Task Force on Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Disabilities: Public Hearings Begin on November 1st

Advancements in the education of children with disabilities as well as higher expectations for more meaningful and fulfilling post-high school lives have led to more opportunities for students with disabilities to attend college. Several laws have helped develop some of these opportunities.  When the cornerstone federal statute, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, was reauthorized in 2004, it and resulting regulations emphasized successful transition to post-school life as an important goal of the education of children with special needs.  A crucial component of the transition planning that school districts must begin when the student turns fourteen years old is the post-school vision.  Transition services are to be coordinated, results oriented, and based on the individual student’s strengths, preferences and interests.  Where appropriate, therefore, there is no barrier to have college as the post-high school vision for a student with disabilities.

One such opportunity has been through the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program (“ICE”), a Massachusetts state funded grant for students with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 22 who have not graduated from high school.  (See the ICE Fact Sheet for more information.)  Through ICE, certain school districts and public institutions of higher learning partner to assist students with disabilities to attend college.

ICE map apr 2013

Practically every postsecondary school must have a person—frequently called the Section 504 Coordinator, ADA Coordinator, or Disability Services Coordinator—who coordinates the school’s compliance with federal laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to support students with disabilities. (See the U.S. Department of Education’s Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities).  In addition, more and more colleges are offering specially designed programs, some of which do not require high school diplomas, that serve students with specific needs.  Such programs include services that go beyond those offered by the Disability Office on campus.  They include The Threshold Program at Lesley University, The Transition Program at Middlesex Community College, and Project Forward at Cape Cod Community College.

Massachusetts State Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury), and State Representative Kimberly N. Ferguson (R-Holden) recently announced the formation of a Task Force on College Inclusion for Students with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities to expand inclusive college opportunities.  The Task Force is composed of fifteen university administrators, legislators, advocates and students.  They will solicit feedback and comments from the public, including administrators, teachers, students, parents, and others about expanding opportunities for students with disabilities to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers in colleges and universities.  The Task Force will issue a report on its findings and make legislative recommendations.

The Task Force will hold the following public hearings:

  • Friday, November 1st, 10:30-12:30AM, Bridgewater State University, 66 Hooper St., Burnell 132A, Bridgewater, MA 02325
  • Friday, November 8th, 12-2PM, Harvard University, Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Austin Hall 304, Cambridge, MA 02138
  • Friday, November 15th, 3-5PM, Quinsigamond Community College, 670 W. Boylston St., HLC Building, Room 109A&B, Worcester, MA 01606
  • Friday, November 22th, 9-11AM, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Lincoln Campus Center, 1 Campus Center Way, Room 163C, Amherst, MA 01003

Please spread the word to all who may be interested and attend one of the hearings if possible.  For additional information, contact Ross Richmond in Rep. Sannicandro’s office:  ross.richmond@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2013, or Michael Benezra in Sen. Moore’s office: Michael.Benezra@masenate.gov or (617) 722-1485.

Dan Heffernan is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

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