The University may soon kickstart a new two-year program for students with special needs.
The goal is to provide special needs students with the college experience while also teaching them useful life skills and preparing them to go into the workforce. Some of the fundamentals they will teach include writing a resume, living independently and improving communication skills. The program also allows for a personalized academic track tailored to the students’ individual needs.
The initiative, which has yet to have an official title, was brought to LSU Student Government by kinesiology senior and adviser to the LSU vice president Emily Jones, who was inspired by her own experience growing up with a special needs sibling.
“Considering we are the flagship university in the state of Louisiana, I think this initiative is something we need to further improve the experience for future Tigers in the program and the student workers who would be involved in it as well,” Jones said.
“We as a campus should welcome students with intellectual disabilities to have the chance to shine and learn in an environment at LSU,” Jones said. “Having had the largest and most diverse freshman class enter this fall, expanding inclusivity would only benefit the LSU community.”
The employment rate for people with disabilities has steadily decreased over the years, according to Fortune magazine. Only 35 percent of disabled Americans between the ages of 18 and 65 had a job as of 2015. Additionally, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found disabled students are 18 percent less likely to be encouraged to pursue higher education as their peers. Despite these statistics, there are still only a little over 200 of these kinds of programs around the country.
Programs such as the one Jones is proposing are already established at a few other schools in Louisiana, such as the LIFE Program at University of Louisiana at Lafeyette and the Lions Connected Program at Southeastern Louisiana University. SG representatives plan on being in contact with some of these programs and seeking guidance as they move forward.
“Student Government will have ongoing updates about the status of the initiative,” Jones said. “This is only a pilot program, meaning once it launches, we will be closely monitoring how the program operates to see how we can change it to better serve students in the future.”
Although the idea is still in the early stages of development, it has already garnered a lot of support among the student body based on a survey passed around on social media. The survey was used to gauge students’ interest and asked questions like if students had special needs friends or siblings, if they would be interested in volunteering and if they believed the program should eventually expand to four years. There was also a space provided to make other comments and suggestions regarding the proposal.
Animal sciences junior Hannah Hayden said the initiative was something that would benefit the University as a whole.
“This program has the potential to change the lives of young adults with disabilities,” Hayden said.” “Unfortunately, we live in a society where there are very few places where special needs individuals can feel safe, secure, and thrive in their environment.”
Non-disabled students will also benefit from the program by having the opportunity to connect with their new classmates and participate in hands-on volunteer work.
“Our hope is to spread advocacy and awareness that the students in the program are more than capable of contributing to campus and the Baton Rouge community, and we hope to encourage students in this program to break out of their comfort zone to interact and form a family with the students here at LSU,” Jones said.