Jennifer Gans, a graduate from Glen Ellyn high school, wished to pursue a college education, just like several others, but her developmental delays placed her in the category of those with “intellectual disabilities”, a population barely any colleges cater to. Despite that, 25 year old Gans currently, posesses a certificate to prove her successful completion of undergraduate studies, all thanks to Elmhurst College’s four-year Elmhurst Learning and Success Academy. Introduced in 2005, ELSA added to the meager yet expanding count of college curriculums designed specifically for individuals with intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, developmental delays, and multiple learning disabilities; in the Midwestern region of the country. Gans’ program at ELSA involved both academics and certain courses that sharpened her time-management and independent-living skills. Another significant component of studies at ELSA, for Gans, were the internships, which permitted her to probe various career options, and as a result of which she realized that she enjoys working with animals. Presently working part-time at a pet store, Gans is enrolled in a veterinary assistant program at the College of DuPage and envisions herself as working for a large-animal vet in the long run. As per LuEllen Doty, Elmhurst’s Director of Special Education, the rest of ELSA’s 19 graduates have secured employment in several fields like recreation and photography. The program currently has 24 students. The nature of these programs, however, differs from college to college. The ELSA program, for example, provides educational coaches for students who assist them in goal-setting and acquiring study skills. There is compulsory community service which engages students with local non-profits. And as put by Doty, the program at ELSA is “inclusive”, in that, even if the students live in their own homes, they are with other students all day. The PACE program, a two-year certificate program is another such endeavor for students with intellectual disabilities at the National Louis University’s Skokie campus. According to Assistant Director Barb Kite, social and academic participation of students is encouraged, and enhanced with PACE students living in the residence halls. Graduates from this program work in fields such as elder care and transportation. Zach Farber, a recent 22 year old graduate said that one of his three internships while at PACE, working at a high school food service, helped him decide on food service as a career path, and he is now looking for employment in that area. He added that PACE helped him develop some street-smarts and furthered his social life. The REACH program at the University of Iowa is a two-year certificate program, incorporating academics and life-skills courses, with students residing in dorms, being paired with mentors and completing internships.
February 22, 2021
February 22, 2021