Serving adults with Intellectual and developmental disabilities

Hi group users,

Prior to 1975, there were few to no services or access to education for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Public school districts were not required to serve "handicapped" children until the passage of federal legislation, "Education for All Handicapped Children Act." Parents of children and adults with developmental disabilities worked with agencies and schools to provide access to their children with significant physical and learning needs. 

In my 2nd adult education assignment in the 1970s, I workied with the population of adult students who had intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The program was located in Broward County, Florida and had multiple locations serving thousands of students.  That adult education program continues to exist and provides daytime and night programs for all students with disabilities.

I am interested in hearing from group members that work in similar adult education programs. Please tell us where yours in located and what the curriculum consists of.  Don't be afraid to post a message ---- Your experience can help others.


Rochelle Kenyon, SME






Hi - We have come a long way regarding postsecondary education for students with intellectual disabilities - but, we have a long way to go! In its latest authorization (2008), The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) included provisions to fund grants to facilitate the participation of students with ID in higher education. These grants, 27, are among almost 200 higher ed programs on college campuses that seek to integrate students with ID in every facet of the college experience. Students with ID are enrolled in the same classes as all students, participate in campus life, and live in the residence halls. With the 27 grants, there was also funding for a coordinating center, to collect data on the outcomes of these programs. The University of Mass - Boston, ICI, has been leaders in this work for a long time  The HEOA also enabled students with ID to be eligible for title IV if they are enrolled in an approved program

We are moving away from sheltered - non-inclusive settings - and in fact, some states have passed legislation to close all of these non-inclusive programs - opening doors for students with ID on college campuses. Adult education programs should include all students, regardless of disability.

We work hard at K12 levels to facilitate inclusion - why would we take a step backwards by providing students with ID non-inclusive experiences, either in school or work, when they leave high school? For those postsecondary education settings that have opened their doors to students with ID, they report that the learning this experience has had for other students, for faculty - has been an important outcome - and in fact, faculty who were naysayers - about having students with ID in their classes, are now modifying their instruction to better accommodate all students - and their diverse learning styles. Faculty indicated they are using more universal design for learning strategies that engage a wider range of students in learning - including students with ID.

In January, the Youth and Adult Pathways Microgroup will host a month-long event related to career development across grades. We will have some discussion about students with ID in the many forums offered during the month. I hope you will join us.

To join the YAP Event Series, log on to:

Judy Shanley, Ph.D.

Easter Seals, Director of Student Engagement & Mobility Management

SME -  YAP-Career Pathways Microgroup




Hi Judy and all,

Your post is great. I have seen some significant growth in students participating in college programs.

Beyond providing a ‘college experience” for some students in post-secondary, there are some circumstances, in my experience, where post-secondary experiences need to be “non-inclusive”.  In the k-12 world, on the whole, much of all students time and effort , even in a “special diploma” track, is spent on academics. Although transition efforts are implemented earlier and earlier, they are not included at the same “rigor” as other State and Federal requirements.  The basic work related behaviors are either not taught enough, students need more instructional time or they are not appropriate for the individual student.

 For many years ESOL learners were not able to make the transition from ESOL to GED classes. Even the highest performing students struggled. The education system came up with “bridge” classes, providing  unique instruction that was very successful in helping students transition to GED. Non-inclusive post-secondary workforce settings are needed for some students for the same purpose.  As post-secondary becomes more industry certification driven, there needs to be a place for students to not only “ramp up” to the certificate courses but to get valuable work skills for employment.  Easter Seals in Miami Florida has been  designing a post-secondary culinary training program for adults with disabilities. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has several new programs designed to provide post-secondary employment training for students who are some of the least served in the community.  Additionally, the Adults with Disabilities Grant Rochelle mentioned in her original post, has been amended to allow funds to be used for workforce activities.  If educational systems treated students with disabilities the same way it treated all students who need to succeed in post-secondary, there would be both inclusive and non-inclusive courses, just like in ESOL.

Hi Robin...I agree with you about some classes/content being non-inclusive. I think IHE programs for students with disabilities have to be customized to the students needs and interests - thats the hard part. With resources so scarce, its more cumbersome to design curriculum and course sequence that is really customized to every student. I love the notion of industry-specific programs, if the student is interested and the labor market demand is there. When I started my career as a rehabilitation counselor,....years and years ago - I worked in a sheltered workshop. At that time, the only opportunities students with MR had were in industries associated with food, flowers, and filth - this translated into jobs in kitchens, jobs in yard work, and janitorial positions. I love programs like the ES program in Miami - that explores many different occupations within culinary industries. 


There is also a program that I believe community colleges and one-stop career centers use called work keys - which is a program designed to let industry reps know the kinds of skills that employees are bringing into the work setting....really neat stuff. - its produced by ACT - do you ever use tools like this?

Love the conversation! I hope you will join our career development YAP microgroup! 



To answer your question about Work Keys—I have not looked at it in a while, but I loved it last I saw it. I tried to get  adult ed classes to adopt it but was not successful.  I know some adult ed programs in Florida used it with great success.

I agree that industry specific certifications are a great way to go.  I believe Florida has a valuable set of course codes for that purpose including one called Career Education for Adults with Disabilities.

It is unique because it is designed to contain basic work related skills and then allows the choosing of any industry specific skills sets contained in the standard curriculum.  I have used that to customize learning within the culinary field.  Our chef and staff collaborated in developing a “sliding scale” of skills to be taught. Each set lead to a real job and was customized to individual student potential.  Additionally, Florida State College runs a program called Vertical training that is a hybrid inclusive/non-inclusive design.  They have significant support labs and classes supporting select standard PSAV classes.

