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October 20, 2010

New initiative will help students with intellectual disabilities go to college

University’s Institute for Innovative Transition awarded $2.5 million grant

When students with disabilities consider what’s next after high school, college is not always presented as an option. A new consortium between several local higher education institutions, K–12 school districts, and agencies will help students with intellectual disabilities to attend and succeed in higher education.

Funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant awarded to the Institute for Innovative Transition at the University under the U.S. Department of Education Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID), the consortium will establish, implement, and sustain four model demonstration projects that will create new, and expand existing, inclusive postsecondary programs at the University, Keuka College, Monroe Community College, and Roberts Wesleyan College.

The Institute for Innovative Transition at Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, a partnership of the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation and the Warner School and Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, will coordinate the local initiative, as well as the model demonstration project located at the University. The institute also will manage the evaluation, technical support, training, and information dissemination nationwide. The model demonstration projects will serve at least 50 18- to 21-year olds with intellectual disabilities each year and will aim to improve students’ employability and independence by increasing their access to higher education.

“One in five people has a disability,” says Martha Mock, director of the Institute for Innovative Transition, who holds joint appointments at the Warner School and the Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics. “Parents who have a son or daughter with disabilities will begin to see a significant difference in the number of higher education options available to them compared to the few options offered the past couple of decades. We’re very excited about the potential these four TPSID model demonstration projects will have for people with intellectual disabilities in New York and across the country as we share our successes with other colleges and universities so that they can learn from and expand the number of initiatives nationwide.”

Students who take this alternative pathway to college will benefit from an inclusive college experience that focuses on academics and instruction, campus activities, employment through work-based learning and internships, and independent living. At the end of the program, students will receive a credential from the college or university that has been approved by the institution.

Research shows that students with intellectual disabilities continue to fall behind and are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed in comparison with their peers without disabilities. A study in 2003 by the New York State Education Department found that employment rates for people with disabilities were approximately 25 percent lower after high school than individuals without disabilities. Many experts have attributed this gap to the lack of support and limited high-quality, inclusive higher education programs available to students with disabilities.

“We’re very fortunate to have so many institutions in New York that have blazed the trails through their experiences of working with people with intellectual disabilities on their own campuses over the past few years,” adds Mock. “Some states have no or few options.”

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