For students with intellectual disabilities, on-campus living to come
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 22:09
The university’s Center for Disabilities Studies is planning to create an on-campus living option for students with intellectual disabilities who are enrolled in the Career and Life Studies Certificate program.
Laura Eisenman, education professor and coordinator of the disabilities studies minor, said the CLSC is part of “a small but growing trend.”
Eisenman said the CLSC offers post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. She said it is a two-year certificate program that combines classroom experience, internships and social activities in order to teach academic, career and life skills.
In 2010, Eisenman said the university won a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which provides funding for CLSC for five years. This enables the university to charge only nominal tuition to students enrolled in the program, she said, along with twenty-seven other universities who have received the same grant.
“These programs are intended to offer an opportunity to students with intellectual disabilities that hasn’t been widely available before,” Eisenman said.
Eisenman said the CLSC caters to students with intellectual disabilities who desire additional education after high school, but are not qualified for traditional undergraduate programs or need additional support to progress onto higher education.
CLSC is offered through the Professional and Continuing Studies program and allows students to take undergraduate classes, as well as receive support from peer mentors and staff coaches to focus on their individualized needs, Eisenman said. These students may also participate in social activities and cultural programs on campus, such as RSOs, she said.
The students also benefit from being part of the campus community, Brian Freedman, education professor and CLSC director, said.
“What this program allows is for the students to really feel a true sense of identity with being a University of Delaware student,” Freedman said.
If they choose, CLSC students may go on to additional academic or career training, according to the department’s website. A maximum of 15 students are admitted per year and the first class, consisting of 10 students, graduated in May.
In August, junior Rachel Gettinger, a human services major, and Eisenman presented a research project, “Designing On-Campus Living for Students with Intellectual Disabilities,” Eisenman said.
“I see benefits, not just for the students but for the campus community, in terms of helping to continue to raise awareness about the capabilities of people with disabilities,” Freedman said.
The plan, which Freedman said is “still in the exploratory phase,” may involve CLSC students living in dorms or in apartments just off-campus.
Eisenman said many CLSC students will likely require additional levels of support to succeed in independent living, but she said she believes it will be a valuable experience for them.
“Many people with intellectual disabilities learn better in real-life settings, given the proper supports,” she said.
During focus groups held by the Center for Disabilities Studies over the summer, CLSC students and parents expressed interest in creating on-campus living options, Gettinger said. Students were excited about the possibilities for increased social interaction, while she said parents were enthusiastic at the opportunity for independent living.
Deborah Bain, program manager at the Center for Disabilities Studies, said CLSC students face many of the same challenges as traditional students do. Both groups must learn to cook, to shop for groceries, to do laundry and to set alarms and get up for classes on time without parents reminding them, she said.
Time management and prioritizing activities are challenges for most students, with or without disabilities, Bain said.
CLSC students receive assistance from peer mentors who tutor them and help them integrate into campus social life, Bain said. She said being a peer mentor or coach is a valuable experience for the students.
“For many of our students who have joined our staff, it’s been a tremendous learning opportunity for them to really make some decisions about career choices for themselves,” Bain said.
Gettinger said having CLSC students living on campus will help their peers become more comfortable with people with intellectual disabilities and dismantle myths about them after seeing how similar they are.
“The similarities are much bigger than the differences,” Gettinger said. “They’re people before disabilities. Their disabilities don’t define them.”