As a result of significant concern that many persons currently on financial supports for disabilities can work, whole new platforms for accessing and designing programs for that population are in the works. My understanding is that some States have applied for a version of Medicaid that allows the program to support workforce activities. There are many varieties of training program designs.  My guess is that as standard PSAV becomes more “exclusive”, more custom designed programs will pop up.


Hi Dr. Shanley,

Thank you for the wealth of information on the almost 200 higher education programs for students with intellectual disabilities.  People can check out the websites you provided. Will you please post a list of the colleges that provide these programs?  

The program I mentioned in Florida did not include any sheltered workshop/work activity centers.  Our programs included academic skills, ABE, GED, and lifelong learning curricula. Our teachers were certified in the appropriate area of Exceptional Student Education.  Our local colleges had no such programs as you described.  I no longer reside in that area so I don't know whether they do offer programs or not.  Possibly a group user from that geographical area might provide an update for us.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME




Hi Rochelle, Dr. Shanley and all,


I don't know if Broward County Schools participates in the college/ID programs. I do not think they do. I will double check with Meryl Eisenberg  about that and if the AWD grant includes any sheltered workshop programs. Again, I don’t think they do. Broward County is the home of the Marino Foundation which has just begun providing post-secondary education, training and employment services for adults with disabilities, specifically Autism. They, like Easter Seals and other organizations are filling the vacuum created by public post-secondary programs who are concentrating on other populations. Eventually, an organized ‘pathway” design may emerge for serving adult students with disabilities in either the CBO or public post-secondary arena. My feeling is, with the growing numbers of students  with disabilities leaving k-12 able to work but unprepared, on financial supports or potentially eligible for supports, a pathways organized program will be recognized as a good ROI. I have been involved with the Federal Contractor's program requirements for hiring persons with disabilites and that process could, in combination with existing progams demonstrate a pathway program framework.


Hi Robin and Rochelle,

Broward County Schools  serves individuals with intellectual & other disabilities both in our mainstream workforce AGE & CTE programs with accommodations for those who who have potential to benefit from the Gen Ed  curriculm instruction or receive their cte certification. Students with more severe intellectual disabilities who are not able to participate in workforce education program  but are independent in self-help can attend one of our adults with disabilities programs (funded through grant dollars)  at one of two school campus progams or as a client at one of our (5) partner agencies which you would consider adult day programs. The curriculum covers functional academic, domestic, leisure rec.behavior, social and personal.  workplace readiness and community integration. In the past two years, we have developed a closer relationship with APD to deliver on site job skills training to those individuals whose families support their employment. (That can be a barrier either at  onset or  once employed.) 

This year, one of our school sites is collaborating with APD- supported employment and has the commitment of paid apprenticeships for those students whom we are able to place in community-based businesses and are APD clients. The AwD curriculum includes Job Skills instruction focusing on interviewing, and the soft skills needed for students to obtain and maintain employment. Many of the classroom activities take place in  a simulated office environment.  Each of our classes has a minimum of 20-25 students with one instructor and an aide shared among other classrooms. I would concur with Robin that we are serving through our grant those students with  moderate/severe  intellectual disabilities which  leaves out those who require even  smaller group support as well as the population of students with higher functioning ID, mostly on th autism spectrum, who have the academic skills, but lack the social skills and career training for job training and will not get through a certificate program  at our Tech Centers without modification. I am aware that the Dan Marino Foundation secured an appropriation from the FL legislature  this fall to  open a Jobs Development program and contracted with VR for supported employment. I have heard that they will be starting a pilot for post-secondary program inc; apprenticeships in hospitality and IT sometime.  I don't know how many slots they had for the Jobs Development program but it their website shows it is closed.  Perhaps the Marino model may show where we can succeeed in  explore add'l pathways using other funding sources.



Hi Meryl and all,

It is great to see how your County has decided to use the workforce changes in the AwD grant.  Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) is trying many new things state wide to address their issues.  I believe the structure currently exists to create the continuum of employment training services necessary to serve all adults for whom employment is requested and appropriate.  I am hopeful that the experience developed in serving this population of adults will have a positive effect on program design for students in standard post-secondary programs. I am curious to hear if other list members have developed post-secondary programs specifically designed to address the needs of students who have been determined as not able to beneift from standard PSAV  programs but are appropriate ( per VR or other sources) to work.

Hi Meryl,

Thanks for the informational summary.  I am so pleased to hear about the on-site job skills training and the APD- supported employment.

If you hear any news about Dan Marino Foundation Jobs Development program or their joint effort with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for supported employment, please post a new discussion strand and share with us.

You are certainly an expert in this field and I appreciate your sharing information regarding this Iimportant population.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Hi All

Thanks for all the posts.  I've enjoyed reading and learning about other states and programs.  It's interesting that you started the discussion by sharing a bit of the history about education for students with developmental disabilities. Here in North Carolina, we have had Compensatory Education since the early 1980s.  Compsensatory Education came about from a lawsuit brought against the state in the late 1970s by The Arc of NC and families of students w/ ID/DD who were not adequately educated at the K-12 level.  The settlement provided a free basic skills program at the community colleges to "compensate" those students inadequately educated.  Thirty years later, we are facing big changes.  No longer are we "compensating" for a lost K-12 education.  In fact, we are no longer receiving specialized funding to operate as a Compensatory Education program but a Basic Skills class with performance measures.  It is our goal, more than ever before, to provide inclusive opportunities and transitioning opportunities for our students.  I am finding it is far more of a challenge to convince current students and families of students that have been with us through the "Comp Ed" years that transitioning is a good thing, that they can take other college courses, career training classes and even obtain employment. We are moving away from being a Compensatory Education program to a Basic Skills or College and Career Readiness class.  By definition, in the future we will likely serve fewer low functioning students than we did as Comp Ed.

Thanks for your time and thoughts.

Nicole Worley