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A Unique Path to Independence for Disabled Students

Sep 27, 2011

Many physically, mentally or emotionally challenged students yearn for independence. The Education Insider takes a look at some of the unique paths designed to get disabled students to that point.

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By Erin Tigro

Disabled Students and Education

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, throughout elementary, middle and high school, special education students and others with documented disabilities are able to receive individualized education plans (IEP). This is a way to ensure that students who may not be able to participate in a standard curriculum have the chance to obtain a developmentally tailored learning track. IEPs, which are typically set up jointly by school counselors, specialty therapists, educators and parents, are continually monitored and updated throughout a child's K-12 education.

What happens after high school, though? Depending on a combination of personal drive and severity of disability, a disabled high school graduate may decide to continue on his or her educational path. Some may choose to develop their independence by participating in special transitional programs. These initiatives are designed to help disabled individuals adjust to college life, prepare them for the workforce or help them with basic adult and life skills. Others may opt to pursue a traditional college degree. Though no IEPs are available at the university level, disabled students are offered special protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

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Young Adults with Disabilities are Gaining Independence Through Specialty Programs

Transition Program Focused on Developing Life Skills

In Washington, a collaboration between a local community college and public school district has paved the way for disabled students to integrate into the college scene. Participants of Shoreline Public School District and Shoreline Community College's Community Based Transition Program are able to socialize, develop their communication skills and gain practical work experience through internships. They're also able to explore cooking techniques, acquire the basics of computer navigation, become familiar with using public transportation and learn personal accounting methods.

Transitional or College Readiness Program Options

A similar opportunity is offered through the College Internship Program, which is run by cooperating partners in California, Massachusetts, Florida, New York and Indiana. This program is geared toward students who may have dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome. Participants learn to complete everyday tasks and also gain the knowledge needed to fight for their rights. College Internship Programs incorporate on-campus living and internships. In addition, students have the option of enrolling in career skills development classes or courses designed to ready them for conventional higher education.

College Accommodations for Disabled Attendees

Disabled college-ready individuals who are interested in gaining some independence and earning a traditional degree can look to the Beckwith Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This program has been around since the '80s and is able to cater to students with severe physical disabilities. Participants' ailments include neurological, muscular and bone disorders. In 2010, the university announced the grand opening of Nugent Hall, a state-of-the-art dormitory specifically designed to accommodate students with disabilities. Extra wide hallways and extremely roomy elevators allow those in wheelchairs to navigate the building with ease. There are also specialty dorm rooms that feature motorized lifts, contemporary medical beds and adjustable furniture. Other bonuses include automatic doors, voice-activated computer stations and exercise machines that can be used by those in assistive devices. Personal student aids are also on-call to help when needed.

Continue reading for information about how to cope with learning disabilities.

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