ACE-IT in College

Inclusive College Experience for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

In the News

The Path to Higher Education With an Intellectual Disability
May 1, 2017 BY HAYLEY GLATTER The Atlantic

The ACE-IT in College Program at Virginia Commonwealth University was started thanks to a TIPSID grant and is focused on preparing students with intellectual disabilities for the workforce. “We want to make sure that they are really looking to heighten their career awareness and what they would like to be doing,” said Elizabeth Getzel, the program’s director. “We see employment as a gateway to getting into the employment sector, but also for being in arenas where there’s opportunity for growth and movement up, just like anyone.”

“This changes the starting line for career options for people with intellectual disabilities,” Grigal said. “It changes their social networks, it changes who they believe they can be, and it changes the expectations of the people in all the realms around them.”   

To prepare for their careers after VCU, those enrolled in ACE-IT work part-time on campus, meet with academic advisers, select classes from the vast university course catalog, and participate in a semester-long internship to solidify their post-program goals. Throughout students’ time in the program, Getzel said, they are developing the same skills—like teamwork, problem solving, and conflict resolution—that any young adult entering the workforce would need to hone.

And the results of data collected from the first round of TIPSID recipients paints a positive picture for the TIPSID programs’ effectiveness, indicating that higher education may be the intervention needed to turn things around. The employment rate for students who exited a TIPSID program was 40 percent—certainly a meaningful jump not only numerically, but also experientially. “This changes the starting line for career options for people with intellectual disabilities,” Grigal said. “It changes their social networks, it changes who they believe they can be, and it changes the expectations of the people in all the realms around them.”   

Without access to higher education, the employment options for young adults with intellectual disabilities can include sheltered workshops where they may complete assembly-line-style work for less than$1 per hour. On the other hand, Walters, at Clemson, said students in her program typically enter paying jobs that include benefits; at VCU’s ACE-IT program, where the employment rate after graduation is just shy of 90 percent, Getzel noted one graduate working for a local company and making $15 an hour. Students who have the chance to take advantage of these higher-education programs go on to work in all kinds of fields, ranging from education to theater, leveraging the soft skills, work ethic, and independent-living experiences they had in college along the way.

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Students with disabilities ACE-IT at VCU - VCU places students with disabilities in standard classes
February 4, 2014 BY KARIN KAPSIDELIS Richmond Times-Dispatch

Kathryn Anderson sums up her disability this way:

"I can learn what a normal person can learn. It just takes me a little bit longer to learn it."

"I can learn what a normal person can learn. It just takes me a little bit longer to learn it."

Kathryn Anderson, ACE-IT graduate

In December, Anderson reached a milestone not just for her own education but also for the way in which Virginia Commonwealth University provides academic access to students with intellectual disabilities.

Anderson, 24, and Eddie Lee Lewis, 21, became the first two students to complete a 30-month, five-semester certificate program through VCU’s School of Education called ACE-IT in College.

VCU is one of 27 universities, and the only one in Virginia, awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant in 2010 to explore postsecondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

Through the five-year, $2 million demonstration grant, students who in the past might have been steered to segregated programs instead attend classes with other VCU students.

Some of Anderson's classmates knew she had a disability, she said. "Some of them didn't know. It really didn’t make a big difference for those who did know. They treated me the same."

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