When many high school students with an intellectual disability graduate, their options may be limited to sheltered workshops or staying at home. That won’t be the case for one student who will attend Millersville University of Pennsylvania, thanks to a grant from the Dreams Realized Through Educational Aspiration Model (D.R.E.A.M.) Partnership, a nonprofit organization located in Central Pennsylvania.
The pilot program begins this fall with one student and will expand to six students in the fall of 2015. The $50,000 initiative, led by Dr. Thomas Neuville, Educational Foundations professor at Millersville, will support people with intellectual disabilities to experience a high-quality, individualized postsecondary education that will lead to social and professional networks, careers and a bright future.
“Millersville is one of the first universities in the nation to admit a student with an intellectual disability,” said Neuville. “It means the student will have a chance to exceed typical expectations of poverty and unemployment.”
“This inclusive initiative is intended to strengthen our academic community and the broader community as well,” says Neuville. “When students with intellectual disabilities are included as typical college students, there are great benefits to the campus community: faculty, staff and students. We are interested in these students being full participants in all aspects of university life, rather than being a part of a “special” or separate program.”
The grant to Millersville funds the full development of a new “Career and Life Studies Certificate.” It includes hiring a graduate assistant and multiple student workers under the guidance of Neuville. Students completing the two-year program receive a 60-hour certificate.
Sheltered workshops, which have been declared unconstitutional in multiple states, are organizations that employ people with intellectual disabilities. The term refers to entities that pay their employees’ subminimum wage. U.S. public policy has shifted away from sheltered workshops in favor of programs and activities in an integrated setting. Sheltered workshops have been the subject of criticism for being exploitative, abusive and discriminatory
“It is easy to see why our new educational program is important to those in need of viable options,” said Neuville.