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.
Application Process and Program Involvement (Application)
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. Students are provided with iPads and access to campus technology. 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 a classroom teacher from the local high school. Depending on their needs, students may spend 1-2 hours per day enriching their functional academic skills. 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, students are connected with an on campus work experience each semester, based upon their interests and strengths. We have had a minimum of two paid on-campus jobs during the last school year. As students progress through the program, they are connected with Vocational Rehabilitation Services and prepare to transition to jobs in the community. Supports and communication with adult service agencies are made 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 do weekly cooking activities in the dorm or apartment of a peer. They plan for the activity, comparison shop, and shop/purchase whatever items they may need. Students have created their own personal cook book to use in their homes. 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.
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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The ABLE program is dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities.