High School Outreach Project Activity Report
January - March 2002
Over the last year, NEADS developed a project that would respond to the consistent interest of our members to reach out to students with disabilities in the high school sector. With funding support from the Social Development Partnerships Program of Human Resources Development Canada, the NEADS High School Outreach Project was initiated to have three main components:
- The development of a Resource Guide for high school students with disabilities in transition.
- The capacity to help connect high schools to NEADS on the Internet.
- Focus groups with youth with disabilities to advise the development of the Resource Guide and the Internet resources.
This initiative was started in 2001/2002 in response to recommendations from the general membership during the 2000 national conference and subsequent meetings with the NEADS board of directors.
The High School Outreach Project, has been progressing extremely well since we commenced the initiative in July, 2001. The work that was started in the summer, was continued in the fall and winter with highlights including two high school focus groups; a consultation with board members, project staff and partner organizations; and the continued developed of the information products for the transition guide and the Web site.
A project Advisory Committee was established early on and it includes the following members of the NEADS board: Jennison Asuncion (Advisor to the Board), Alison Beattie (Alberta Rep.), Jennifer Finlay (Nova Scotia Rep.), Joby Fleming (President, Newfoundland Rep.), Catherine McGowan (Manitoba Rep.) and Rachael Ross (British Columbia Rep.) Chris Gaulin (Website Architect) is also a member of the committee, and he has been charged with all aspects of the project that relate to Web site content and development. During a project meeting with the NEADS board of directors in Ottawa in November, Roger Bursey, our new Prince Island Rep. was added to the Advisory Committee. Two organizations have also joined the committee: the Canadian Counselling Association (CCA) and the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE). Doris Lavoie, Executive Director of the CCA and Lynne Owen, representative of CADSPPE attended the November consultation. Collinda Joseph, Project Officer, Social Development Partnerships Program, Human Resources Development Canada represented the department at this meeting.
Brenda Whaley and Neil Faba are working together on the project as consultants. Frank Smith, NEADS' National Coordinator, is involved in project management, coordination of the consultants' work; scheduling and organizing meetings and reviewing content of project materials as it is developed by the consultants.
Activities and Research
In July, a description of the project, in the form of a letter to students and service providers, was prepared in both English and French. It was posted on the NEADS Web site and distributed through two listservs: NEADS-L and the Canadian Special Needs Network (CSNNET). The letter identifies Neil Faba and Brenda Whaley as the contacts. Full credit is provided to the Social Development Partnerships and Human Resources Development Canada for funding support of the project. The project Advisory Committee held a meeting by conference call in July to discuss the work plan; the committee held a second tele-conference during the third week of September. These early meetings of the Advisory Committee were critical to development of our workplan and the organization of our focus groups and board/partner consultation.
Much of the initial research for the High School Outreach Project involved brainstorming ideas on content and presentation of the guidebook component. The guide that we are developing will be a comprehensive handbook created for high students with disabilities who are in transition from the secondary level to post-secondary education. We now have a solid idea of what we want in the guide and how we want to go about organizing it. The different components of the guide are described in detail in the project proposal. Key components include descriptions of non-governmental organizations and federal government programs that can assist these students; development of current program information on financial aid for college and university study; advice to students with disabilities who are in post-secondary programs on how to become an effective advocate; and profiles of post-secondary students as role models. The consultants and the Advisory Committee have decided to divide the guidebook content into distinct sections for each province and territory. A separate chapter will provide details of key national programs.
Another aspect of the project has been to identify organizations that can provide critical support to and promotion of our High School Outreach initiative. Neil met with Doris Lavoie, Executive Director the Canadian Counselling Association (CCA), in August. Clearly, reaching out to high school guidance counsellors is important to the success of our project, as these counsellors regularly offer advice to youth with disabilities who are making critical decisions about their post-secondary education.
At that August meeting Mr. Lavoie indicated that he would like to become a member of the Advisory Committee and said that he would participate in the November project consultation. Mr. Lavoie also committed to publish our notice about the initiative in the Association's fall newsletter. The article on the project was printed on page 10 of the October, 2001 issue of COGNICA and is available on the CCA Web site www.ccacc.ca During our fall consultation, Mr. Lavoie extended an invitation to the NEADS High School Outreach Project team to submit a workshop abstract to be considered by the CCA 2002 Conference planning committee. The conference will be held in May in Ottawa. The abstract was written by Jennison Asuncion and Neil Faba and submitted in November. The Association has received word that its abstract has been accepted by the conference organizers and we will be part of the agenda at the May meeting.
Over the course of the project, we have been in contact with Jane Drover (Mount Allison University's Meighen Centre), the President of the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers (CADSPPE). As mentioned earlier, the Executive Director of the CCA attended the project meeting that was held in early November at the Delta Ottawa Hotel and Suites. CADSPPE sent Lynne Owen to represent the service provider community and participate in the consultation. Lynne works at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick providing support to students with learning disabilities on campus. During the November meeting Lynne emphasized CADSPPE's support for the project and pledged to help the project team in the months ahead.
During the second (October - December, 2001) and third phases (January - March, 2002) of the project, Neil has continued to develop profiles of organizations that are relevant to high school students making the transition to post secondary, and gather statistical and other information to include in the guidebook. He has also arranged interviews with students who will be profiled in the guide.
Neil and Brenda planned and organized highly successful focus groups with high school students in Toronto (October), Calgary (November) and Montreal (March). In organizing these meetings it was our intention to involve a good cross-section of students with different types of disabilities, males and females. Our Advisory Committee has been very helpful in the creation of our focus group questions and protocol.
