders involved (participants with IDD and their families, other college students, and lecturers and university staff) were overwhelmed with the integration and active participation in university life.
The best part: University of Aveiro will actually offer a program for students with IDD for the next academic year (2021-2022)! The start date had to be pushed back because of the pandemic, but is on track to have 6 students who will be in the 2-year program. Students will be able to choose 1-3 curricular unites per semester from numerous disciplines. The director of the new program is Professor Paula Santos who was also Marisa’s thesis/pilot project supervisor. Her enthusiasm and belief in the project were essential to help build a program and navigate the university system to obtain all necessary approvals to start the program.
And it all comes full circle… Marisa continues her thesis work and wants to do a global analysis and reflection on the results of the pilot study, and specifically evaluate and reflect on the pilot program. While doing research she found the Model Program Accreditation Standards that were developed by the Think College National Coordinating Center and thought they could help guide the analysis of the results of the study she developed and refine the pilot program. Further, Marisa believes the Standards can also contribute to evaluation, refinement and implementation of the newly approved program at the University of Aveiro. In order that the Program Accreditation Standards be easily accessed by Marisa and her colleagues, as well as other researchers in Portugal, she wanted to translate the standards to Portuguese. That work has been done and a Portuguese version of Program Accreditation Standards is now available in the NCC Resource Library.
Here’s how Marisa knows her work will pay off. Already, she is hearing positive feedback from student participants in InclUA and staff at UA. (The student participants of InclUA that attended courses at UA with students without disability appear in the photo above, left to right: Joana Santos, Ana Carolina Martinho, and Marisa Maia Machado.)
“I like being with my friends, I like classes, I like teachers, I like the atmosphere here at the university, I like it all.” ~Joana Santos, student participant at InclUA
“I thought [it was] incredible to fulfill this dream of being at the University.” ~Carolina Martinho, student participant at InclUA
A UA librarian had this to say: “I never had such direct contact with ‘different’ students, but I quickly got used to seeing them daily and it was, I must confess, a great pleasure to be able to contribute in some way to include them in this new project, in this new university life.”
Thanks to the vision and hard work of Marisa, Paula, and countless others, students with IDD will have access to higher education in Portugal.