Students with intellectual disabilities pursuing degrees to get support

The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire is tackling the problem of access to post-secondary education for young adults with intellectual disabilities and has been awarded a $2.5 million grant.

“Opportunities for jobs and careers often come through post-secondary training and education experiences. For many students with ID, post-secondary opportunities are not extended to or expected of them. Today, that experience is changing,” said Director Kelly Nye-Lengerman in a statement.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education. It will be used over the next five years to help develop a sustainable model to enroll and support up to 50 students with intellectual disabilities at UNH.

The hope is that all colleges in New Hampshire will eventually be able to offer similar programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

“The idea is we incubate at UNH, focus on building the model and getting it financially sustainable and working well for the students, so that everyone is confident in the model, but we also want to build capacity at other higher ed institutions in New Hampshire,” said Tobey Partch-Davies, principal investigator for the Granite State Transition Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.

The full program will roll out next academic year, but there is already a transition program in place that students are taking advantage of.

UNH-4U Bridges to College and Career Webinar Training Series is designed to prepare young adults with intellectual disabilities for higher education, independent living and careers.

Garrett Shows, of Peterborough, is 22 years old and enrolled in the program. He wants to live independently.

“My career goal is, I would like to be a teaching assistant,” Shows said.

Shows said he gets along well with children and can see himself working in an elementary school setting.

Right now, Shows is taking three training courses and has been able to sit in on some college classes.

“I’ve learned a lot from the students and how they conduct themselves in a professional manner,” Shows said.

News of the grant money and work that is being done at UNH is exciting for those who work with disabled Granite Staters to help them find secure employment.

“It is thrilling to receive additional federal funding to assist individuals in achieving their dream of attending college,” said Lisa Hinson-Hatz, Vocational Rehabilitation state director, who is a program partner.

According to the 2019 Disability Statistics Compendium, 13.9 percent of New Hampshire residents with disabilities age 25 and over had obtained a four-year college degree, compared to 24.3 percent of residents without a disability.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February that in 2019, the employment-population ratio for people with a disability between the ages of 16 and 64 was 30.9 percent, while the ratio for people without a disability in the same age group was 74.6 percent.

Workers with a disability were more likely to be employed part-time than those with no disability.

Additionally, workers with a disability were more likely to work in service, production, transportation and material moving occupations than workers without a disability.

The Institute on Disability at UNH was established in 1987 to provide a university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families.