Program Participation

The mission of the program is to provide students with intellectual disabilities the opportunity for a college campus experience, while enriching their academic, work and social skills. Objectives of the program include: 1) providing access to college courses that are attended by typical peers, 2) facilitating career development that will lead to competitive employment, 3) facilitating students in being a part of a campus community, 4) facilitating the development of self-determination and self-advocacy, and 5) facilitating independence skills that will lead to community independence.

The ABLE program begins with students who are interested in the program completing an application (with support as needed) and interviewing with a small group of individuals. Some independence in communicating and navigating are expected for participants. When a student has been accepted into the program, they initially orient to the campus during the spring or summer before their first year. Students then participate in the typical freshman orientation weekend, where they meet their first group of peers and spend three days involved in campus wide activities (service learning, choosing classes, campus orientation, bonfire, etc…). Support during orientation is provided by campus faculty, peers, and ABLE staff.

During the academic year students spend a full day on the campus and access evening activities as they choose. Upon beginning the school year, students are typically enrolled in two campus classes per semester. When needed, peer support in classes (and out) is provided. Classes that students have chosen to take include speech/communications, wellness, PE activity courses, history courses, religion courses, music courses, education courses, and art courses. Each syllabus is modified to meet the student’s needs, while still raising the bar for learning and participation. We have observed students who were no longer interested in reading, pick up their books and want to read. We have also had students who have never spoken in front of a group, get up in a typical communications class and give speeches. Students are given the choice of what they want to learn about, which supports self-determination and ownership.

Students in the ABLE program have the opportunity to ground themselves daily with support from their classroom teacher. Depending on their needs, students may spend 1-2 hours per day enriching their functional academic skills and working on their goals. Students have also used this time to learn to access their course websites, email professors and peers, and set goals for each week. We feel that this time allows students the opportunity for additional adult support that may be needed.

Students also attend twice weekly chapels on the campus, as it is a requirement for all students. In addition, our job coach connects students with a work-based learning experience each semester, based upon their interests and strengths. As students progress through the program, they are given resources for Vocational Rehabilitation Services and prepare to transition to jobs in the community. Supports and communication with adult service agencies are provided for families prior to exiting the program.

Students spend a great deal of time on campus learning how to be a part of a community by building their daily independent living skills. Students have a weekly cooking class. They shop for the ingredients and prepare the food. This gives them more confidence as they are working in the kitchen. Students have been introduced to many new recipes they can take with them. Students also have the opportunity to be involved in many extracurricular activities throughout the day/night/weekend. We have students who have helped with plays and musicals, a student who worked with the baseball team, and students who regularly attend athletic events with their peers. Students who may have shown inappropriate social or group skills are learning from their peers, which have proven to be extremely effective and sustainable.

Prospective students are afforded the privilege of residing in a dedicated on-campus residence hall. Upon submission of their application, each student interested in living on campus, undergoes an independent living assessment conducted by a qualified Occupational Therapy Doctor. Upon successful approval for on-campus living, students are given a room in the residence hall. To further enhance the on-campus living experience, a support system is in place, including Resident Mentors and Resident Assistants in their residence halls. Resident Mentors collaborate with students to develop and refine both independent living skills and social competencies, fostering an integrated approach to their personal and academic growth.

Beginning in May 2021, students in the ABLE Program are a part of the Commencement Ceremony and walk to receive a certificate for participating in the ABLE Program. ABLE is designed as a four-year program for students. It is recognized that less than four years in ABLE may be a better fit for a specific student and his or her family. Walking at commencement is an opportunity reserved for students who have completed four years in the program as the program was initially intended.

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