Enhancing Accessibility in Post-Secondary Education Institutions
Some universities and colleges across the country are creating opportunities for young adults with significant intellectual disabilities so that they can meaningfully participate in postsecondary education. As more students with significant intellectual disabilities are graduating high school, post-secondary education is being considered as a viable option.
Reports have shown that inclusive education offer benefits not only to students with intellectual disabilities, but to classmates and to professors. Students with intellectual disabilities gain self confidence, emotional growth, an expanded social network and independence. Other students, faculty and staff get to see and grow from the diversity and potential that students with disabilities possess, and to help make a serious impact on the lives of those with significant disabilities.
There are different ways to provide inclusive education for students with significant intellectual disabilities. Hart, et al. (2006) have defined three models: substantially separate model, mixed/hybrid model, and inclusive or individual support model.
- A Substantially Separate Program focuses on life skills or transition programs in a community based settings. There is no sustained interaction with the general student body and no option to take standard college courses with peers.
- A Mixed Program is a transition program that is housed on the college or university campus. It offers some interaction with the general student body in common areas and at social events. Some may offer the option of taking college/university level classes but the focus is still on life skills.
- The Inclusive, Individual Support Model provides individualized services and supports for students with significant disabilities while in a college or university setting. Students select college or university courses based on their preferences and attend classes along with their peers.
While the Substantially Separate and Mixed Programs can provide valuable experiences and opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, the Inclusive/Individual Support Model allows for the most autonomy for the student and maximizes opportunities for typical interaction with peers. These programs are more focused on the individual and are designed to support their personal goals.
The following are some examples of how PSE institutions in Canada are implementing inclusive education at a college or university level. As inclusive education continues to grow, variations of these models will continue to emerge. Institutions should explore and adapt the options that best suit their needs while providing a valuable opportunity for students with disabilities.
- For fully inclusive education, students with intellectual disabilities should attend classes, complete assignments and write exams just like all of the students in the class; they should also be encouraged to participate in group projects and class discussions.
- Students in an inclusive education program should design an individualized learning plan and then, in consultation with a disability advisor, select courses that are best suited to their interests and goals.
- Typically, students in inclusive support programs are restricted to taking first or second year introductory classes which may pose a challenge as these classes are usually larger and can make individualized support more difficult. Coordination and information sharing between support staff and faculty is very important to ensure students in inclusive education programs are adequately supported.
- Students in the inclusive education program should be matched up with an assistant who will support them in their classes by helping them with note taking, communicating in class, etc. This assistant should support students in their day-to-day activities but only intervene when necessary and allow the student as much independence and autonomy as possible.
- The assistant, or another program co-ordinator, could be responsible for making any necessary modifications to the curriculum, tests and assignments as well as completing all grading for the students in the program. Another option is to designate these responsibilities to a committee comprised of assistants, co-ordinators and members from disability services. Faculty members should be included as well, if possible.
- Often, students in inclusive education programs will not be enrolled in courses in the traditional sense but will instead audit the course with permission from the instructor. For this reason, information on the inclusive education program should be given to all staff and faculty in order to gain support and clarify misunderstandings prior to students from the program requesting to audit their course. This may also help reduce the rate of instructors who refuse audit permission to students in the inclusive education program and enhance instructors’ willingness to engage and assist these students.
- In some instances, instructors may not have any direct responsibility for adapting their curriculum, grading the work or assessing the students with intellectual disabilities. However, some institutions may wish to involve faculty members in the evaluation process.
- The program could include a separate mentorship program where students with intellectual disabilities are matched up with college/university students and encouraged to engage in recreational and social activities. Mentors could be individuals from relevant faculties, such as special education, disability studies or psychology.
- While mentorship programs can be beneficial and lead to meaningful friendships, it can also hinder the development of friendships if the relationship is seen as forced. It is therefore important for students in the program to be given opportunities to interact with other students in a natural way.
- Students who complete the program should be given the opportunity to participate in the graduation ceremony alongside their peers.
- Students should be given some form of formal recognition for the work they have completed. While this may not be equal to the regular course credit, some credit should be given with the goal of obtaining a completion certificate.
- Inclusive education enhances the need for universal design in teaching materials and methods. Colleges/universities which implement these types of programs must also emphasize to faculty and staff the need to address and accommodate different learning styles.