Education Hosts Discussion on Inclusion of Students with Intellectual Disabilities

By Caitlin Burns | July 17, 2019

What does it mean to provide an inclusive education? This was the question posed by Dr. Kim Dean, chair of Education, Jessica Mattis, director of the Raising Expectations for Academic Learning (REAL) Certificate program, and Simon Mohr, coordinator of the REAL Certificate program, to the 25 faculty and staff members at the “REAL Inclusion at Arcadia: Where Do I Fit In?” event on July 15.

As the REAL Certificate team prepares for the first residential students to move in for the Fall 2019 semester, a new conversation has developed around providing a fully inclusive experience, such as equitable opportunities and outcomes.

“The kind of students who would thrive at Arcadia were going to places that had residential opportunities,” said Dr. Dean. “We include the capacity to work independently without any support for a number of hours as part of the application process. We felt these four students were ready to live independently.”

Five students will further their education through the REAL Certificate at Arcadia this fall, with 10 students total in the program. Approximately 20 students apply to the program each year.

“It’s not enough to say we have this program, because if students, faculty and staff don’t know we have it and what the capabilities of the students are able to do, then we’re not contributing to them having a positive experience,” said Jesse Krohn, assistant general counsel at Arcadia. “We need to make sure the people in our community have the education so it can be a welcoming environment for all students.”

The REAL Certificate began in 2013; Arcadia is one of only nine universities and colleges in Pennsylvania offering a post-secondary education opportunity for individuals with intellectual disabilities. There are three components to the REAL Certificate program that provide a rounded educational experience: academic, social, and vocational. The two-year program provides academic opportunities where students audit courses to develop their education in a field they’re interested in, with the requirements of introductory writing and First-Year Seminar courses. In addition to auditing courses, students participate in a vocational internship, depending on what they want to pursue after the program so that they’re not simply learning about the field, but garner experience as well. The final aspect, social experience, is fulfilled through peer social and academic mentors who help students navigate campus and help further their social skills through meaningful networks of friendship and support.

Dr. Dean noted that the goal of the program is to be a leader in creating inclusive educational environments that facilitate learning and prepare REAL Certificate students and their typical peers to bring about a more inclusive society. Graduates of the REAL Certificate program have gone on to continue their education with a degree program, start their own businesses, or achieve competitive employment. 

“The growth students in the program achieve due to the opportunities afforded them is tremendous, as is the impact the students have on our community in terms of understanding and demystifying disability,” Dr. Dean said. “And, we all know that the friends you make in college are often friends for life—a win-win!”