Bridging gaps for students with intellectual disabilities

By Tabitha Whissemore

For many young adults with intellectual disabilities, a postsecondary education is out of reach. However, some community colleges are partnering with outside organizations to ensure people with intellectual disabilities can reach their goals.

Richard J. Daley College – one of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC)– has always had a focus on inclusivity and “keeping the doors open as wide as possible,” says President Janine E. Janosky.

During the college’s recent reaccreditation process, Janosky and staff examined who was missing from the college and realized individuals with intellectual disabilities weren’t coming through Daley’s wide doors.

A new program called After 22 is remedying that. The program provides young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to continue to receive educational services after they age out of the Chicago Public Schools system. In Illinois, these individuals are on their own at age 22, forced to seek out their own social services and put on long waiting lists to received support. After 22 is a bridge between high school and adult services.

CCC partners on the project with Anixter Center and Special Olympics Chicago/Special Children’s Charities.

At Richard J. Daley College, students in the After 22 program receive a college experience. They attend college courses, meet with advisors and counselors, join clubs on campus and participate in internships based on their interests and goals.

“They are Daley students,” Janosky emphasizes.

The 12 students in the spring pilot recently completed their first semester. They took a career-and-college readiness course and started to build their skillsets and pathways to the future – as well as their confidence.

“They take ownership of their education and their pathway,” says Silvia Villa, interim director of continuing education. “We ask, ‘What do you want to do in five years? Figure out what you like and learn it.’”

For this summer’s internships, one student interested in art helped to run a summer art camp. Another student spent 20 hours a week with a community organization, assisting at health fairs and community events. A couple students interned at private companies.

An evolving program

After 22 doesn’t just benefit the students – it’s “an experience for the whole family,” Villa says. There are one-on-one meetings with students’ parents to put them at ease.

It’s also an evolving program.

“We were meticulous in how we designed it and we continue to learn,” Villa says.

For example, a digital literacy course was added to help students learn how to navigate Zoom and other applications.

In July, there was news that students in the program were eligible for financial aid, which expands access to the program.

“This is a tremendous win for current students and generations to come,” Villa says.

For Janosky, supporting students with intellectual and developmental disabilities is all part of “living our mission.”

There’s more to the story! Read about Metropolitan Community College’s partnership to help students with intellectual disabilities in CC Daily.

Tabitha Whissemore

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.