Neil took on the task of arranging the first focus group meeting in Ontario. After initially contacting the Thames Valley Children's Centre in London, the Bloorview MacMillan Centre in Toronto was determined to be the best host organization for the meeting. The Toronto focus group was held on Saturday, October 20th at the Bloorview MacMillan Centre. Our contact at Bloorview was Kim Jones-Galley, who works for DiscoverAbility. Kim is involved with the Centre's Youth Group. This was a very productive forum with eight student participants. It provided invaluable feedback on the direction of the project and content of the transition guidebook that we are developing. For this first focus group, Brenda and Neil facilitated the meeting together to get a feel for the dynamics of a focus group and the effectiveness of the questions. Each participant in the Toronto focus group received a CD version of the NEADS Web site and a letter of thanks for participating. A detailed report was written on the meeting and prepared from an audio tape that was made of the focus group. Recommendations from the students are being followed closely, as we develop the information products for the project.
The second forum was held in Calgary at Foothills Academy high school on November 30th and facilitated by Brenda Whaley. Our contact at Foothills Academy is an instructor who attended the 2000 NEADS national conference. This forum was also extremely well received by the students. This time, there were nine students who attended. Brenda has prepared the report from this meeting which includes a list of recommendations from the students. Letters of thanks were sent to the participants, along with a copy of the NEADS Web site CD.
Neil Faba organized the third forum in Quebec. The Montreal focus group for the High School Outreach Project was held at the Holiday Inn midtown Montreal on Saturday, March 16, 2002. Unlike our other focus groups, which were organized at particular organizations that dealt with young people with disabilities - and thus had groups of students with disabilities they could readily invite to participate - we decided to organize at a neutral meeting space in Montreal, and invite students from all over to come to us. This strategy was chosen in light of the fact Montreal's service provision is less centralized than it is in other parts of the country
This strategy proved difficult. After weeks of contacting schools and groups for people with disabilities in Montreal to help us get the word out, we entered into the weekend of the focus group not knowing what our turnout might be. We ended up with a small but interesting group for the morning English session - one high school student preparing to enter CEGEP, a parent, and two students presently in year 2 of CEGEP. The results of the discussion were informative, both for our research and for the participants themselves, who seemed to all learn something they didn't know about the experience in Quebec for students with disabilities. Neil has prepared a report on the Montreal focus group. Letters of thanks have also been sent to Montreal focus group participants, along with a copy of the NEADS Web site CD.
Brenda has continued to work on updating information financial aid information for the guide from October to the end of March. She has reviewed information that NEADS has developed in its online Financial Aid Guide on www.neads.ca . The content review has involved contact with EAPD coordinators and student aid offices in each province and territory across this country. The communication with financial aid authorities has been extremely useful. Updates to our online guide were made in November by Web site Architect, Chris Gaulin and again in February. At the same time, we are making decisions about the financial assistance information that should be included in the transition guide. Most likely, we will be presenting descriptions of the major national and provincial/territorial financial aid programs available to students with disabilities.
Web site Development
The Association's Web Team has provided invaluable support to this project. Chris Gaulin has posted the online content promoting the project. He has made an FAQ that NEADS developed for the CanLearn Accessibility Guide more readily available from our Web site. It is now one of the featured items in the NEADS Online Resource Centre. This FAQ, which is divided into questions under five subject areas, is already an excellent reference source for youth with disabilities. We are now reviewing this FAQ, and intend to expand the number of questions based on feedback from the focus groups with high school students.
The Web Team is also working on the "look and feel" of the Web site to make it more appealing to high school students. One of the areas that we are exploring is the creation of an online mentoring program for youth with post-secondary students acting as mentors. This aspect of the project will be developed based on advice that we receive from participants in the focus groups. Our Web Team also continues to be involved in the promotion and upgrading of current features of the Web site including: NEADS EdLink (links to over 120 Canadian college, and university Web pages that provide information on services for disabled students; and a contacts list of campus disability service providers); CampusNet (the location of links to and reports from student groups and access committees) and Worklink (the section of the site that provides information on career related initiatives and programs offered by the public and private sectors).
Consultations Through Student Leadership Forums
On January 25th NEADS held a "Student Leadership and Employment Forum" at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Toronto. The forum included two panels, one on the development of campus-based organizations of students with disabilities and the second on employment opportunities after graduation. Student leaders from universities and colleges in Toronto participated in this forum. High school students in the city also attended. Human resources and employment equity personnel from companies representing different sectors of the Canadian economy were well-represented and held a dialogue with students on transition from school to work issues. Participating organizations included: Toronto Centre for Independent Living, Able York, Carleton Disability Awareness Centre, GE Canada, Career Edge/Ability Edge youth internship program, City of Toronto, Human Resources Development Canada, Canadian National Institute for the Blind - National Employment Program. This consultation presented an excellent opportunity to share information on the High School Outreach Project with forum participants.
On Friday, March 15th a Student Leadership and Employment Forum was held at the Coast Harbourside Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. Student leaders from universities and colleges in Victoria and Vancouver participated in this forum. High school students in the city were in attendance. Participating organizations included: University of Calgary, Action Committee of People with Disabilities, B.C. Coalition of People With Disabilities and the local independent living centre - the Disability Resource Centre. The employment panel featured: Youth Initiatives, HRDC; Career Edge/Ability Edge, Advice and Business Loans for People with Disabilities (ABLED) and the Public Service Commission. This consultation also presented an excellent opportunity to share information on the High School Outreach Project.
Next Steps: Completing the Project
The Association will be completing the project work from April to the end of June, 2002. Currently, students and graduates with disabilities across Canada are being interviewed for profiles that are being developed for the guide. At the same time, the different components of the guide are now being finalized. The first draft will be ready during the third week of April. It's our intention to hold a project advisory group consultation in June to discuss a distribution and promotion plan for the High School Outreach project products and the involvement of our partners in this endeavour.