Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education has received a three-year $1.5 million grant through the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities (FCSUA) for the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion. The funds will help sustain the academy, an approved Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program (FPCTP) that serves the community through continuing employment and independent living skills opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Unemployment and under-employment for people with intellectual disabilities far exceed the norm – less than 10 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are employed in integrated settings. In addition, adults with intellectual disabilities in Florida make the lowest annual earnings of any disability population, earning approximately $30,000 annually.
The FAU Academy for Community Inclusion is the only FPCTP option for adults with intellectual disabilities in the institution’s geographic area. Given the dismal employment rates for these individuals, the need for higher education and employment training has been well established.
The grant will support full-time instructional staff to coordinate the programs across two FAU campuses, the John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter and the Boca Raton campus.
As part of the program, students will obtain and maintain competitive, integrated employment in their community by working a minimum of 15 hours per week for six consecutive months. In addition, a new optional short-term summer residential experience program will enable students to practice needed soft skill domains of self-determination and interpersonal skills, independent/daily living skills, and social skills in a natural environment of a campus dorm room.
The focus of FAU Academy for Community Inclusion coursework is on transferable employability skills that can be applied in a variety of settings and environments. Students progress through a sequence of learning experiences; coursework introduces employment preparation and career exploration opportunities, which, in turn, lead to campus-based training in employment settings.
“Participation in our academy will lead to community employment training experiences for our students, many with future employers,” said Kelly Kearney, Ed.D., co-principal investigator and associate director of the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion. “Students who graduate from the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion acquire skills and experience that make them eligible for competitive employment in industries that require specific skills and knowledge needed to perform the job.”
As part of the program, students learn transferable skills to seek entry level job positions prior to graduation. These skills include resume writing, interviewing and completing job applications, as well as soft skills, social skills, self-determination skills, executive functioning skills and technology skills to help them successfully obtain and maintain a job. The internships are tailored toward each student’s individual career goals and provide real-world experience in the field of their choice. At the end of a student’s studies, they obtain a part-time job in a competitive and inclusive setting.
“Because students in the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion get time to explore areas that interest them, as well as internship opportunities on and off campus, they get meaningful experiences with on-site job coaching before they even apply for jobs,” said Rangasamy Ramasamy, Ph.D., principal investigator, professor and interim chair, Department of Special Education, FAU College of Education. “Often, the internships are enjoyable opportunities, but sometimes they also can serve as a ‘non-example’ of the kind of work a student does not want to do – either way, they are instrumental learning opportunities.”
The FAU Academy for Community Inclusion plans to serve up to 60 new students throughout this continuing grant cycle, with up to 10 students admitted each fall per campus across the next three fall semesters.
“We are excited to receive this grant support from the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities for our robust postsecondary program at FAU. We also are extremely grateful for the support we have received from The Taft Foundation and from our university,” said Stephen Silverman, Ed.D., dean and professor, FAU College of Education. “Supporting employment for individuals with an intellectual disability will result in economic self-sufficiency, opportunities to use the skills they have acquired, and importantly, improve the quality of their social relationships.”
The transferable employability skills that are taught through the FAU Academy for Community Inclusion programming can be applied to any employment setting. Past and recent student interest and job acquisition range from retail, food and clerical work. The generalizability of these skills results in meaningful, competitive employment upon graduation.
“We work directly with students to apply for jobs that they are interested in and jobs that are realistic for their skill sets. These job opportunities are the same job opportunities that are available to the general public,” said Kearney.
The FAU Academy for Community Inclusion collaborates with both Broward County and Palm Beach County schools. Staff have presented at transition fairs for both school districts each year since 2018. The academy also reaches out regularly to exceptional student education coordinators and other staff at local schools in these school districts. In addition, several semesterly campus tour visits are available for high school transitional and vocational programs for potential Broward County and Palm Beach County students and staff.