Program for students with disabilities looking for more funding

The access to education is unlimited at Northern Kentucky University. Since the fall semester of 2007, the Supported Higher Education Project (SHEP) has been in full swing, providing opportunities for those with special needs.

This program is part of a statewide initiative to create inclusive campus communities across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“We would like to increase access to college and university campuses for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” said Melissa Jones, SHEP advocate and NKU Associate Professor of Special Education.  “We would like to demonstrate intellectual diversity as an area of diversity to be embraced and valued as any other form of human diversity.”

Each year, a limited number of six students with intellectual disabilities are eligible to take part in this program. These students are able to participate for up to three years.

Depending on scheduling and what each student feels they may need to achieve success, the program allows for several mentors each semester. These mentors tend to change every semester, though; often times there are requests to be paired with the same students.

“I enjoyed mentoring and getting to know someone who faced the challenges of intellectual diversity,” said Doug Staton, senior special education major and mentor. “It was fun learning how I could help her succeed by understanding her needs and recognizing her individual goals.”

As non-degree seeking students, the students with intellectual disabilities are eligible to enroll in any 100-200 level courses that do not require any pre-requisites, auditing the classes and receiving accommodations as needed.

“The possibilities are unlimited and are the same as those for any college undergraduate student,” Jones said.

If desired, students can participate in any student-life organizations or activities including intramural sports and clubs. They are also eligible to volunteer or work for pay at on campus jobs or departments.

There are currently students working at the Recreation Center, the on-campus bookstore, and the Early Childcare Center.  One student is the manager of the NKU men’s basketball team, while another is the assistant manager of the NKU men’s baseball team.

When the program began, there was no additional funding. But three years ago, back in 2010, the Supported Higher Education Project partnered with colleagues at the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky to apply for and receive a federal grant.

This grant, called the Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID), is a five year grant and now has only two years remaining. Jones and other program members are currently seeking ways to sustain the program beyond the grant.

“I hope that we will soon be able to apply as a Comprehensive Transition Program,” said Jones.

This type of program could allow non-degree seeking, part-time students to apply for financial aid and tuition assistance. The students in the current program are paying full tuition, making this opportunity limited to families who can afford to pay tuition.

This limits the accessibility of the program, making it unobtainable by many who desire to enroll and be involved in this great opportunity at NKU, according to Jones.

Jones believes that attitudes and perceptions about what individuals with intellectual disabilities can accomplish is one of the biggest challenges faced with this program. It is a program goal to help others recognize the valuable contributions and learning potential these individuals possess.

“Knowing that we are building a truly inclusive community on a university campus, demonstrating possibilities through student successes, friendships, and shared experiences is the most rewarding aspect of being involved in this program,” said Jones.

“If we can do it here, then we should be able to do it anywhere.”