Fund offers students with intellectual disability hope of continuing education

While the education of many students with intellectual disability is usually provided at professional special agencies and schools with classes customized for their needs, some special programs are giving them the same opportunities to go to college as their peers.

One example is the University of Northern Colorado Go On and Learn (GOAL) Program.

As GOAL students progress through college, they take classes that focus on how to live with other people and get along with them, how to budget and how to understand taxes.

The program was launched five years ago. It was largely made possible by the legislature, which, in 2016, assigned $75,000 to get an inclusive higher education program up and running at UNC as well as UCCS and Arapahoe Community College.

For so long, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been unable to write much of their own story, limited mainly by stigma. Students with such disabilities belong to a “hidden population”, said Corey Pierce, director of the School of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado, and a founder of the GOAL Program of the university.

According to Pierce, many of them were being educated in separate classrooms and buildings throughout their elementary, middle and high school life. Parents of those students often kept them at home to shield them from harsh public reactions.

The program’s first class of graduates is now in the final stage of college, as four students prepare to step into their careers after completing their certification of higher education in May.

Boulder student Isabelle Woloson, 21, has grown more independent in the past three-and-a-half years as a GOAL student. Woloson, who has Down syndrome, is determined to become a life coach after graduating and is taking a nine-month certification program. The GOAL program has helped her chart that path.

Meanwhile, Huntington University in Indiana, offers an ABLE Program — Achieving Balance in Life through Education — providing individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to study.

ABLE students are also paired with a mentor, a fellow student on campus. The mentors are very valuable and help students learn more outside of the classroom.

ABLE student William McAnich said the program gave him a college experience and that it let him take college courses that challenge him.

The first students of the ABLE Program will get to walk with their fellow classmates at this year’s graduation ceremony. Dr. Bailey says these students are given the skills and references to help them succeed in the future.