Kwantlen Polytechnic University has received funding for the Including All Citizens Project. Submitted photo

KPU pilot project focuses on students with intellectual disabilities

The Including All Citizens Project has received funding from the Vancouver Foundation

One of the first fully inclusive, for-credit university initiatives in North America is getting a boost in funds.

Early last year, Kwantlen Polytechnic University launched a pilot project that includes students with intellectual disabilities into Faculty of Arts courses for credit and on-par with their fellow students.

The Including All Citizens Project (IACP) opens the doors to post-secondary education by reducing barriers to learning and adapting teaching strategies to support all students.

“For the students with intellectual disabilities in classes — we are treated more like we are just regular students,” said Christian Burton, a pilot project student. “Because everyone in that class all has different learning styles, differences in how they communicate and how they learn.”

In recognition of the program’s success, the Vancouver Foundation has granted the pilot project $117,875 over a three-year period.

In collaboration with students with intellectual disabilities, lead researcher and sociology instructor Dr. Fiona Whittington-Walsh found that “there are very few options available for these students once they graduate from high school. They feel frustrated with the lack of opportunities including access to meaningful post-secondary education which we know becomes a critical factor in finding and keeping employment.” Whittington-Walsh also said that the students expressed concerns with “the limited ability to create social connections and community engagement once high school ends.”

Students with intellectual disabilities often experience segregated and out-dated adult service practices, which contributes to high levels of unemployment and isolation.

Whittington-Walsh adds that “while there are auditing opportunities at some universities, the ability to take courses for credit on equal basis with other students is not a widely-held practice.”

The IACP offers students with intellectual disabilities the ability to take KPU’s arts courses for credit on equal basis with fellow students. Most significantly, the IACP reduces the need for special accommodations for students with disabilities.

Rather than adapting curriculum, the IACP focuses on transformative teaching strategies that deliver curriculum to a wide range of learners.

Students in the IACP pilot project will receive a Faculty of Arts, Certificate in Arts after completing 10 courses. The arts certificate is open to all KPU students and pre-dates the IACP. It is designed to prepare students for work, citizenship and to engage with their communities.

Students in the IACP will take their first five courses with the same instructor who also acts as a mentor. After completion, the students will then choose from a list of other arts courses from various programs for the remaining five courses. All student learning, skills and reflection is documented in individual e-portfolios that will serve as a resource for the students to share with other instructors and potential employers.

“Being in IACP classes I don’t need special needs help,” said Kya Bezanson, another pilot project student. “I’m learning exactly what everybody else is learning. So, I’m not behind anybody else. And everybody in the class is super nice. They understand that if I don’t understand something they make sure that they can help make it easier to understand.”

The IACP was launched in January 2016 with five students with intellectual disabilities. Students are currently taking one arts course per term to complete their accreditation. The pilot was launched under the instruction of Whittington-Walsh and in partnership with Teresa Swan, an instructor with KPU’s access programs for people with disabilities, as well as Inclusion BC and the Langley Association for Community Living.

“IACP takes a big step forward in terms of removing the barriers to employment for students with disabilities and create the conditions for them to reach their full potential when they enter the workplace,” said Faculty of Arts dean Dr. Diane Purvey. “This is fantastic news for workers and employers who will be able to benefit from the incredible talent and diversity of our students.”

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