My goal this spring semester 2015 is to actively participate as an activist for young adults with intellectual disabilities (IDs), in an academic environment. I will work to fight for equal opportunity for education and employment for people with intellectual disabilities, as part of my life long journey as an activist for people with intellectual and learning disabilities. Accordingly, my Gender and Women’s Studies 200: Studies in Feminist Activism activist project is working with young adults with intellectual disabilities in the SUCCESS program at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), as a Practicum 096 intern Dinner Peer. As a SUCCESS Dinner Peer I eat dinner, play soccer, basketball, Ping Pong, and board games, and facilitate getting to and on the shuttle bus to the SUCCESS house on schedule, with 3 to 6 SUCCESS students. The activities mentioned above help the SUCCESS students and myself to come to know each other and form friendships. My Practicum 096 internship is giving me the opportunity to apply the principles, vocabulary, and theory I learned in my university psychology courses to facilitate the needs of young adults with IDs on a university campus. Specifically, the psychology training taught me the young adults with IDs potentials for thinking, learning, working and living.
The mission of SUCCESS at UMBC is to provide young adult Maryland residents with intellectual disabilities ((hyperlink to definition and criteria of ID, http://aaidd.org/intellectualdisability/definition#.VVN1dmOEzoY) the opportunity to ascertain critical thinking, employment and independent living skills. Therefore, the students in the SUCCESS program engage with other SUCCESS students, and bachelors and graduate degree track students, faculty and staff in integration learning in the lecture halls, over meals, playing sports and other forms of recreation on campus. The primary goals of the SUCCESS program is for students to obtain good stable competitive jobs, be able to live independently long-term, and effectively socialize with friends, family, fellow employees and employers, and general community.
Volunteering as a SUCCESS Dinner Peer is paramount because the young adults with IDs genuinely learn how to socialize and network from eating dinner, playing sports, and boards games in an integrated environment with undergraduate, graduate degree seeking students, faculty and staff at UMBC. In Postsecondary Inclusion for Individuals with an Intellectual Disability and its Effects on Employment, Eric J Moore of University of Tennessee and Amy Schelling of Grand Valley State University (link to the journal, http://jid.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/31/1744629514564448.full.pdf+html) discovered that after graduating from college programs like SUCCESS at UMBC, 100% of the young adults with IDs study participants had a desire to improve their social skills and make new friends (p.10). Additionally, 75% of the students with IDs who participated in the Moore and Schelling research study earned a competitive job after graduating from their college program (p.10).
Moore and Schelling also discovered that young adults with IDs who graduated from programs such as SUCCESS had a much higher chance at securing competitive employment (p.4). Hence, the integrated academic courses, work internships, and independent training the SUCCESS students receive at UMBC is vital in assuring that young adults with IDs gain competitive employment and live independently. This activist project helps me to recognize how imperative integrated education programs are to me as an activist. Hence, I now appreciate how beneficial it is to be an active participant in activism. However, before this project I did not consider this type of assignment activism, rather I perceived working with people with IDs only as service work. Now I recognize that there are many kinds of different ways to practice activism.
When I started this activist project one of my objectives for the project was to learn the future development of the SUCCESS program at UMBC. However, my plans changed when the director of the SUCCESS program sent me an email in the second week of my internship, informing me that the SUCCESS program would be phased out over the next three years. The director informed me that the main reason the SUCCESS program is being phased out is because the UMBC fiscal budget does not have the funds to keep the SUCCESS program running, do to Maryland State public education budget cuts. As a result, I decided to explore how the SUCCESS program could be funded with little support by the state. The SUCCESS program could apply for a grant from the U.S Department of Education. For example, the Center for Disabilities Studies at the University of Delaware just received a $2.3 million grant that will be dispersed over the next five years, from the U.S Department of Education to fund a new postsecondary education program at University of Delaware for students with IDs. (Link to page, https://www.udel.edu/cds/initiatives-adults-clsc.html).
Troy Shumway (pictured immediately above) will climb Mt. Kilmanjaro in Tanzania this June 2015 with the goal of raising $40,000 to fund a student to attend Aggies Elevated a college program for students IDs at Utah State University, where Troy is enrolled. Hence, the SUCCESS students, interns, and staff can come up with creative ways to raise money for the SUCCESS program similar to Troy’s (link, http://www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=54712). The SUCCESS program could hold a golf tournament to raise money for the SUCCESS program at UMBC. For example, on August 14, 2014 BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee sponsored the 28th Annual Dawn of Hope Golf Classic that raised more than $32,000 for the Dawn of Hope Developmental, Residential and Vocational Programs for adults with intellectual disabilities (link, http://www.racsb.state.va.us/Releases/2015/pr2015_04_03.html).
If I were to do this same activist project over again, I would attend a conference about options and ways to support young adults with IDs in the university setting, and film a video where I would interview the SUCCESS students on their experiences in the SUCCESS program. Thus, the activities immediately above would provide me a more complete experience, of being an activist for young adults with IDs in the college community.