Speakers from Millersville University (MU) gave a special presentation in Shippensburg University’s Old Main Chapel on Tuesday to introduce a one-of-a-kind disabilities program to the Shippensburg community.Speakers from Millersville University (MU) gave a special presentation in Shippensburg University’s Old Main Chapel on Tuesday to introduce a one-of-a-kind disabilities program to the Shippensburg community.
The program is called “Integrated Studies” — an inclusive curriculum designed to make higher education more accessible to students with intellectual disabilities, according to Thomas Newell, a professor of special education and disability studies at MU. Presently, students with intellectual disabilities applying to schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) are treated the same as typical students by admissions offices. Their GPAs and SAT scores are scrutinized so that only the most promising students are admitted.
However, students with intellectual disabilities cannot always make the cut, Newell said.
To make higher education more accessible to those students, MU implemented its integrated studies program. Enrolled students do not earn a degree, per se, but they pay the same tuition and learn in the same classrooms as typical students. By the end of their program, they take away a web-based portfolio highlighting all the relevant work they have produced throughout the curriculum.
The program’s key concept — integration — extends beyond the classroom, Newell said. In fact, the goal of the program is to invite more students with intellectual disabilities to have the same college experience as typical students.
“They attend typical classes, they live in residence halls with everyone else,” Newell said. “There’s nothing ‘special’ except for the support they get.”
The goal of the lecture was to increase awareness for the movement to create an integrated studies program at SU, according to Allison Carey, director of the disability studies minor. Currently, only six percent of SU’s student body has a disability, and introducing an integrated studies program would increase the number of people with intellectual disabilities who can achieve an education. The department is mobilizing to bring the program to SU and believes the university could see a pilot as early as 2019, Carey said.
To offer another perspective, Newell gave the floor to Deltilyn Bonal, a photography student enrolled in the integrated studies program at MU. As a person with an intellectual disability, Bonal faced a lot of discouragement when she expressed interest in going to college.
“Everyone in my family is educated, and I didn’t want to be the only one without a diploma,” Bonal said.
Newell believes everyone deserves a quality education and wants to see an integrated studies program someday at SU.
“If you go to PASSHE in Harrisburg and say ‘what is your mission?’ they’ll tell you, ‘our mission has always been to open doors and turn on lights,’” Newell said.