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Opening Doors for Young Adults with Disabilities

Opening Doors For Young Adults with Disabilities

by: Techpsych Blog

Research in the field of neuroscience and education related to developmental disabilities has been exploding over the past few years.  The general public, including parents and special educators, may not be aware of some of this myth-busting research, as decisions related to this research impacts the future of young people with disabilities as well as the future of our communities, educational institutions, and the workplace.

Today’s NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story about the changing expectations for young people with intellectual disabilities and the efforts of a young man to level the playing field at Oakland University in Michigan.  The young man was enrolled in a special college program for students with disabilities.

“Like many kids with intellectual disabilities these days, Micah Fialka-Feldman went to his neighborhood high school in Michigan and graduated. Then he wanted to try college. Nearby Oakland University is one of many schools and community colleges that are setting up programs for students with intellectual disabilities. But it wouldn’t let Fialka-Feldman live on campus so he sued, and a judge has ruled that he was discriminated against.” For more details, listen to the audio version on the NPR website.


For many years, community colleges and universities have offered some support for students who received additional support during their K-12 years for attention deficits, reading disabilities, hearing and vision impairments, and so forth. More recently, some institutes of higher education have open their doors to provide education for young adults with intellectual disabilities as well as those with communication and learning difficulties related to autism spectrum disorders, a population that is rapidly growing.

Colleges and universities are fairly new at the art and science of supporting students with disabilities, but things are changing, especially since word is getting out that the human brain continues developing well past the age of high school graduation. It does not surprise me to learn that young adults who required a higher level of special education services in high school can learn much more, and at an abstract level, as they approach their mid-twenties. Although they might not have the intellectual capacity to understand algebra at age 14, some might at age 22!

Transition Planning Resources

Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008

Full Text (pdf)

“This law contains a number of important new provisions that will improve access to postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. Of particular note are several provisions that address financial aid and create a new model demonstration program and coordinating center for students with intellectual disabilities.”

From the Think College! Overview of the Federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008

The term “comprehensive transition and postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities” means a degree, certificate, or non-degree program that is

  • offered by an institution of higher education;
  • designed to support students with [intellectual disabilities] who are seeking to continue academic, career and technical, and independent living instruction at an IHE in order to prepare for gainful employment;
  • includes an advising and curriculum structure; and
  • requires students with intellectual disabilities to participate on not less than a half-time basis, as determined by the institution, with such participation focusing on academic components.

The term “student with an intellectual disability” means a student:

  • with mental retardation or a cognitive impairment, characterized by significant limitations in intellectual and cognitive functioning; and adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; and
  • who is currently, or was formerly, eligible for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

NLTS2 (National Longitudinal Transition Study-2)

NLTS2: The Post-High School Outcomes for Youth With Disabilities up to 4 Years After High School (pdf)

A key point: “Youth who left school without finishing were more likely to have been involved with the criminal justice system, including being stopped by police other than for a traffic violation (73 percent vs. 48 percent), arrested (49 percent vs. 22 percent), and put in jail overnight (33 percent vs. 11 percent).”

Transition to College website

HEATH: Online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities

AHEAD:  Association on Higher Education and Disability

Michael Gordon, Ed. Accommodations in Higher Education under the Americans with Disabilities Act: A No-Nonsense Guide for Clinicians, Educators, Administrators, and Lawyers

Elizabeth Evans Getzel  Going to College:  Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities (v.1)

Meg Grigal & Debra Hart:  Think College!  Postsecondary Education Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Massachusetts:  Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment: A Pathway to Access Postsecondary  Education for Youth with Disabilities (pdf)

College Living Experience (Post secondary programs for students with special needs)

College of Charleston L.I.F.E. (Learning Is For Everyone)

Coastal Carolina’s LIFE program

REACH: University of Iowa Program for students with learning and cognitive disabilities

If you are tutoring or teaching math/algebra to a young adult with disabilities, here are some resources:

Jimenez, Bree A.; Browder, Diane M.; Courtade, Ginervra R. Teaching an Algebraic Equation to High School Students with Moderate Developmental Disabilities Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, v43, n2 p266-274 Jun 2008
Katherine Trela, Bree Jimenz, Dian M. Browder: Teaching to the Standards: A Literacy-Based Approach for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

2009 UNC Charlotte Curriculum Summit Materials

High School Task Analysis Math Story-Based Lessons (pdf)
Math Conceptual Model Brochure

Trela, K., Browder, D., Pugalee, D., Spooner, F., & Knight, V., (2008). A conceptual model for math for students with significant cognitive disabilities. [Brochure]. Retrieved date, from UNC Charlotte, Department of Special Education and Child Development, General Curriculum Access Projects:

Teaching to Standards MATH  (Covers geometry, algebra, data analysis, and measurement; outgrowth of the research of Diane Browder and her colleagues at UNC-Charlotte)

Teaching to Standards MathWork (sample workbook materials) (pdf)

Teaching to Standards MATH Implementation Guide

Quadratic Equation Math Rubric
Interactive Applications and Games
DimensionM is a 3D immersive game that aligns with many algebra content standards across the U.S.   It is multi-player enabled.  If you have access to a large-screen monitor, it is helpful to model the concepts in the game along with the student(s) to introduce, review, and reinforce the concepts.  Non-disabled students, with guidance, can also use this game for peer tutoring sessions.   The software provides automatic progress tracking for students.
For more information:
DimensionM – How It Works
DimensionM Game Room Creation Option (Video explains how this can customization of the student’s experience playing DimensionM according to level, topic, and skills, in order for students of varying abilities to compete/cooperate with each other.)

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