WCU wins grant to improve opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities

Western Carolina University has been awarded a $225,000 grant to help develop tools and resources to better enable students with intellectual disabilities to transition into the workforce or enroll in post-secondary education.

Kelly Kelley

Kelly Kelley

Funded by a grant from the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities that is renewable for up to three years, the project is titled “Learning and Earning After High School: The Role of Transition Services in Raising Expectations and Attitudes for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.”

“We felt this initiative would help us continue to address transition issues beyond what we have been able to do through our work with the UP (University Participant) Program,” said Kelly Kelley, assistant professor of special education and a co-director of the project with David Westling, the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor of Special Education. Kelley and Westling are faculty members in the School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Allied Professions.

Through WCU’s UP Program, college-aged people with intellectual disabilities participate in a two-year, on-campus living and learning experience designed to help them transition from secondary school to adult life.

As part of the newly funded initiative, a team of WCU faculty, staff and students will examine how transition services and resources could be improved systemically for students, even those with the most complex disabilities, starting as early as middle school.

David Westling

David Westling

The team will partner with families and initially will work with three school systems to improve transition outcomes for students, whether they continue their educations or enter the work force, said Kelley.

The initiative will involve developing an advanced software system designed to make it easier for schools and a range of adult service providers to understand students’ goals and abilities.

“The system will enable everyone to be on the same page as they network and collaborate to support students with intellectual disabilities,” said Kelley. “We want to help students and their families become more aware of their options and allow for more follow-through as they transition from school to the adult world.”

In addition, the WCU team will review policies and recommend changes to increase successful transitions.

The N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities seeks to support effective and innovative initiatives that promote community inclusion, independence, productivity, self-determination and integration for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

For more information, contact Kelly at 828-227-2990 or kkelley@wcu.edu.