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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Where Do They Go From Here: Postsecondary Options for Students with Significant Disabilities

The educational and employment outlook for students who have significant disabilities does not have to be bleak or limited. On-Campus Outreach, a recent OSEP-sponsored outreach project at the University of Maryland, provided technical assistance to school systems for continuing special education services for these students "in postsecondary settings during their final years of school." The long-term goals of the outreach programs help students obtain employment, take college classes, improve their self-determination skills, and actively participate in their campus and community environments with peers and adults.

The postsecondary settings can be within four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, or community-based businesses or agencies. On college campuses, in addition to taking classes along with their nondisabled peers, students with significant disabilities can participate in social organizations and develop nonacademic connections. In communities, the students can learn employment options and be immersed in the life of the community. These settings help the students develop their functional and independent living skills. Neither of these settings, however, is mutually exclusive, and students can be involved in both campus and community.

The On-Campus Outreach Project developed a framework for the postsecondary program that provides teachers, parents, students, community members, and rehabilitation personnel a path for developing options for the students.

The first step in the framework is for the school to create a planning committee that includes key players from all organizations involved, and also includes students with significant disabilities and their parents. Once set up, the committee conducts a needs assessment that includes a profile of the students who might be interested in receiving services, services they currently receive, changes needed to meet their needs, and community partnerships that may assist in developing options in postsecondary settings. The project recently created an online training module which provides step-by-step instructions on how to conduct a needs assessment for students age 17 or older with significant disabilities. This training module is free to use and includes downloadable forms and a powerpoint presentation that can be used to train others.

Using the information gathered in the needs assessment, the committee then creates an action plan that outlines the responsibilities of all the players, sets a timeline for activities and outcomes, and determines a budget. Ideally, the action plan also includes potential partners and settings for service delivery and a process for accessing needed services.

When the committee becomes familiar with the supports available at the various settings for students with significant disabilities, it then decides where and how specific services will be provided. Finally, it must deal with the logistics of establishing the program, which is often the most difficult part of the process. Some of the issues that arise concern experience of the staff, policies and procedures of the settings, transportation for students, scheduling, and administration of the services.

The outreach project has successfully worked with nineteen programs in Maryland, and others in several states. Those who are interested in learning more about their options for postsecondary services for students with significant disabilities or those who would like to use the online training module can visit the On-Campus Outreach website at http://www.education.umd.edu/oco/.

For an article describing this project, see Meg Grigal, Debra A. Neubert, M. Sherrill Moon. "Postsecondary Options for Students with Disabilities." TEACHING Exceptional Children, vol. 35, no. 2, Nov/Dec 2002, pp. 68-73. The project was funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education, Grant #: H324R990032.

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Last updated: September 23, 2003

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