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Education and Employment

Certificate program for people with intellectual disabilities planned

Downs Syndrome Man Sitting With Tutor Using Laptop

Educators at the University of Illinois Chicago will receive a $2.5 million grant to develop a program that will prepare individuals with intellectual disabilities for competitive employment. 

The grant to the UIC Department of Disability and Human Development comes from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a “Model Comprehensive Transition and Post-Secondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.” The UIC Certificate in Co-Operative Career Experience will set up a model postsecondary education certificate program to better prepare students with intellectual disabilities for integrated and competitive jobs in their own interest areas.

“So many students with intellectual disabilities get dropped from formal disability services after high school. When they become adults they usually end up not going to college and are often unemployed or underemployed. An important feature of this program is building skills for a career, not a job, but a path for people to see their future,” said project leader Tamar Heller, distinguished professor and head of the UIC Institute on Disability and Human Development. Katherine Caldwell, clinical assistant professor, disability and human development, and Kaitlin Stober, visiting research specialist, are project co-leads.

During the Co-Op students’ two-year program, they will have full, student status at UIC while taking classes about the transition to college, building capacity and skills, and career pathways. Additionally, students can choose a specialty track: arts and culture, policy and social justice, health across the lifespan, entrepreneurship and leadership. They will also audit existing undergraduate classes with other UIC students and complete a capstone experience in their final semester that could lead to post-graduation employment.

“Unlike other programs serving students with intellectual disabilities in college, students in the UIC Co-Op program will be fully integrated with other undergraduate students. Additionally, UIC students in disability and human development will gain important skills by taking classes alongside peers with intellectual disabilities and by acting as peer mentors for Co-Op students,” Heller said.

Heller points out UIC is uniquely suited for this program because of the existing disability studies degree programs as well as the Disability Resource Center, Disability Cultural Center, the Coalition of Autistic and Neurodiverse Students, and the Great Lakes ADA Center — all of which will provide excellent resources for students in the Co-Op program.

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