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Program helps young adults with disabilities become more independent

Hi group members,

I just read an article about a post-secondary student with Down Syndrome from Kalamazoo, Michigan that I think you will find heartwarming.  After you finish reading the article, please post a message if your state has a similar program.  Tell us about it~ Please!

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


For young adults with disabilities, finding a career path after high school can be difficult. Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency facilitates the transition from student to employed worker.

Jennifer Williams is a paid employee in the food services kitchen at Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC). She is 24 years old and has Down syndrome, a genetic disability.

Before Williams could apply for the job, she went through a two-year young adult program with Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency (KRESA.)

“The young adult program has students 18 to 26 years old who all have a disability," says Principal Deb Wild. "They’ve completed their four years of high school. Some have earned a diploma and some haven’t. But, now it’s time to get down to the real world for these students leaving the school setting as they know it and entering into adult life.”

KRESA provides an on-site work coach at the various work sites. Linda Raymond coaches three students in the KVCC kitchen where they are learning kitchen skills as well as social skills.

Their disabilities may range from a person with a cognitive impairment, learning disability, autism spectrum, or emotional impairment.

“A disability isn’t who they are,” says Connie Laurinat, Work Coordinator for KRESA. "Like anybody else, we have things that we are really good at and other things that we’re not so good at. And, everyone is always endeavoring to improve who they are and in what they are doing.”

“She gets her paycheck and brings it home and is so excited,” says William's mother, Laura Williams.

“We wanted her, even as a person with a disability, to pull her own weight, if she could. She absolutely loves her job. People with disabilities make amazing workers because they want to work. They want to get up and go somewhere every day.”

Williams has learned to live independently. KRESA works with students in daily life skills as well, such as taking public transportation, grocery shopping, managing money and buying clothes. Robin Friel-Pierce, Food Service Director for Aramark, the food service at KVCC says she and her staff have learned from William's cheerful attitude and good work ethic.

“These are members of our community who are not designed to live separate lives,” says Wild, “but to be part of our lives and enriching our lives in ways that really nobody else can.”

When asked about what she loves about her job, Jennifer enthusiastically says, “Everything.”


jshanley's picture

Hi Rochelle - there are over 200 postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities according to the ThinkCollege database. Many of these programs have a career development and planning component and are charged with providing services to students with ID to enhance their ability to secure integrated employment. The Higher Education Oppportunity Act (HEOA) was an important catalyst for thinking about a range of opportunities for students with ID. We are moving away from sheltered and segregated employment settings - and in some States there are mandates to close down  these non-inclusive settings. The over 200 programs represent really nice collaboration across K12, adult education, and employment. Here is a link to the database to learn about programs in your state....


By the way - on the Career planning Youth and Adult Pathways microgroup this month, we have had several Webinars and have shared tools to engage students with disabilities in their own career planning. Next week, we have guests, both of whom have disabilities and personal experience navigating the K12 and Adult education career services systems, they will share their insights!


Judy Shanley, Ph.D.

YAP, Career Planning Microgroup

Easter Seals

RKenyon's picture

Hi Judy,

Thanks so much for your response.  The URL you shared was one I was not familiar with.  For those group members that work with students who have intellectual disabilities, take a few minutes to visit this site.

Think College: College Options for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Rochelle Kenyon, SME