People with developmental and intellectual disabilities (I/DD) have the right to pursue higher education – however, the process is not always easy. Often, the odds of the college application process are stacked against people with disabilities.
For example, students with Individualized Education Programs or who attend special education high schools are often awarded an IEP diploma at the end of their 12 years of schooling. However, New York State does not recognize an IEP diploma as equivalent to a high school diploma, and therefore, most jobs and higher education programs do not accept them. If people with I/DD want to attend college, they look to the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, now known as the General Education Development test, or GED. Luckily, if individuals supported by ADAPT Community Network want to earn a high school equivalency diploma, we have a team of Education Specialists to support them on their journeys.
ADAPT’s Education Specialists not only help the people we support prepare for their TASC, but they also connect them with additional resources and help obtain testing accommodations. Jonathan Toth, an Education Specialist of ten years at ADAPT, is one of the staff who helps with the TASC/GED.
Jonathan begins his process by identifying his students’ educational strengths and weaknesses as well as identifying necessary accommodations. “When students are struggling, it’s important to identify gaps in their prior learning, as well as what learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) works best for them, so instructional methods can be modified to teach to their strengths,” Jonathan said.
Then, he begins to prepare students for the exam by giving them assignments, study material, and practice work. Jonathan also connects them to outside prep classes, like those at the New York Public Library.
Finally, when the students are ready for the exam, Jonathan begins to work out the accommodation logistics.
“We arrange for any documentation required [to be] available to the student and provide [them] to the location where the testing will take place,” Jonathan described. “If the student runs into any difficulties, we will communicate directly with the testing location to make sure the accommodations are in place.”
The journey to obtain a college equivalency diploma is neither easy nor simple, as Shaniqua Freeman, a person supported by ADAPT, discovered when she began her studies. Shaniqua, who attends the Elmwood Adult Learning Center, has always had a dream of furthering her education, but knew she would need support while preparing for her TASC.
“[Firstly], I prayed,” Shaniqua replied when asked what she did leading up to the exam. “I also studied a lot. I had a great support system behind me. It was a new journey, and I knew I’d need help. My family helped, and I also got a lot of support from the Education Specialists. “
After years of preparation, Shaniqua passed the TASC and was able to apply for college. She now attends the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), where she has recently embarked on a whole new educational journey. As she gets her required classes out of the way, she aspires toward a degree in broadcasting.
“[College has] been hard. It’s also been easy,” Shaniqua said. “Sometimes I have to repeatedly ask teachers for clarification. Lots of writing essays. Next semester I’m trying a math class so I don’t need to write more essays.”
Aside from her studies, Shaniqua also provides valuable feedback to BMCC about her experience as a student with a disability through a focus group. By sharing her experiences, she is helping to pave the way for future college students with I/DD.
“I [am] extremely excited and proud of [Shaniqua’s] hard work,” Jonathan said. “It was a culmination of years of work. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, mainly for her, but also for me. I’ve been able to take what I learned from her process and am now better able to support others who are trying to pass the exam.”