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News: AUCD 2015 Impressions, Day 2

by Sara Luterman

November 16, 2015

This year during his State of the Union, President Obama proposed free community college education for every American. As a member of a generation saddled by student debt and drastically underemployed, I'm a fan. Some postsecondary education experience is becoming a standard requirement for many employers. Not only that, but the undergraduate college experience is becoming a milestone in people's lives. How can we be more inclusive here, too?

Programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at universities have been on the increase for the past few years. There's a lot of variation between programs, and best practices are still emerging. Some of these programs and studies on these programs were featured at the AUCD 2015 Conference's Poster Symposium: "Postsecondary Education, Employment, and What Comes Next."

A poster from the Center on Disability and Development at Texas A&M University was one of my favorites. They'd compiled a comprehensive list of postsecondary program located on a college campus. The next step, of course, is turning that information into a resource for disabled young people, their parents, and their support team members. I also look forward to long term data on efficacy and outcomes. America's College Promise needs to be a promise to everyone. I am excited that the AUCD network is helping to lead the way.

The more I learn about postsecondary programs, the more excited I get. Being a disability advocate, some of my peers have had the opportunity to go to college and others have not. I don't think my colleagues who haven't gone have missed out professionally. Many have accomplished more and have had a greater impact than many, if not most, of the people I went to school with. The most important thing I learned as an undergraduate is that being the "smartest" person in the room or getting the best grades does not make you the best. Action is what counts. You can be the "smartest" person in the world, but if you don't do anything useful with it, then who cares? It's just a grade on a transcript filed away on a dusty server somewhere.

Given my skepticism about the utility of college in terms of professional preparation, I still want my peers with ID/DD to have access. Access to university environments as a student, rather than a test subject, it is a vital step towards real community inclusion. For many non-disabled young people, college is their first experience living independently (with some supports, of course). Intellectually or developmentally disabled young people should have that too. They just happen to need a few extra supports. I think living in dorms, opportunities for student activism and leadership, and exploring interests in an environment that is stuffed with resources will do great things for self-advocacy and disability activism. Everyone deserves to have access to an environment where they can develop the skills they need to be more independent adults, regardless of disability status. College is a great place to do that, if we'll give people a chance. Time and time again, it's been proven that given opportunities, people with disabilities can do extraordinary things.

Sara Luterman is a Program Assistant with AUCD. This was her first AUCD Conference.